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Tuesday, 3 June 2003
Page: 15758

Mrs ELSON (3:28 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs. Would the minister inform the House how the government is equipping newly arrived migrants with the skills they need to participate in Australia's society and, in particular, the national language?

Mr HARDGRAVE (Minister for Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs) —I thank the member for Forde for her question. She is a hardworking member in a growth area of the growth state, a place to which a lot of people are wanting to move to be well serviced by her. Last week, the Review of Settlement Services for Migrants and Humanitarian Entrants showed that our programs are advanced on the world stage. We as a government are committed to helping new arrivals become strong contributors to the Australian community as early as they possibly can.

We on this side of the chamber believe strongly in a sense of investment in individuals. We believe that the key to participation in Australian society is the English language. The Adult Migrant English Program is a well recognised initiative which offers 510 hours of English classes to migrants. A few years ago, the Howard government introduced a special preparatory program which provides an additional 100 hours to further assist humanitarian and refugee entrants who require that extra help. In the past five years alone, 105,000 clients from over 170 countries have participated in the AMEP. This program has improved its overall reach to eligible clients, particularly in the family visa category. It is up by over 11 per cent, to 72.7 per cent in 2001.

This government is getting on with the job of providing even better settlement programs—further investment in individuals. Before new arrivals even come to Australia, there is better information for them about our society, our culture, the responsibilities of Australians and how to access support services. There are more coordinated services and proactive planning mechanisms to assist new arrivals to settle in regional areas where there is a strong demand for their skills. We will continue to work alongside other government programs to build stronger regional communities.

Just last week, I was with the member for Murray, the member for Ballarat and the member for Bendigo in their respective areas. I know that, in those particular parts of Australia, especially the Riverina—in fact, in your own part of Australia, Mr Speaker—there has been a strong sense of achievement over generations of migration where people have made a difference, brought their skills, their ambitions and their passion for Australia to the fore, created more jobs and made new industries possible. In the parts of regional Victoria I was in last week, there is a real determination to see more of that. They are thankful that the government has a focus on more regional outcomes for migration into those areas, directly bringing skills that are needed.

We want to make sure that there is greater flexibility in the English language programs we provide, especially for humanitarian entrants, to ensure that those with greater needs are accommodated. As a government, we are always working to assess our programs and ensure that they are up to date and fully responsive to the changing needs of the Australian community, particularly people coming to Australia. The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet will chair a high-level government task force to ensure that there is a continuation of, and improvement in, coordinated efforts across portfolios to be even more responsive to our ever changing diverse Australian community.

Mr Howard —Mr Speaker, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.