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Joint Standing Committee on Migration
Multiculturalism in Australia
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Joint Standing Committee on Migration
CHAIR (Ms Vamvakinou)
Gambaro, Teresa, MP
Gallacher, Sen Alex
Zappia, Tony, MP
Markus, Louise, MP
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Content WindowJoint Standing Committee on Migration - 09/05/2012 - Multiculturalism in Australia
CULLY, Mr Mark, Chief Economist, Department of Immigration and Citizenship
FLEMING, Mr Garry, First Assistant Secretary, Citizenship, Settlement and Multicultural Affairs Division, Department of Immigration and Citizenship
KUKOC, Mr Kruno, First Assistant Secretary, Migration and Visa Policy Division, Department of Immigration and Citizenship
PEARSON, Mr Warren Andrew, Assistant Secretary, Multicultural Affairs Branch, Citizenship, Settlement and Multicultural Affairs Division, Department of Immigration and Citizenship
SOUTHERN, Dr Wendy, Deputy Secretary, Policy and Program Management Group, Department of Immigration and Citizenship
Committee met at 10:58
CHAIR ( Ms Vamvakinou ): I now declare open this public hearing of the Joint Standing Committee on Migration of the Commonwealth parliament for its inquiry into multiculturalism and the contribution of migration to Australian society. Today the committee will hear from the Department of Immigration and Citizenship. The previous hearing was shorter than anticipated and the department has agreed to come back to complete the process.
Although the committee does not require you to speak under oath, you should understand that these hearings are formal proceedings of the Commonwealth parliament. Giving false or misleading evidence is a serious matter and may be regarded as a contempt of parliament. I ask you to now make a short introductory statement and the committee will then proceed to questions.
Dr Southern : We do not have an opening statement today.
CHAIR: We are just following up, aren't we?
Dr Southern : Yes.
CHAIR: We have a series of questions that follow up from when we last met. I will start with the area of the state migration plans being designed to channel skilled migrants into areas of acute skill shortages. We have received evidence suggesting that the current system does not effectively disperse skilled migrants into regional areas and, probably even beyond that, into the areas that they originally come here for. That evidence has come through quite a bit. So we wanted to know from the department how you assess this program, how you determine successful applicants. When assessing people on that basis, do you take into consideration the severity of skill shortages, particularly in regional areas? Are there any evaluation mechanisms within the department to measure the effectiveness of the state migration plans? Is there frequent communication between state and territory governments and the department regarding the state migration plans?
Dr Southern : We are covering quite a lot of ground there.
CHAIR: Yes, sorry. I thought I would get it all in in one hit.
Dr Southern : That is fine. We are cutting across both the work that is done around state migration plans and also the delivery of the various regional programs that we have within the migration program. Mr Kukoc is probably best placed to talk about some of those issues.
Mr Kukoc : The reforms over the last few years have put a significant emphasis on the so-called demand driven skilled migration—the skilled migration that is really driven by the jobs in the national economy. In that way, the dominant proportion of our skilled migration program is driven by the employer sponsored component of the skilled migration program. The regional dispersion of skilled migrants, in our view, works very effectively because our migrants do go where the jobs are. We know that in the last couple of years, because of the mining boom and the resources boom, we have seen a significant pickup in employment in certain states like WA, the Northern Territory and Queensland, particularly in regions rather than big urban cities. They are mostly regional areas.
By focusing the skilled migration program on employer demand driven skilled migration, we effectively ensure that migrants do go to regional areas, but they go to regional areas that are recording employment growth and are in need of those migrants. That is the best way to direct migrants to regions but only regions that are actually experiencing growth potential and a significant increase in participation and a reduction in unemployment.
