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Tuesday, 10 May 1994
Page: 481

Senator SHORT —My question is directed to the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs. I refer the minister to his statement yesterday that the migration intake will be increased by 10,000 in the coming year, including an 8,000 increase in the skilled migration category. Last week, at his press club appearance on the white paper, the Prime Minister said:

. . . complements to skill formation in the economic recovery will not come from migration. They will come only from our own workforce and people joining our own workforce as new entrants or re-training and replacing those who are long term unemployed.

I ask the minister: what has changed since then? How does he reconcile these totally conflicting statements?

Senator BOLKUS —This question comes from a person who has spent the last 24 hours on radio and in media interviews telling the world how the Prime Minister last week suggested that we would cut immigration.

Senator Short —I haven't said that at all in the last 24 hours.

Senator BOLKUS —Senator Short was wrong on that. He has been reported as saying that. I have heard some of the interviews. In the same way that he has deliberately misrepresented that point, he is deliberately misreading this point. If one were to read the—

Senator Short —Reconcile the statements.

Senator BOLKUS —Does Senator Short want an answer? In the same way that Senator Short has quoted from that press statement, he ought to take into consideration precisely what the Prime Minister said. He did not say that there would not be a role; he said that there would be a complementary role for skills coming through. That is on page 4 of the speech at the press club, and it is there very starkly for Senator Short to read.

  Senator Short has made the mistake—a mistake made quite commonly on his side of parliament these days—of not going to sources, not going to the basic source document, but going by some second- or third-hand press report. The Prime Minister always acknowledged a role for migration. What he said was that the major focus of growth through this recession for this government would be the skills formation that we will generate in our response to the white paper. That still stands as the fundamental basis of our response.

  That acknowledges a complementary role for skills formation and skills development through migration. That is something that this government recognises the need for. I must also say to Senator Short that that is not something that just the broader community recognises a need for; it is something that his purported constituency recognises a need for—the business community. It, I must say, was at the forefront of asking government to focus on this. I make those two points.

  Thirdly, if he looks at the actual document that came out yesterday, Senator Short will see that 8,000 in that so-called skills bracket are people who have been here for four years or so, people who were involved in the 1 November decision last year. They are not just Chinese nationals, but people from some 20 different backgrounds who have been able to access the best and fairest aspect of that 1 November decision. If we deduct those from the increase in the number for the so-called skills category, we come back to a status quo in that category.

  Let me also say to Senator Short—and this is something that he really should know because he is the opposition spokesman in this area, and someone who is supposed to have spent some time in researching the area—when, in migration terms, we talk about the skills category, we are not talking purely about tradespeople. We are not talking purely about electricians or those working in the manufacturing industry—blue-collar workers. We are talking about—under the criteria that apply to the skills category and the independent family category—people who have qualifications of a tertiary nature, or diplomas or the like. People who have those sorts of qualifications must be—and are—recognised in Australia within a short period. They are people who, on the whole, are young and have some understanding of English and work experience from six months to three years.

  We are not talking about direct conflict in the skills category of the migration intake between those sorts of people and the ones that the Prime Minister and the government showed primary concern for last week. The migration statement announced yesterday is quite complementary to the statement of last week and to the budget as it will be announced tonight. It is a responsible statement. It is a moderate increase, but it is one well in tune with the government's priorities and the priorities of this community.

Senator SHORT —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. It is quite obvious that the minister himself has not read what the Prime Minister said at the press club last week. Let me remind him again that the Prime Minister said that complements to skill formation will come only from our own workforce and people joining our own workforce as new entrants or retraining and replacing them with the long-term unemployed, and that they will not come from migration. Whilst noting the minister's answer, I ask him why the Chinese students were not accommodated within the government's existing skilled component rather than merely added on, given the undertakings that the minister himself gave last year that these people would be accommodated within the existing program. In the context of the Prime Minister's remarks, will this addition for the Chinese students next year be a once off addition, so that the following year's program will be reduced accordingly, or does yesterday's decision constitute a permanent inbuilt uplift in the intake level?

Senator BOLKUS —We do once again have the basic problem of a supplementary question being written before the answer is given and the questioner goes ahead with it, regardless of the answer. I said to Senator Short in answer to the first question that the beneficiaries of that 1 November decision are not all Chinese students. There are some 20 ethnic communities, 20 nationalities, which are accessing that provision already. We made it very clear on 1 November that the continuing intake will be part of our annual migration program. It is part of our annual migration program. Is it a one-off or not? We also made it very clear last year that it will take a number of years before we finish processing all those people who would be the beneficiaries of that decision. There is nothing new in what I am saying to Senator Short. If he goes back to the debate last year, he will probably find himself in estimates committees saying exactly what I have just said.