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Wednesday, 17 June 2009
Page: 6465

Dr STONE (6:04 PM) —At the outset, let me refer to the minister’s earlier response. Statistics do not lie. What we had at the end of 1999 was the introduction of the package to deal with people-smuggling. In the next year, when the people in the pipeline were of course on their way, the figures remained similar. They then halved, and the people smugglers were out of business by 2003. The statistics are there for everybody to see.

Let me move on to education agents. In the budget the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, we are told, is to take over the running of the Migration Agents Registration Authority. It was being run very well by the industry sector in a voluntary way, but the department is taking on this function. What we cannot understand is why the government did not add to the task the education agents who, as we know, spend a lot of time giving advice on migration pathways to international students whose goal is to come and study in Australia as a means of gaining the points to apply for permanent residency. These education agents very often are horrifically disadvantaging students by misrepresenting the sorts of courses these people will need to take, the number of hours they may legitimately work in Australia and indeed the course fees themselves, yet the government has chosen to continue to leave them out of the loop when it comes to accreditation, evaluation of their output and monitoring. It would have been so simple to add them to the Migration Agents Registration Authority task. They seem to have been out of sight and out of mind. We now have the tragedy of the Indian students being attacked, and I have no doubt that education agents, if they had been better scrutinised, monitored and accredited, may have played a greater part in making sure those students understood exactly what their rights and responsibilities in Australia were and in helping to protect them from exploitation here.

There is also the guest worker issue. In the budget we have, quite interestingly, a substantial number of millions to help DIAC, DEEWR, DFAT and other agencies continue to manage the Pacific Islander seasonal guest worker program. That has been a complete debacle. The guest workers themselves were meant to arrive before Christmas last year in order to do the harvest work in Swan Hill and three other pilot areas. They arrived so late—and then only the Tongans—that there was no work left for them to do. Besides that, the communities of horticulturalists had been left so far out of the loop that they were not even aware of what their costs and responsibilities would be in relation to this program. When they found out, they were somewhat alarmed. We now have the shocking situation of Tongan guest workers out-competing Tongan Australians in the picking area of Robinvale.

This has been a debacle from start to finish. There have been lots of trips into northern Victoria and southern New South Wales for numbers of bureaucrats, but it has been a totally bungled opportunity and, I am afraid, there has been a lot of misrepresentation to our dear friends in the Pacific, who were anticipating an income stream back to their impoverished communities and villages. Instead we have found only Tonga engaged and then at the wrong time of the year and with a lot of community opprobrium—not fair of course—when the Tongan workers have taken the jobs of the now growing numbers of unemployed in rural and regional Australia.

I also wonder why the Living in Harmony program grants were slashed. They were a major means of bringing about community understanding of new minorities coming to this country. Those grants and support have gone.

We are also concerned about the Community Care Pilot, which was begun under the coalition, to help asylum seekers settle into a new community experience. That was made an ongoing program and is to be supported, but there is no funding for the accommodation component of that community care program. How absurd! The biggest cost and the biggest need for these new arrivals is adequate and appropriate accommodation, but support is not there. The NGOs working in the sector have come to me and said: ‘What can we do? We cannot believe that this is the way the program is being managed.’

Let me say too that it is of great concern to us that the department of immigration is not appropriately and efficiently dealing with 457 visas. In particular, it is spending up to 12 months thinking about an application. By that time we have been out-competed for those skilled workers by countries like Canada, the US and New Zealand, which have far more efficient programs. (Time expired)