In addition to that component, we also have the state sponsored migration. For a number of years we had state sponsored skilled migration, but in the last few years we have also developed the so-called state migration plans, where each state would develop their own plan in accordance with their development plan and their labour market prospects and forecasts. In that plan the states and territories determine the number of skilled migrants that they would like to sponsor in the next year. They also determine the list of occupations, which is much larger than the general skilled occupation list for independent skilled migrants. They do that in consultation with employers, although the state sponsored skilled migration is not directly sponsored by employers. It is sponsored by states. So these migrants still come to states without job offers, but at least the state has sponsored those migrants based on input from business and local knowledge of what employment growth will be in certain regions and certain occupations in the labour market. This so-called demand driven skilled migration is now the dominant part of our skilled migration program. Employer sponsored and state sponsored migration makes up more than 50 per cent of our skilled migration program, so in that way it is a dominant feature of the skilled migration program. As such, it ensures the regional dispersion of skilled migrants in accordance with the real economic need.
CHAIR: Perhaps I can just take you up on that. If I have understood this correctly, the states, with consultation and input from business within each state, will put together a list of skills needs. So the state sponsors someone to come. The person does not necessarily come here to a job. Is that correct?
Mr Kukoc : That is correct.
CHAIR: So when those people get here, because they have been lured to the state—because presumably there is a skills shortage—what happens to those who do not get jobs? Who looks after them? What is the rate of successful entry into the job market under this plan, which is not a direct employer sponsored thing but a broader, state sponsored thing? Do you know what the success rate is of people who achieve employment, and what happens to them if they do not? And where do they end up?
Mr Kukoc : We have done some analysis, particularly through the recent four or five rounds of the continuous survey of skilled migrants. I will ask our chief economist to tell you more about the outcomes of those continuous surveys. But the results are very good, even for those independent skilled migrants who are not coming to a job and the independent skilled migrants who are sponsored by states. They all have a very low unemployment rate after six months and a high participation rate. I will ask our chief economist to tell you the exact unemployment rate and participation rate of independent skilled migrants. The rate of state sponsored migrants would also be useful. But generally the results are very good. They are not as good as employer sponsored rates, but by its very nature employer sponsorship means that all these migrants—almost 100 per cent—are employed, and they are employed in skilled occupations. On average they have very high incomes, which means, if we take this measure as a simplistic measure of productivity, that they are very productive. Independent skilled migrants of course need some settlement period. Even then, after six months they have very low unemployment rates and high participation rates—higher than the Australian population average.
CHAIR: Mark, when you respond, perhaps you could also give us an indication of the profile of those skilled migrants who are responding—age group, gender and marital status. Also, what sorts of jobs are they getting into? And what, if any, settlement services do they need?
Mr Cully : I am not sure I will be able to answer all those questions with the level of detail you are seeking.
CHAIR: No worries.
Mr Cully : We provided you with a written answer to a question on notice that covered the survey that Kruno referred to. Since 2009 we have surveyed around 18,000 principal applicants who have come through the skilled stream and the family stream. They were surveyed six months after they were granted their visa, if they were already resident in Australia, or six months after they arrived in Australia, and then at 12 months. That period crosses over to the introduction of the state migration plans. So it is certainly possible for us to drill into that 18,000 and to provide you with separate results on the employment outcomes of state sponsored migrants prior to the introduction of state migration plans and since then. We can do that, but I do not have that information to hand here.
CHAIR: That is fine.
Mr Cully : The sample is designed to be representative. It is a sample survey representative of the profile of those who are granted visas. If we were to provide you with an overall profile of visa grants, you would see that principally the people we are talking about are of prime working age, in their 20s and 30s in the main. They are roughly equally split between men and women. There are more male principal applicants in the skills stream and there are more female principal applicants in the family stream.
CHAIR: You would know what countries they came from, too?
Mr Cully : We would know which countries they came from. We know which states they are resident in. It is possible then, as I said, to drill down but there are limits, because it is a sample survey, to the degree of accuracy that the information can be broken down to. For example, it is not possible for us to state accurately what the outcomes of state-sponsored migrants might be in Tasmania, because the numbers are small. There is no bias in the way the sample has been done to fully capture an equal sample across all of the states and territories. It is proportional and so most of them will be in New South Wales and Victoria.
