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Tuesday, 27 February 2001
Page: 24570

Dr Theophanous asked the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, upon notice, on 3 October 2000:

(1) Are the Government's various visa requirements for skilled and extended family immigration designed to cater only for individuals coming from countries that have the educational and technical base to achieve high levels of skilling; if so, what is the Government's response to claims that the requirements discriminate against people coming from countries such as the Pacific Islands where skilling opportunities are rarely available.

(2) Will he introduce immigration guidelines which permit a variation in skills assessment such that people coming from those countries where skilled training opportunities are less available, or not available at all, would be given the opportunity to enter Australia on the basis that they can complete their training in this country.

(3) If not, will the Government introduce a special immigration program for people from Pacific Islands, as currently exists in New Zealand, including a program to bring Pacific Islanders to Australia for skills training.

(4) Have Australian parliamentary committees in the past recommended such a course of action.

(5) Has the Government received representations from Pacific Island governments in relation to the availability of visas for Pacific Islanders; if so, what has the Government's response to the representations.

Mr Ruddock (Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs and Minister for Reconciliation and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs) —The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:

(1) No - the Government manages a Migration Program that is non-discriminatory on the basis of race, religion and ethnicity. The Program is designed to select people who satisfy a number of selection criteria, including relevant work experience and qualifications, business skills and capital, and close family links. While some Pacific Island nations may not have educational and training facilities akin to those available in Australia, it is equally true that many Pacific Islanders obtain academic qualifications and employment experience and subsequently migrate on this basis.

(2) The Government will not resile from its commitment to administer a non-discriminatory Migration Program. I note that people from all parts of the world are able to study and work in Australia under existing arrangements. The Government has introduced a range of policy changes to enable overseas students to become permanent residents on the basis of their skills.

(3) See the answer to question (2) above.

(4) I am advised that during the past four years there have been no such major recommendations made by Australian parliamentary committees. However, the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade recommended in its March 1989 report “Australia's relations with the South Pacific”, that a work experience program be established for South Pacific countries, in particular Kiribati and Tuvalu, to assist their citizens gain access to the labour markets of the more developed nations in the region. The then Australian Government examined this recommendation together with a number of other private sector contract related recommendations and decided not to pursue it.

(5) I am advised that from time to time oral approaches are made from government representatives in the Pacific region to Australian missions about the availability of visas specifically for people from the Pacific region. The Tongan Ministry of Foreign Affairs approached the Australian High Commission in Tonga on 21 September 2000 about the possibility of Australia facilitating the entry of a group of Tongans from the outer island under a work scheme as they were without a reliable source of income locally. The Australian High Commission advised the Tongan Ministry of Foreign Affairs on 6 October 2000 that there was no visa available under Australian immigration law that could be used to facilitate a scheme of the type proposed.