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Deputy Prime Minister discusses the Government's changes to immigration

ELLEN FANNING: The Deputy Prime Minister, Tim Fischer, has lashed out at what he describes as the immigration industry, denying there'll be any adverse impact on Asian trade following changes to the number of migrants who'll be accepted into Australia. The Federal Government has announced it will cut the migrant intake and further restrict the family reunion program, giving a higher priority to English language skills.

Mr Fischer, who is also the Trade Minister, was speaking last night in Sydney at the launch of an export initiative which targets America. Suzanne Smith was there.

TIM FISCHER: Local knowledge and networks are as important in the US and Canada as in Japan, China, Germany and Russia. In the case of that last-named country, it also helps to know whether the President is alive or dead, or simply recovering from a vodka bender as they go to vote in their run-off elections this day. I just hope the Russian Consul-General or Ambassador is not here tonight. I wish all contenders in that election well, I hasten to add. I wish President Yeltsin well.

SUZANNE SMITH: On a less frivolous note, however, the issue of Asian trade and whether the new immigration policy would send negative messages to our Asian trading partners, elicited this fiery response from the Deputy Prime Minister.

TIM FISCHER: What humbug. The Australian Government has finally taken the right decision to take control of a program which has been out of control and establish what might be in Australia's interests with regard to maintaining fairly liberal elements and categories of immigration to this country. The previous government lost control of the program. We are making a decision for all Australian people, including newly-arrived migrants.

SUZANNE SMITH: In the family reunion category, you're putting extra priority on people that can speak English. Isn't that going to send a message to Asian countries and raise the spectre of the White Australia policy?

TIM FISCHER: No and no.

SUZANNE SMITH: Why not?

TIM FISCHER: And indeed because a lot of Asians I encounter in my many visits up there speak better English than you'll hear spoken in parts of Australia, dare I say. It is about regaining control of a program out of control. I just reject totally the fundamental premise embraced by your questioning. It is as if written by elements of the immigration industry. Every sovereign government has the absolute right to decide who comes to live in this country, should exercise that right in a fair way, in a proper way, in a balanced way, and that is what this excellent announcement is about.

SUZANNE SMITH: Who is the immigration industry?

TIM FISCHER: It is the add-on elements that clip on, often using taxpayers' money, to argue a particular agenda, ongoing, infinite, with regard to immigration. It should be a continuing program but one which the government of the day has a legitimate right to strike the right balance with in a sensible way. There will still in be net terms well over 75,000 people coming to Australia under this immigration program. People should not forget that.

SUZANNE SMITH: What do you mean by immigration industry? What do you mean by that statement?

TIM FISCHER: I'm not going to dwell on the phrase, but the elements of the immigration industry are around, they speak for themselves. But, ultimately, the Australian Government should listen to them and then make the right decision in the interests of Australia.

SUZANNE SMITH: Are you using the term 'industry' like people use the term 'politically correct views'? Aren't you trying to say that they don't have a right to say what they think?

TIM FISCHER: You might try and draw me further on this, but I'm happily about to launch Access America and I welcome migrants, whether they're from Kazakhstan or Katmandu or beyond.

ELLEN FANNING: The Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Trade, Tim Fischer, speaking in Sydney last night.