Kruno mentioned in very broad terms the outcomes that we are seeing, and for skilled principal applicants as a whole the participation rate in the labour force is about 97 per cent. That compares with an Australian average of about 65-or-so per cent at the moment. It is 97 per cent partly because these people are young, prime working-age people. The unemployment rate is below the national unemployment rate. I do not have the results to hand for the state sponsored, but I am happy to provide them along with the appropriate caveats about how they should be interpreted.
CHAIR: It is becoming obvious to the committee, in listening to you—this is no reflection on the department at all—that a number of areas where information, analysis and research are sought need to be looked at. One would think the department would want to have a look at how the information was functioning within the overall program. The narrative we get from a lot of the submissions is contradictory to what you are saying now, but there is no research. Where does one go to look for the sort of people they are? Where are they coming from? What are they working in? That sort of information doesn't exist, does it? How else would you be informed about how it was working and how it fitted into the broader migration program?
Mr Cully : We do put out an annual publication called Population Flows: Immigration Aspects. The release of the 2010-11 report is imminent. It has been put out annually for about 20 years—I am not sure of the exact date—and it is roughly a 200-page document which attempts to provide an overall statistical portrait of migration programs, policies, trends and outcomes where they are available. Certainly there are a number of pages in that report each year on various regional-cum-state initiatives to attract and retain migrants in regional parts of Australia. We can provide you with that. There is a lot of material that the department has at its disposal in terms of administrative data on visa grants and visa applications. We have the survey data which helps us to understand the outcomes and we have some material that we can source from the Bureau of Statistics. The Population Flows publication is an attempt to pull that together.
CHAIR: Would the department be able to pick up, for example, the humanitarian settlement of the Karen people in Mount Gambier? When we went there, we found a good program but the problem was that they were not being employed. Employment was not available. You would pick up inadequacies as well as statistics, wouldn't you? You would have to do research about whether things were actually working the way they should work. Other than describing the statistical movement of people and so forth, can you pick that up?
Dr Southern : We probably pick some of that up in other kinds of research that we do.
CHAIR: So, it is rather spread out?
Dr Southern : Yes. Certainly, we have done some work around the indicators of success for regional settlement for humanitarian program settlers. The numbers are quite different. We are looking at thousands rather than the hundreds of thousands that we are looking at through the migration program. Mr Fleming may be able to talk a little bit more about that, but I think that the level of granularity that you are looking for there probably would not come out of that kind of research but rather some of the more qualitative stuff that we do.
Mr Fleming : As implied in your question, in addition to skilled migrants there are also communities that cry out for humanitarian entrants to be settled to help with declining populations and/or workforce shortfalls. We are now at the rate of settling about 20 per cent of the Humanitarian Program in regional locations. It is a program of 13,750 people per year and 20 per cent has come a fairly long way pretty quickly. We have analysed quite closely what the factors of success are and when people approach us, or we identify areas that might be good primary settlement locations, we use that analysis to check that they have got the right factors. So obviously, having appropriate employment available is an important factor; access to English language tuition is another important one, as is affordable housing. Having both jobs and affordable housing are very important.
We need to check out what the local health services are like, because we do not want them to drain the local area of health services particularly mental health support services, and there are also things like English-as-a-second-language support for children in schools if families are involved. There is a rough overview of the sorts of factors we have found are successful and take into account in deciding whether we will do primary settlement to a particular area. You might have seen in the press recently that Bunbury in Western Australia had approached us. That is seeming to tick all the boxes and we are just working with them to check that all that is covered. We have had small numbers directly settled there.
CHAIR: This question is probably around the whole concept of loopholes. There are always loopholes in systems and that is where a lot of problems arise as a result of people being able to find loopholes to get around the system. Recently—probably last month—there was a newspaper article in the Sun Herald that stated there would be an opportunity for 2,000 taxi drivers from Athens to come to Melbourne to work driving taxis in Melbourne. The immigration minister did not know about it, and I do not know whether the department knew about it.
I have just come back from Greece. It seemed to me that it was an initiative hailed by Allen Phelps as innovative but that it really was a pulling together of student visa entry, registered training organisations and business people to perhaps bring to Australia a skill that was not on the skills shortages list. Nevertheless it happened, and you just kind of sit back and wonder how that can happen. How does the immigration department deal with an added aspirational figure of 2,000 to the overall migration program and entry into this country's workforce? Do you have a view on that?
