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Thursday, 20 September 2001
Page: 31089

Mrs MAY (10:20 AM) —On behalf of the Joint Standing Committee on Migration, I present the report of the committee entitled New faces, new places—Review of state-specific migration mechanisms, together with the minutes of proceedings and evidence received by the committee.

Ordered that the report be printed.

Mrs MAY —by leave—There is a continuing concern about some areas of Australia losing population or their economic growth slowing. The federal, state and territory governments have together examined how those areas might be assisted to revitalise their population, their employment and skills base and their economic prospects. One approach decided on was to attract overseas migrants to places in Australia where they had not traditionally settled—to bring new faces to new places. To allow this, state and territory governments were given the opportunity to use some of the migration programs to meet their own policy objectives, particularly through offering migrants incentives or concessions to settle within specific areas.

The committee reviewed these state-specific migration mechanisms at the request of the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs. The schemes are intended to address skills shortages, encourage a more balanced dispersal of the skilled migrant intake and attract overseas business people. The committee made a point of gathering first-hand evidence about the needs of localities across Australia. It appreciated the welcome given to it in Kalgoorlie, Smithton, Mount Gambier and Townsville when it visited to hear first-hand evidence of the challenges facing those areas. In addition, the committee received submissions from people in Ipswich, Cairns, Toowoomba and McKinlay Shire in Queensland; the Riverina, Griffith and Port Macquarie in New South Wales; Boroondara, Edenhope, Swan Hill, Telopea Downs and Warrnambool in Victoria; and Geraldton in Western Australia.

The committee examined the adequacy of consultations between the Commonwealth and the state and territory governments concerning the schemes. It looked at the level of utilisation of the schemes and how that might be improved, and sought other options to meet the overall aims of the schemes. The committee has made 20 recommendations concerning the schemes in its report. Most of these relate to details of the operation of the individual schemes.

The committee also made some general observations about the schemes. On the question of consultation, the committee found that there had been continuing and detailed consultations between the Commonwealth and the state and territory governments. Most of the schemes had arisen from such consultations and had also subsequently been adapted through further negotiations. Indeed, the continuing consultations meant that the migration schemes were changing even as the committee was reviewing them. The committee concluded that the existing consultation mechanisms were adequate, well used and productive. The committee also considered that the consultations would benefit from a more direct local input and recommended that this occur in future.

Of the four main schemes which the committee reviewed, the regional established business in Australia had only recently begun to operate, leading to the arrival of 41 migrants in 2000-01. The most used scheme was the Regional Skilled Migration Scheme, which brought 1,021 migrants to Australia that year. The next most popular scheme was the skilled designated area sponsored category, which began operation in its current form in 1999 and which attracted 1,002 migrants last financial year. The state/territory nominated independent scheme attracted 85 migrants in the same year. These are not large numbers compared with Australia's migration intake of more than 80,000 last financial year. However, the committee discovered that what was small-scale migration from a national perspective could be crucial locally. Most migrants under the schemes brought their families, boosting not only the local population but also the local economy.

The committee considered that the utilisation of all the schemes could be increased if there was more targeted publicity inside and outside Australia. To maximise local use of the schemes within Australia, the committee recommended that the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs improve its liaison with the peak organisations representing regional Australia.

The committee was singularly impressed by the energy and initiative displayed by local authorities and organisations in maximising the benefits of the schemes. For example, representatives of the Greater Green Triangle Region Association from South Australia and the Ipswich City Council have visited China, Narrandera in New South Wales had provided video taped information to prospective migrants and the Goldfields Esperance Development Commission in Western Australia had arranged local inspection visits for potential settlers.

The committee has made recommendations about opportunities to maximise the international exposure of the schemes. The committee considers that the numbers participating in the schemes could increase in future as knowledge and experience of their operation increased. The committee therefore recommended that the schemes' operation should be reviewed again in 2003.

I would like to thank those who provided the committee with submissions and evidence, and the members of the committee, who have maintained their commitment to this review despite a number of interruptions. As well, I would like to extend my thanks for the contributions of the committee's secretariat of Richard Selth, Gillian Gould, Steve Dyer, Vishal Pandey and Emma Herd, as well as those of Rachel Carew, Rohan Tyler and Anna Gadzinsky. I commend this report to the House.