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Monday, 8 February 2010
Page: 603

Ms BURKE (2:18 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Education, the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and the Minister for Social Inclusion. Deputy Prime Minster, how will the announced changes to Australia’s skilled migration scheme better secure our economic future? What are the public reactions to these changes?

Ms GILLARD (Minister for Education, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and Minister for Social Inclusion) —I thank the member for Chisholm for her question. Today the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship made an important announcement about better targeting our skilled migration system to the skill needs of the Australian economy. In doing so the minister said:

We often hear that previous micro-economic reforms have laid the foundation of our current prosperity. Rarely do we hear recognition of the role played by Australia’s skilled migration program. It is the unsung achiever of prosperity … Skilled migrants are also good for the Budget bottom line, adding tens of millions more to tax revenue each year than they consume in government services.

He explained—and these are very interesting figures—that migrants make up a quarter of the Australian population but account for around half of our doctors, dentists, IT specialists and chefs and more than a third of our pharmacists, geologists, mechanical engineers and painters and decorators. From those statistics and those words I think we can see there is no more important economic issue for the nation’s future than appropriately targeting our skilled migration program. That is why the government has today announced that we will scrap the Migration Occupations in Demand List and replace it with a new more targeted skills occupation list to be drawn up by Skills Australia in light of the nation’s needs for skilled labour.

This is a vital economic reform, but on this vital economic reform, like on all other economic reform questions, the opposition is deeply divided. I am asked about reactions to this announcement today. Of course, before this announcement we knew that the opposition was deeply divided on climate change and economic reform issues and that has been proved yet again today in the speech by the member for Wentworth and all of his silent supporters on the opposition benches who are now too afraid to come out and support the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. Before today we knew that the opposition was divided on the question of fiscal responsibility and dealing with debt and deficit.

Opposition members interjecting—

Ms GILLARD —Now we have the shadow Treasurer interjecting. The shadow Treasurer is playing Tinkerbell rather than trying to manage the finances of the opposition, having been usurped by the shadow minister for finance. Now he is having to cope with the uncosted climate change con job of the Leader of the Opposition. We knew before today, when it comes to economic divisions in the opposition, that the division is so deep that the former Treasurer Peter Costello is on the record as saying that the Leader of the Opposition is so economically incompetent he would not have even tolerated him as his deputy.

Today, on an important economic issue of skilled migration, another division emerges. We have the Liberal senator Simon Birmingham criticising the government for not allowing enough skilled migration into the country, while the member for Bowman on the very same day comes out and criticises us for allowing too much skilled migration into the country. Not enough or too much? It is a central economic question on which the opposition are as deeply divided as they are on every other question. What this means is that members of the opposition are always available for a handy one-liner, but what they are never available for is the production of responsible, costed policies. I would say to the Leader of the Opposition, and it is a lesson as old as time: you cannot run the Australian economy if you cannot run your political party, and each and every day you fail that test—each and every day.