Dr Southern : We are aware of it and it has caused some consternation.
Mr Kukoc : I did hear about that initiative. That initiative had nothing to do with this department at all.
CHAIR: I know that. That is why I am raising it, because there seems to be a free-for-all kind of attitude—
Mr Kukoc : The fact is that we have large temporary entry programs that are not directly work related to a labour market program, such as the student visa program or a working holidaymaker program. We bring in hundreds of thousands of people on different visas for different purposes—for education, social and for cultural purposes—and many of these visas have work rights. The student visa has work rights and that usually provides the incentive for some institutions or some stakeholders to market their courses or services by adding a bonus of work rights. We are not very comfortable with that approach, and we have said a number of times to a number of providers and stakeholders that our visa system is flexible enough to cater for international services, such as education services. That is what our visa is for: to enable people to come here to study and obtain education. Yes, work rights are a bonus, but this is not a visa specifically aimed at the labour market.
The other issue with such initiatives is of course the mere notion of providers trying to sell something that is not a pure service that they are set up to provide. That creates reasonable concerns and suspicions about the quality of such providers. But that is usually—
CHAIR: A two-week course at Holmesglen was the educational component of this particular proposition.
Mr Kukoc : Yes, and that is why the government has established a range of regulatory mechanisms in the education sector to address the issues that were prevalent in some sectors, as we know. That is why we now have two or three regulators in that industry. But we have also introduced a range of integrity measures in the student visa space, as everyone knows, and that has led to an improvement in the quality of the student visa process, of student visa applicants and of student visa holders coming to Australia.
Ms GAMBARO: Just going back to the skills, we were talking about the fact that the state can nominate a list of skills that are in demand. As I think I have asked before, are there any more stringent monitoring methods to ensure that people who come across with certain skills actually work in those skill areas and do not go off and work in another area? Is there any way the department can monitor that?
Mr Kukoc : We do generally monitor this through the Continuous Survey of Australia's Migrants, which targets skilled migration in particular and family migration, and we know for a fact that employer-sponsored skilled migrants work in the skilled occupation for which they were nominated 99.9 per cent of the time.
Ms GAMBARO: I do not have a problem with that one.
Mr Kukoc : Yes. But independent skilled migrants also work predominantly in the skilled occupations. There was an issue at one time with some onshore applicants for skilled migration visas who were former overseas students. Through the continuous survey, we established that many of them were working in lower-skilled occupations and, while their participation rate was very high—they are all employed and participating in the labour market—not all of them were in skilled occupations. We have addressed this through the changes in the points test, putting the emphasis on work experience and English language capability. We even added, for the first time, the possibility of getting points for overseas education. Based on some early results, that points test has improved the labour market outcomes for independent skilled migrants.
Ms GAMBARO: Similarly, have you made improvements in the trades area to ensure that people work in those areas?
Mr Kukoc : In the trades?
Ms GAMBARO: I think there was an issue with trades. I might have raised it with you here in the committee. Are people coming over as tilers—I do not know if tilers are on that list at the moment—or plumbers or whatever and then not working in that industry?
Mr Kukoc : The survey does not go into that—
Ms GAMBARO: It does not go into that level of detail?
Mr Kukoc : level of detail and specifics. But the survey does cover that issue of whether or not they work in a skilled occupation—and, when we say 'skilled occupation', that stands for 1, 2 and 3, and incorporates professions and trades.
Ms GAMBARO: This is one of the things I was quite concerned about, and I have been concerned about it for a long time. I think I have mentioned the experiences I have had with people coming and using the migration program. They may be skilled as plumbers, electricians or whatever the occupational demand is—I always use the example of personal trainers. How do you ensure that the integrity of our program is maintained and that people do work in those areas? I know you have toughened it up, and you have gone through some of the measures you have included, but is that an ongoing thing? We had some issues with irregularities in student visas, and I have the same concerns here.
