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Tuesday, 8 March 2005
Page: 76

Senator BOLKUS (5:36 PM) —I present the report of the Legal and Constitutional References Committee entitled They still call Australia home: inquiry into Australian expatriates together with the Hansard record of proceedings and documents presented to the committee.

Ordered that the report be printed.

Senator BOLKUS —I seek leave to move a motion in relation to the report.

Leave granted.

Senator BOLKUS —I move:

That the Senate take note of the report.

I am pleased to present the report of the Senate Legal and Constitutional References Committee entitled They still call Australia home: inquiry into Australian expatriates. The report is the result of an inquiry lasting over 18 months during which the committee received evidence on a whole range of issues relating to Australians living overseas. The response to the inquiry was considerable. The committee received submissions from over 650 individuals and organisations, many of them overseas. The committee examined the demographics of Australians living overseas and the needs and concerns of those Australians. The committee also considered the role the Australian government plays in relation to expatriates and ways in which expatriates contribute to the Australian community.

The committee learnt that a significant proportion of the Australian population is currently living overseas on a permanent or long-term basis. Current estimates are that almost a million Australians are living abroad. The committee also heard that many of these expatriate Australians are young, highly skilled, highly motivated and well educated. This has led some to fear that Australia is experiencing a brain drain of its best and brightest workers with potentially damaging consequences for the Australian economy and Australian society. In fact, the committee received evidence during its inquiry that Australia actually experiences a net brain gain of skilled workers. Most importantly, the committee received much evidence to show that these Australians living abroad are great ambassadors for Australia, creating valuable bridges for Australia across the world.

The factors driving more Australians to live overseas are many and varied. At a broad level the expatriates phenomenon is a reflection of an increasingly mobile and globalised world. Some of the key influences on the phenomenon include the rise of global labour markets, more accessible and economical international transport and increasingly more sophisticated communication technologies. At the same time, the improved technology, particularly the internet, has made it much easier for expatriates to stay in touch with Australia. As a result, the committee discovered that many expatriate Australians still feel very strong cultural links with their homeland despite being physically located outside Australia. As the title of the report suggests, they still call Australia home and they still participate in the day-to-day events of Australian society, although remotely.

In the same way that most expat Australians still embrace Australia as their home, the majority of the committee considers that we should do more as a society to embrace our expat community as part of the Australian nation. As a recent report on Australian expatriates by the Lowy Institute for International Policy remarked, Australian expatriates represent ‘a market, a constituency, a sales force and an ambassadorial corps’.

The committee found during this inquiry that Australian expatriates present many potential benefits, opportunities and new considerations for Australian policy makers. In particular, we heard that many of the needs and concerns of expatriate Australians are not being adequately dealt with by the Australian government and its structures. Many expats expressed particular frustration at their dealings—or indeed their attempts to deal—with Australian government agencies. The majority of the committee found that Australian expatriates could be better recognised and included in the Australian democratic system.

To achieve these aims, some of the key recommendations that the majority of the committee has made in this report are: the establishment of a policy unit within the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to facilitate the coordination of policies relating to Australian expatriates; the establishment by the Australian government of a web portal devoted to the provision of information and services for expatriate Australians—a web portal that would be used for interactive activities both broadly across the globe as well as in particular locations—the revision of the consular role for Australian missions overseas to require posts to extend their engagement with the local expat community; and greater inclusion of expatriates in the Australian democratic system, including proposed amendments to the Australian Citizenship Act and the Commonwealth Electoral Act. I urge the government to heed the recommendations of the committee’s report and to make greater effort to connect with this most important resource of the Australian people.

In closing, I would like to thank all those people who took the time to make submissions and to give evidence to the committee, including expatriate network organisations and many overseas based chambers of commerce and alumni associations. I would particularly like to thank the Southern Cross Group for its assistance in distributing information about the inquiry and for supplying a steady stream of comprehensive submissions and useful background information. I would also like to thank the people involved with the Lowy Institute for International Policy. I think the institute and study set the framework and directions for government to follow, many of which were shared by this particular committee and the members of it. I would like to thank my committee colleagues, including the deputy chair, Senator Payne, and current and former staff of the committee secretariat for their work on the inquiry—that includes Phillip Bailey, Louise Gell, Barbara Allen, Kelly Paxman, Sophie Power, Julie Dennett, Marina Seminara and other secretariat staff. I commend the report to the Senate.