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Thursday, 6 April 2000
Page: 15450

Mr LINDSAY (3:02 PM) —My question is directed to the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs. Minister, could you inform the House of the recent changes to the Australian migration program? What are the economic and employment benefits that can stem from the skilled component of that program? How does this assist regional centres, such as my communities of Townsville and Thuringowa?

Mr RUDDOCK (Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Reconciliation) —I thank the honourable member for Herbert for the question that he has asked of me, because this is about good news. It is about the substantial strength of the Australian economy and what is happening in our employment markets here in Australia. It is about the capacity that we have had within the program for migration, particularly the skilled program for migration, to be able to accommodate an increased number of migrants because there is an increased interest from highly skilled applicants.

Earlier this week I announced a 6,000 place increase in the migration program; 5,000 of those places are in the skilled stream. It brings the skilled stream to some 52 per cent of the program numbers, and it represents the best outcome for at least a decade.

Economic modelling has indicated that the combined effect of the shift in the balance of the migration program—that is, a balance in favour of skilled as against family migrants—and of the new points test has been that an improvement in living standards has been delivered. In fact, by the year 2007, there will have been, on a per capita basis, a $134 increase in GDP. Given that the program for this year has an even greater shift in the balance, it can be reasonably expected that the impact on living standards will be greater than that shown by the research.

The further research that we have had carried out demonstrates that the Commonwealth budget will be highly positive in terms of its fiscal balance as a result of the net benefit of some $120 million over five years from this single change in the migration program. The new points test has been very successful in targeting migrants with skills that are in high demand, and those areas include information technology, professionals, accountants and nurses. Of course, because many of these migrants are former students, they have had the advantage of getting their qualifications here, and that is highly beneficial as well.

We know from the recent data from the Australian Bureau of Census and Statistics that skilled stream entrants are doing extraordinarily well. They are making an immediate contribution to our economy. When you compare this with some of the results that we have seen overseas—particularly in the United States of America, where there has been a rise in inequality and poverty when there has been large scale unskilled migration—you can see that the changes in the program have been enormously beneficial.

I might say for the benefit of the member for Batman that we are working very considerably with the states that are interested in a better dispersal of the migration outcome to obtain a significant dispersal. This is one of the reasons that we are continuing with a contingency reserve for extra places for those states and regional authorities that believe that their states and territories can benefit through further skilled migration into regional areas. This is a program that is highly beneficial to the Australian community and one which I am sure all honourable members would want to support.