Mr Kukoc : Yes, you are absolutely right. That can be of concern. But the mere fact that there has been a shift to employer sponsored migration—
Ms GAMBARO: So you will alleviate that by having more employer sponsored migration.
Mr Kukoc : Effectively. When 50 per cent of the skilled program is driven by employer sponsorship, that means that we can easily monitor and track down whether people are working in skilled occupations. Most of them will come under 457, and this is where our monitoring is very strong. We know that they are employed in the occupation for which they are nominated. After two or three years they are then transferred or sponsored by the same employer into permanent residency, and it is only reasonable to assume that they will continue in the same occupation. So that is 50 per cent of the problem. While we are doing some surveys—and they are all important analytical tools—the fact is that the rest of the independent skilled migrants are here to build human capital, not necessarily to address the immediate labour market needs. The immediate labour market needs in different occupations is addressed through 457 in employer sponsored migration. Independent skilled migration is there to build human capital for the medium term. That is why we have introduced the stronger points test in terms of work experience, English and qualifications. People do change occupations, but it is important that we get the best human capital.
Ms GAMBARO: I am aware of that, but in terms of the basis on which people are accepted, you are saying that it is much more generic than an occupation or a skill. Is that what you are saying—that it is made up of points and the contribution to human capital? I guess that is what I am trying to differentiate here: they are being accepted because of their skill set in a particular area, but you were just saying that in the independent area it is based on a broad range of things.
Mr Kukoc : It is based on a broad range of things that will likely lead to success in the labour market in the medium term. But you are right: they are also selected on the basis of the occupations. We have a skilled occupations list determined by the independent authority Skills Australia, and that is still in place. But all those occupations on the skilled occupations list are carefully chosen to build human capital in the medium term by knowing what the gaps in the labour market will be in certain occupations. Also, the occupations list—and Mark can help me here—has been built on this notion of the occupations for which there will be market failure in terms of meeting requirements domestically in the medium term. It is not really that specific, but Mark can help me in explaining how the skills authority determines the skilled occupations list.
Mr Cully : Skills Australia, as part of its overall program of work around thinking about future workforce development in Australia, developed this notion of what is called a specialised occupations list. As Kruno has outlined, it is a list of occupations for which we need a guaranteed late supply into the future and occupations for which you cannot necessarily rely on the market to solve a short-term skills shortage problem. Skills Australia has a number of criteria by which it designates something as a specialised occupation. The main one is that it takes a long time to learn, so there is a long lead time in developing skills—four years for a traditional apprenticeship or three years for a degree. The second one is that there is a very high match between somebody studying in a particular field and them subsequently being employed in that field. The situation you outlined with respect to plumbers is equally true for people who complete an apprenticeship when it comes to whether they subsequently remain employed as a plumber.
The third one is that there are community costs or economic costs if that occupation were to be in short supply. The best way of illustrating this, which always provokes a bit of mild controversy, is: does it matter if hairdressers are in short supply in the community? Generally it takes three or four years to learn to become a hairdresser; generally people who train as hairdressers work as hairdressers; but does it matter if hairdressers are in short supply? Skills Australia took the view that it did not.
They are the three criteria that they use for designating something as a specialised occupation. The skilled occupations list, which they then provide advice to the minister for employment and the minister for immigration on, is a subset of that list. When occupations are on that specialised list, migration is considered suitable to supplement the domestic workforce.
Mr Kukoc : The criteria that Skills Australia uses for selecting the occupations for the skilled occupation list increase the likelihood of these people working in the occupation for which they nominated as an independent migrant, because one of the criteria effectively says that the effort and study period invested in that occupation is significant and that they are more likely to work in that occupation following their qualification. The core criteria of Skills Australia will increase the likelihood of these people actually working in the skills for which they have nominated. If someone has studied engineering for five or six years, it is more likely that that person will end up working as an engineer.
Ms GAMBARO: Have any EMAs, enterprise migration agreements, been signed off on?
Mr Kukoc : No. One application is being considered and at the moment the department is in the process of advising the minister on the way forward.
