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Ministerial Council Communique: Meeting of the Ministerial Council of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Melbourne, 27 March 1998



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Immigration, Multicultural Affairs

 

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Philip Ruddock MP

 

Ministerial Council Communique

Meeting of the Ministerial Council

of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs

Melbourne, 27 March 1998

 

Key issues on immigration, settlement and multicultural affairs were discussed at the annual Meeting of the Ministerial Council of Commonwealth, State and Territory Ministers responsible for immigration, multicultural and ethnic affairs and representatives of the Australian Local Government Association, held in Melbourne today.

 

The topics discussed included the size and composition of the 1998-99 Migration and Humanitarian Programs, the National Integrated Settlement Strategy, Translating and Interpreting services and harmonious community relations.

 

The Council noted the challenge for the Government in formulating programs which are appropriate to prevailing economic conditions and which balance and reflect Australia's economic, social, environmental, humanitarian and international interests.

 

Migration

 

In the Family Stream, the Council noted that measures had been taken to lower the numbers in the 1997-98 program. This included capping (or limiting) the number of visas which may be granted in certain categories of the Family Stream, and enhanced bona fides testing strategy for spouse visa applicants to protect the integrity of the category. The enhanced testing had resulted in a decrease in application rates and an increase in refusal rates for applicants.

 

The Council noted, therefore, that measures taken by the Commonwealth Government to shift the emphasis of the Migration Program to skilled migration were showing results, with over 50 per cent of migrants entering under the Skilled stream in the first quarter of 1997-98, compared to 22 per cent in the first quarter of 1996-97.

 

The measures were aimed at ensuring that skilled migrants came to Australia with high levels of skill and were able to join the work force quickly. They included an increased emphasis on English language ability and raising the points test pass mark for Skilled-Australia linked migrants.

 

The Council noted that the Review of the Points Test, announced in May 1997, is approaching completion. The focus of the Review is to evaluate and report on the effectiveness of the points test in selecting skilled migrants who could quickly make a positive contribution to the Australian economy, labour market and budget.

 

In relation to regional migration, the Commonwealth Government had put in place most of the measures endorsed by the Ministerial Council in Darwin in 1997. These included the introduction of a Regional-linked category, the Regional Established Business in Australia category, Skill Matching, the State/Territory Nominated Independent category and the expansion of the Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme.

 

The Council also noted the review of entry options for Parents. A number of directions would be considered, including the possibility of longer term temporary entry which might better balance the social dimensions of parent entry against the high costs to the community.

 

The Council noted the progress of the community consultation process in formulating the size and composition of the Migration and Humanitarian Programs.

 

The Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs advertised widely for written submissions, and conducted a series of community and public consultations for 1998-99. For the first time he held public meetings in Perth and Melbourne which were attended by members of the public as well as community organisations and individuals. In addition he invited community and business leaders to consultations in all other capital cities and in Bendigo and Ballarat (VIC), Berri (SA), Port Hedland (WA) and Townsville, Gladstone and Mount Isa (QLD).

 

A diverse range of views were expressed at the consultations, ranging from those who advocated higher immigration levels to those who sought reductions in the program. Strong support had been expressed for the Commonwealth Government's current emphasis on skilled migration and for regional migration initiatives.

 

All States and Territories were keen for higher levels of business migration to their own jurisdiction.

 

The Council noted the major factors to influence and shape the 1998-99 Migration Program will be ongoing management of demand in the Family stream, a nd delivering a Skills stream that ensures the continued entry of skilled migrants with high level of employability.

 

The Council agreed to establish a working party to investigate the development of long-term skilled migration options which look at increasing the number of skilled migrants to States/Territories and regional areas, with particular reference to the impact of growth rates generated by such migration on infrastructure, employment and sustainable economic development. The working party will present its report to the next Ministerial Council Meeting in 1999.

 

The Council also noted that the Commonwealth Government remained firmly committed to maintaining the primary focus of the Humanitarian Program on those who had the greatest need. In the 1998-99 Program this was likely to be people from the countries of the former Yugoslavia and the Middle East. The views of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees would be taken into consideration.

 

Settlement and multicultural issues

 

The Council endorsed the paper "Towards National Settlement Priorities", outlining the priorities for the National Integrated Settlement Strategy (NISS) over the next few years. The paper identified the need for more consistent and effective data collection and analysis to substantiate the level of settlement need.

 

The Council noted that much progress towards meeting those priorities had been made since last year's meeting.

 

The Council also noted the relevance of the Settlement Indicators project the Commonwealth Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs (DIMA) is currently undertaking. The project will provide a better database for identifying crucial settlement needs. A survey of sponsors and proposers of prospective migrants also assisted in identifying strategies for further development.

 

The Council noted that changes to the administration of the Translating and Interpreting Service from 1 July 1998 would continue to draw from State-based contractors throughout Australia. The Council also noted the Commonwealth undertaking to ensure that TIS customers in all States will continue to receive high quality service.

 

The consolidation would bring TIS into line with the best practices of other telephone call centre operations and enhance the national dimension of the service.

 

Ministers noted the need for continuing monitoring of the implementation of the arrangements to ensure they were working effectively.

 

The Council agreed that Ministers take up with relevant Ministerial colleagues (including, where appropriate, through Ministerial Councils) the need to make due provision as part of the core-funding of all government-funded community-based organisations for those organisations' payment of user-charges for interpreting and translating services in accord with Access and Equity principles.

 

The Council also agreed that the issue of the provision of funds for interpreting services be referred to the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General seeking a specific allocation of funding for interpreting services to CLCs.

 

Ministers discussed the impact of the criteria for access by newly-arrived migrants to DSS Special Benefits. The Council noted initiatives by the Commonwealth, States and Territories to promote harmonious community relations. The Commonwealth reported on the continuing development of its Anti-Racism campaign.

 

Melbourne, 27 March 1998