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Thursday, 12 May 2011
Page: 3868

Skilled Migration

Mr MURPHY (Reid) (15:18): My question is to the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship. Minister, will you outline to the House how the skilled migration program announced in the budget is helping address Australia's skill shortages, especially in regional and rural areas, and how has it been received?

Mr BOWEN (McMahonMinister for Immigration and Citizenship) (15:19): I thank the member for Reid for his question. This government understands that Australia's migration settings are vital to our productivity and our economic growth. We also understand that skilled migrants who settle in regional areas make a particular contribution to the fast-growing regional and rural areas around the country—to their local businesses and to their economies. This is good for the regions and good for the nation. That is why, as well as a sensible increase in our skilled migration intake announced on Tuesday night, we announced important steps to ensure migrants are prioritised in regional areas, where they are most needed, growing the skills of the regions.

In the last decade, we have seen a fourfold increase in the number of skilled migrants who settle in regional areas, and that is a good thing. But we need to do more. That is why we have announced an innovative new program of regional migration agreements—so that communities, employers, employees, local councils and unions can work together for a regional response to labour market needs. Regional migration agreements will include training requirements and local employment requirements so that we also continue to work to get more Australians into jobs. This will complement the government's $3 billion investment in major new skills initiatives announced by the Treasurer.

Of course, governments have always made it clear—and this government has always made it clear—that we are committed to boosting Australia's skills base and ensuring that Australian workers get the skills they need as well, but skilled migration is an important part of our response to the shortages around the nation. We are also allocating 16,000 skilled migration places to regional areas through the Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme, a 60 per cent increase on the expected demand in the year 2010-11. We are taking steps to ensure that our temporary skilled migration program continues to play a vital role in supporting all businesses and resource projects with the announcement of enterprise migration agreements, another significant step forward announced on Tuesday night.

So the government has taken a very sensible and responsible approach to skilled migration, which has been welcomed across the board by industry groups. The Minerals Council of Australia said:

… a lift in permanent skilled migration, the creation of enterprise or regional-focussed migration agreements and a streamlining of the processing of temporary skilled migration will help tackle immediate constraints.

The Business Council of Australia said these are:

… sensible measures which add flexibility around temporary migration arrangements with relevance to business.

So we know that this has been welcomed by third parties, by business groups, by farmers groups and by groups representing regional areas around the country. What we do not know is what the opposition thinks. We do not know what the opposition thinks, because we have not had much comment at all from the shadow minister for immigration about immigration settings. Call me old fashioned, but I would have thought the shadow minister for immigration might have something to say about the nation's annual immigration settings or about new initiatives like the regional migration statements or the enterprise migration agreements, but we have not a word. All we have had is our old friend the Leader of the National Party saying it is not enough, that there are not enough migrants going to regional areas. He has not outlined how much more they would increase migration by, what more they would do or how they would change our initiatives on regional migration statements. All we get in the space of immigration policy from this opposition are three-word slogans. When it comes to big decisions, like how much to increase the migration intake and whether we should encourage more people to live in regional areas, we hear nothing, not a word, from the shadow minister for immigration, the walking sound bite himself. When it comes to substance, we get nothing.

There is an opportunity tonight for the Leader of the Opposition in his budget reply to put some substance on the table and show us not only his savings but how he would return the budget to surplus. He proposes to oppose our cuts and our savings while returning the budget to surplus. How is he going to do it? And what is he going to do about immigration? (Time expired)

Ms Gillard: I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.eoqt