Ms GAMBARO: Regarding these large mining companies that are wanting to bring people in on 457s—I do not know if other agreements are going to be entered into—and the integrity of what they will pay their people, is it absolutely guaranteed that they will be paid equivalent Australian rates?
Mr Kukoc : That is governed by the worker protection act and the sponsorship obligations in our legislation for 457, because all these people will be employed on 457. All the integrity legislation that has been introduced in the last few years, including the worker protection act and particularly the requirement to employ them under the same terms and conditions of employment as Australians, will apply to these workers because they will be on 457.
Ms GAMBARO: So there is no other way that companies can circumvent that Australian requirement by any offshore methods?
Mr Kukoc : I am not sure what you mean by offshore methods, but the fact is that we have other—
Ms GAMBARO: For example, payment methods offshore that would enable them to be paid offshore at a lower rate than they are being paid here. Is there any way the department could check on that?
Mr Kukoc : They have to be employed under the same terms and conditions as Australians, so, if any method of payment, salary or remuneration is available to Australians, it must be available to those overseas workers. The Fair Work Act applies and the worker protection act applies, so we are pretty confident—
Ms GAMBARO: So every check is in place?
Mr Kukoc : that in the 457 space that cannot happen. The fact is, as I mentioned earlier, that we have hundreds of thousands of people on other visas who also have work rights, but they are also subject to the Fair Work Act and the industrial relations system that applies to all Australians.
Ms GAMBARO: Thank you.
Senator GALLACHER: I suppose the pressure for work in Western Australia, the Northern Territory and Queensland is generally in rural or regional areas. My brief knowledge from touring around some of those places is that people fly in and fly out or drive in and drive out. They do not actually live there. These 457 visas may have a month or a fortnight on a mine site, but where do they actually live?
Mr Kukoc : The duration of 457 visas is a minimum of three months up to four years. Most of them are on contracts and on a 457 visa for one, two, three or four years and they are part of the community. They rent houses, they live in—
Senator GALLACHER: They probably live where the rest of us live: on the coast in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne.
Mr Kukoc : Some of them will live on site. It all depends on the local arrangement for a particular mine or construction.
Senator GALLACHER: You are talking about migration, and the example of the Karens in Mount Gambier is one of where a rural people could get into agriculture or something close to their background. With 457 visas they come in and work in a great big mining site and they fly in and out of Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne or Darwin, and they increasingly—and a lot of Australian workers do this—live in Thailand or Indonesia and fly in and out of those places. It is not really a migration issue; it is a workforce issue.
Mr Kukoc : My understanding is that most 457 holders do live in Australia. They do not fly in and fly out from overseas.
Senator GALLACHER: But a lot of Australian workers do.
Mr Kukoc : They do.
Senator GALLACHER: Western Australian and Northern Territory people do fly in from and fly out to Indonesia. They spend a month on a coastal shipping barge, then they spend a month in Thailand and then they come back. These are complex workforce and migration interrelated issues which I do not think we really have a handle on at all in some respects.
Mr Kukoc : I can only agree that it is complex, but I am also emphasising the fact that 457 visa holders predominantly live in Australia. I doubt that they would find a single case of fly-in fly-out from overseas that would apply to 457. We know based on our—
Senator GALLACHER: But you would not know.
Mr Kukoc : We do know, based on our arrivals and departures data, the movement of 457 visa holders. Quite a few of them go back overseas for holidays to visit family, but we do not see these regular weekly movements that your question implies.
Senator GALLACHER: It may be monthly or fortnightly or whatever shift they are on, with 14 days on or three weeks on—time on, time off.
Mr Kukoc : The cycle of departure and arrival usually follows the holiday cycle—the holiday season.
