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Wednesday, 3 December 2008
Page: 12499


Ms CAMPBELL (5:09 PM) —I rise today to add my voice to those in support of the government’s Migration Legislation Amendment (Worker Protection) Bill 2008. I am proud of the new era of compassion towards refugees and migrants ushered in with the election of the Rudd government. The Minister for Immigration and Citizenship has introduced this legislation in a bid to protect from exploitation our temporary skilled foreign workers while at the same time ensuring the wages and conditions of Australian workers are not undercut.

The Rudd government’s first budget provided $19.6 million to improve the processing and compliance of the temporary skilled migration program. This legislation introduces a range of measures to achieve that. These include: expanded powers to monitor and investigate employer noncompliance with the 457 visa scheme, a framework for punitive penalties for employers found to be in breach of their obligations, improved information sharing between government agencies to improve compliance, and a redefined sponsorship obligations framework for employers of 457 visa workers.

These are constructive changes which aim to increase not only departmental cooperation but also clarity when it comes to issues surrounding migrant workers. These will be welcome changes. I know from my close relationship with Launceston’s Liberian community that there have been concerns surrounding barriers to employment, migration issues and discrimination. I know this because at the time when I was the Acting Deputy Mayor of the Launceston City Council I was asked to attend Refugee Awareness Week in 2005. I remember at that time meeting the now president of the Liberian community, Adolphus Hill. He came up to me and said, ‘I attend TAFE during the day and I work really hard of a night.’ When Adolphus said that to me it filled me with quite a lot of sadness, because Adolphus could not come up to me at that time and say, ‘Hi, I’m Adolphus.’ I think he had to explain his plot in society and why he was there. I was at that time, and have continued to be, very close to the African community, whether it be with Adolphus, Susannah or many of the other African people who live in Launceston, and so are my family. I have worked closely with the African community in northern Tasmania to address these issues and I will continue to work to achieve outcomes.

What I can say is that since the election of the Rudd government, as I mentioned earlier, there is a different approach to refugee and humanitarian issues. Under the previous government refugee protection was the subject of a debate which proved deeply divisive and damaging to our international reputation. Those opposite sought throughout their time in power to demonise refugees, for their own political gain. It was unfortunate, as it often overshadowed much of the wonderful and constructive work done through migrant communities across the country. In northern Tasmania I see every day part of the migrant story we as a country have every right to be proud of. Since 1945 around 700,000 people in need of humanitarian help have found refuge in Australia. They have added an extraordinary amount to our rich culture. I am proud that this country offers one of the three largest humanitarian programs in the world and as a government we are committed to its continuation and to its growth.

The budget provided for an increase in the number of places offered to 13½ thousand. This included 6½ thousand places for refugees, with a one-off increase of 500 places to assist those affected by the continuing conflict in Iraq. This, I am proud to say, represents the largest refugee component of the program since 1986. As a country, we have every right to feel proud that we enjoy international recognition for our role in responding to the needs with regard to protection of refugees. Across northern Tasmania there are groups which have resettled from war-torn Sudan, Sierra Leone and Liberia. How we support these amazing people as they cope with the traumas in their homeland and as they struggle to make new lives is a true test of our compassion as a nation.

They are, as I am certain anyone with any empathy can understand, challenged by not only the events in refugee camps but also the added barriers of limited work opportunities in their new home in Tasmania. I have heard—as have, I am sure, many members not only in this place but in the other house as well—those stories from refugee camps. I have heard them through my close association with the African community, who are from refugee camps such as in Ghana. Many speak with angst of a feeling of losing the control offered by the strength of their families. Many of these issues are a consequence of relocation and the ensuing dislocation. I know that this government is one of enormous compassion, and that gives me hope. The policies of Labor are designed to assist rather than hinder the settling in of refugees to whom we open our borders, our minds and our hearts. I commend the Migration Legislation Amendment (Worker Protection) Bill 2008 to the House, confident that it addresses many of the complexities and potential traps within previous legislation.