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Wednesday, 30 May 2012
Page: 6423

Mr BOWEN (McMahonMinister for Immigration and Citizenship) (17:05): As is my practice at these forums I will make an opening statement. This time provides a good opportunity to talk about the migration program. It always strikes me that one of the most important jobs for an immigration minister is to set the annual migration program for the year following.

It does not get very much attention or coverage, but it is the core of our very important migration policy. This year on budget day I announced an increase in the migration program from 185,000 people to 190,000 people—a modest increase but, nevertheless, an important one. This year's migration program includes a skills stream of 129,250 places, a family stream of 60,185 places and a special eligibility stream of 565 places. I would note that the breakdown between skills and family has been the same for many years—I think since 2006. I think it is an appropriate mix. It enables a continued focus not only on skilled migration but also on very appropriate and important family migration.

Up to 16,000 places have been reserved for the Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme to ensure that those areas have the support they need to fill skills gaps, grow local communities and strengthen communities. In relation to the Family Program, the figure of 60,185 is an increase on last year's program, which had 58,600. This is a program which is under considerable pressure given the considerable legitimate demand for people to live with their families in Australia. We have increased the parent stream, in particular, to 2,150 places. It was 1,000 when I became the minister; it is now 2,150 places. There is still a substantial backlog of applications for parent visas and a substantial waiting time. Obviously, we would like to see that come down, but it is important that the program be increasing.

Importantly, last week I made a number of announcements, some of which may get some attention today. One which may not get much attention is one that I am particularly pleased about: reforms to the Business Skills Program. I am particularly proud of this and we worked hard to deliver it. In my time as financial services minister I was particularly struck by the opportunities for Australia as a financial services hub and an investment location. That is what really drove our reforms to the significant investment visa, which will target migrants who can make an investment of at least $5 million in the Australian economy.

The significant investment visa will provide a boost to our economy and help Australia compete for high net wealth individuals seeking investment immigration. This will be a non-discriminatory visa, available to any high net wealth individual around the world who makes a financial contribution and an emotional commitment to Australia by seeking permanent residence. I envisage very heavy interest and demand in Asia, and particularly in China, where there has been a very substantial growth in high net wealth individuals over the years. This will of course help create a good source of new investment capital and increase the pool of funds to be managed locally. This will be good for jobs and good for our financial sector—in particular, funds management, financial planning, fund administration, stockbroking and accounting. We looked very closely at world's best practice in developing the significant investment visa. We looked at the experience of Canada, Singapore in particular, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, and I think we have a very competitive product indeed. There will be some more details announced, of course. Some of the reforms come into force on 1 July; others come into force later in the year, particularly the significant investment visa. We have also cut red tape by reducing the number of visa subclasses from 13 to three. I think we still have too many visa subclasses in Australia, but we have moved to substantially reduce them and we have made good progress in very substantially reducing the number of visa subclasses.

There are a number of other reforms that the government has engaged in, particularly in the skilled migration area, and I am sure some of those will receive the attention of honourable members over the coming hour.