Senator GALLACHER: That is fair enough. The other quick one is that the Riverland has pressure at every harvest season and always has, and it has always been serviced by itinerant fruit pickers and travelling people. Now we are finding that there is no accommodation for them; they are sleeping in cars. The British and Irish backpackers who like to go and do some of that work are literally sleeping on the side of the road. So we do not seem to be making any progress towards actually settling people who are interested in doing this sort of work in those areas because of the peak seasons. It is left to itinerant backpackers or whoever; it could be doctors doing backpacking. The pressures come at one point. There is no accommodation and abysmal conditions for these people. On the other side, the farmers cannot get their produce off the trees or out of the ground—potatoes or whatever. Is there any thought to a more structured migration program for people who want to live in those areas? We cannot get doctors to live in rural South Australia, even at half a million dollars a year. As soon as their time is up, they go back to the city. Are there any thoughts at all, particularly with the humanitarian groups, or any success stories about placing people in line with their skill sets and also their wanting to do it?
Dr Southern : Just one observation before I pass to Garry is that we might be conflating a few issues here, one being that seasonal work is just that: people come in for the harvest and then leave, and the incentives to stay are not there because there is no work in the intervening periods. The other issue, which I suspect has always been an issue, is appropriate accommodation for people who are coming in on an itinerant basis. Some employers are better at doing that than others, and the ones who want to attract people will provide infrastructure to allow it to happen and perhaps others will not. Then there is the secondary issue of the year-round requirements for that kind of labour. Garry can talk about the humanitarian settlement side of it.
The other program that we would point to is the Pacific seasonal worker program, which is very much directed towards having the right people in the right place at the right time, but it is a program that is very much based on employers actually having the support necessary to accommodate people who are going to be working there for those periods of time.
Senator GALLACHER: But the Riverland was basically settled by Italians and people like that, and they had work all year round, so I am not sure how it has changed into a very seasonal occupation.
Dr Southern : Anecdotally—thinking of what we see—yes, there is the year-round requirement to maintain the crops and keep the farms going, but there is separately the surge capacity, if you like, that people need during the harvest season.
Senator GALLACHER: But what if we were to successfully resettle people there who had a different view, who were entrepreneurial? That is where I am going with it, really.
Dr Southern : I think that is a separate issue from the seasonal worker issue that we started talking about.
Mr Fleming : I do not think that directly settling humanitarian entrants in an area that requires them to immediately be entrepreneurial is feasible. They have enough to do in terms of learning the language, cultural acclimatisation to Australia and all the other difficulties that go with settling, although we do find that the second generation of humanitarian entrants are more entrepreneurial than the general population. So we probably would not look to directly settle refugees and other humanitarian entrants somewhere that was only capable of providing them with employment for a portion of the year. There are some areas related to agricultural work where we do do direct settlement because it is not quite so seasonal. In Coffs Harbour, for example, we directly settle because there are berry crops and picking related work—that is a big one—all year round. Albury-Wodonga is another area where we do direct settlement. But the Riverland, with the combination of the accommodation issues you have highlighted and the fact that we cannot get them year-round employment, is not an area on our radar for direct settlement at the moment.
Senator GALLACHER: Fair enough. Thanks.
Mr ZAPPIA: I have just a couple of questions. Yesterday, the minister announced that net migration to Australia would be increased by about 5,000 people. What is happening with the net migration figure, given that we have people who leave Australia? Does that announcement mean that migration is in fact going to increase by 5,000, or is that offset by increased migration away from Australia?
Dr Southern : The extra 5,000 places announced yesterday are a further 5,000 places in the permanent migration program. So these are more places for people coming in; it is not the net figure.
Mr ZAPPIA: Right. So can you tell me what the net figure is going to be? Is that going to go up?
Dr Southern : We do have some forecasts.
Mr Kukoc : We publish regular forecasts on net overseas migration, and the last one was published last month and it is on our website. It is called The outlook for net overseas migrationMarch 2012, and it forecasts the net overseas migration for this year and three other years over the forward estimates. However, the publication of that forecast did not include the permanent migration program change. But, based on our analysis, this small increase in the permanent migration program will have an almost negligible effect on net overseas migration because many of the applicants for those additional 5,000 places that will be granted in the permanent migration program are already onshore. They are on a 457 visa or a student visa and are applying for a permanent visa. In addition to that, you are right, we have permanent departures of settlers and Australians. All are taken into account and the increase in the permanent migration program will have a minimal impact on the net overseas migration forecast as it currently stands. Based on the current net overseas migration forecast, we are looking at 170,000 to 180,000 this year, gradually increasing to 190,000 and then around 200,000 in 2013-14. That is based on the economic forecast and the assumption that the mining boom and the resources boom and the good economic times in some regions and some sectors will continue. That is, to the best of our knowledge, the impact on net overseas migration.
Dr Southern : It might be worth just explaining as well the different components of net overseas migration because it is not just made up of the permanent migration program. I will probably get this wrong, but people who are here on temporary visas but are here for—
Mr Cully : Twelve months in 16.
Dr Southern : So someone who is here on a 457 visa, for example, who will be here for longer than the 12 months in 16 would be counted as part of the net overseas migration. Similarly, Australian permanent residents who are overseas for a period of longer than 12 months in 16 months would be netted off from the net overseas migration.
Mr ZAPPIA: In addition to that migration figure would be the students coming in and the 457 visa holders—
Dr Southern : They would be included in net overseas migration, but they are in addition to the migration program.
Mr Kukoc : Normally all temporary categories have a minimal impact on net overseas migration in the medium term because the years of arrivals under the temporary category will be followed by years of departure of these temporary categories, so there will be some medium-term impact but not a significant impact. In general, the net overseas migration is driven by the size of the permanent migration program.
That was not the case a couple of years ago when we had an issue with the student visa and the system that allowed many student visa holders to apply for a permanent visa onshore and then stay on bridging visas until the overseas crisis was resolved. This actually created a piling up or pyramid effect and we had an explosion in net overseas migration of 320,000. But since we have addressed the issue of these onshore pathways for students, net overseas migration is generally within the range of the permanent migration program in the medium term.
Mr ZAPPIA: Lastly—and this is a question totally unrelated to all of this—when we have a refugee applicant who comes to this country, and in particular the refugees who come here as a result of what we would call 'boat landings', and they are granted permanent residency in Australia, do we track those once they are granted permanent residency then return to their homeland for a visit or a holiday or whatever they want to call it? Do we have any understanding of how many of them then decide that they will take a trip back to where they came from after they have been given—
Dr Southern : They are permanent residents so we do not track the movements of permanent residents. Anecdotally, some do return but as for the reasons for doing so—a dying parent or something like that—we do not really have a complete picture of what is happening there.
Mrs MARKUS: I have a quick question which you may or may not be able to answer. In the 42nd Parliament there were a couple of inquiries which we have not yet seen a response to. I am wondering whether you would have any update as to where that could be. There are two: the inquiry into immigration detention and the Australian inquiry into immigration treatment of disability.
Dr Southern : In relation to the report on detention, the proposed government response to that is being considered further in light of the report and recommendations of the Joint Standing Committee on Migration's inquiry into immigration detention as well as the recent announcements that the government has made about onshore processing of irregular maritime arrivals and detention alternatives.
As for the treatment of disability report, two measures were announced in the budget last night which go to some of the recommendations of that report. They relate to increasing the significant cost threshold from $21,000 to $35,000 and to waiving the significant cost threshold requirement for offshore refugee and special humanitarian program applicants. Of course, there are a range of other recommendations in that report which are quite complex, and the government is working on the response to the broader range of things, but there are those two measures in last night's budget.
CHAIR: There appear to be no other questions, though I am fairly certain that something will come up. We might call you back again or we might just write to you. Thank you for your continuous return here to the table! Thank you for attending today and for giving evidence. Your participation, as always, is a valuable contribution to the inquiry. The secretariat will be in touch if the committee have any further questions. We will not ask you to come back, but we have commenced the actual writing of the report and so there might be things that need clarification. I declare this hearing closed. Thank you for your attendance today and thank you, as always, Hansard.
Resolved (on motion by Mr Georganas):
That this committee authorises publication, including publication on the parliamentary database, of the transcript of the evidence given before it at public hearing this day.
Committee adjourned at 11:52