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Tuesday, 23 October 2018
Page: 10853

Mr LEESER (Berowra) (18:55): Today I rise to speak on immigration. Immigration isn't an end in and of itself, but it's a policy tool that we use to build our nation. My friend, the former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, said that Australia is a country with an Indigenous heritage, a British foundation and a multicultural character, and I think he well sums up the nature of the country. Convicts, soldier, administrators, free settlers and all those who came after carved out of the harsh Australian environment the most successful democracy and most successful country on earth. More than seven million people have immigrated to Australia since the Second World War. Migrants have made a huge contribution to this country, one which we should take real pride in celebrating. Each new citizen adds their distinctive story to the broader Australian story.

It's with some considerable pride as a Liberal that I recall that it was the government of Harold Holt, the minister Sir Hubert Opperman and his departmental secretary, Sir Peter Haydon, who dismantled the White Australia policy at a time when the Labor Party was led by Arthur Calwell, whose response was the famous 'Two Wongs don't make a White.' The people who migrate to Australia ultimately help determine what sort of a country Australia will be in the future. Immigrants help fill skill shortages in our economy. They bring new ideas and new ways of doing things. They strengthen Australia's international reach and provide us with connections to markets in other countries. Migration helps broaden the tax base and allows us to pay for the ageing population and the services we need. A larger economy also helps attract and maintain businesses in Australia, giving them access to a larger domestic market.

Deloitte Access Economics estimates that the contribution of the 2014-15 migration cohort alone over 50 years will be in the order of $9.7 billion. With little to lose and so much to gain, migrants bring to our country an entrepreneurial spirit, such that one in three businesses in Australia have been started by migrants and those businesses employ 1.4 million people. We can all think of major success stories, from Sir Frank Lowy, who founded a small deli in Blacktown, with his friend and fellow immigrant John Saunders, which went on to become the global behemoth Westfield, to Shemara Wikramanayake, who at the end of next month will become the new CEO of Macquarie Bank. New migrants have helped us to create new industries. The international education industry was in its infancy over 30 years ago, and yet today education is our third-largest export industry, bringing $30 billion in revenue to Australia every year.

Australia is a nation of immigrants: 49 per cent of us were either born overseas or have one or more parent born overseas. Despite these strengths, immigration as a policy can only succeed while it retains public support. Three things weaken that public support, and I want to talk about them today. The first of those things is when we fail to control our borders. Australia and America are both immigrant societies, but the ethos around immigration is different in both countries. Australia has never been the country of Emma Lazarus, whose famous poem adorns the plinth on which the Statue of Liberty stands:

… Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me …

Part of Australia's success as a country is that we've always been selective about our immigration program. Public support for immigration has been built on the notion that, in John Howard's famous words, 'We will decide who comes to this country and the manner in which they come.' Under Labor, 50,000 people sought to come to Australia in 800 boats, providing a sense that we, as a sovereign nation, had lost control of our own borders, weakening public support not just for the humanitarian intake but for the migration program in general. It took our now Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, and Operation Sovereign Borders to restore border integrity and public confidence in the immigration program so it could be expanded both on a humanitarian and an economic basis.

The second factor that weakens public support for immigration is the question of whether people coming to Australia will fit in. Do they share our values? Can they get along in our society? Have we given them the tools to make a success economically and socially in our country? Unfortunately, there are a million people in this country who have little or no English, and some of them have been here for more than 20 years. This means that such people are socially isolated in our communities, and their opportunities to integrate within society and to join the economy are much more limited than those who have English as a language. This is why our government has repeatedly sought to ensure that new migrants have the best chance of succeeding. I note the work the government has done to bolster English and refocus the Adult Migrant English Program, which this year is celebrating its 70th birthday. We've also strengthened the Australian citizenship test to prioritise integration and Australian values, to ensure people coming here accept the values of our country. Australian citizenship is and has always been a privilege, and should be treated accordingly.

The third major concern in relation to immigration is that it leads to more congested cities. I understand the problem of congested cities. In Sydney, we're still suffering from Bob Carr's appalling period of office as New South Wales Premier, including the time when he said, 'Sydney's full,' and stopped spending any money on infrastructure. Today, our government, working with the New South Wales coalition government, is taking up the infrastructure backlog, which was 16 years in the making. I know people are feeling the pinch and I know these projects can't come on quickly enough, but these projects take time. Not only do we have to build infrastructure of the future, but we're also still catching up on the Carr-Iemma-Rees-Keneally created backlog. Major infrastructure takes many years to come online, from inception to delivery. Some projects take up to 20 years to deliver. The Carr era means that New South Wales is only now starting to move ahead. The population pressures that we feel in our cities are built by Labor's poor planning.

In my own electorate, on bad days it can take more than an hour to travel the six kilometres from Hornsby to Pennant Hills. The appalling state of Pennant Hills Road means that people take rat runs and clog them up too. Bad traffic congestion means people are spending more time in their cars and less time at home with their families. That's why our government is delivering NorthConnex, which will take 5,000 trucks every single day off the worst road in Australia, Pennant Hills Road, bypassing 21 sets of traffic lights and even at the quietest times save drivers up to 15 minutes in their travel. This $3 billion project will transform Berowra and boost the national and New South Wales economies. This project is part of our government's $75 billion infrastructure investment across Australia. I also hear complaints in my area about the New Line Road, and I understand the need for action on this road as well in order for people to travel from the rapidly transforming rural areas in my area, and in neighbouring electorates, to reach major motorways that take them to the CBD, Macquarie Park or south-western Sydney.

The issue of congestion isn't just one for my electorate, but affects all of the city. Today, travelling in peak times in my city takes 65 per cent longer than the same journey does off-peak. Part of the reason for this is the lift in the immigration rate that occurred under Kevin Rudd in his quest to create a bigger Australia. Rudd lifted the total population growth rate from 220,000 to 375,000. In 2002, the Intergenerational report said that Australia would increase its population by 2½ million over the next 15 years. Well 15 years later, the population has actually grown by five million. To solve these congestion issues, we obviously need to think about faster infrastructure construction and a more even distribution of migrants than simply to Sydney and Melbourne, and I applaud Minister Tudge for his recent speech about looking at encouraging people to go to other states and to rural areas.

There are some in our community who call to stop immigration. I think this would have unforeseen consequences in our country. Since coming to government, we've created over a million jobs. Last year, we created over 1,000 jobs every single day. We have an unemployment rate of five per cent. In the old days, they used to describe that as full employment. There are many businesses in my electorate who can't get the skilled workers they're looking for. If we stop migration, then we put the growth of the economy at risk—and that ultimately risks our national prosperity, because these businesses won't be able to expand and do the things that they need to do without the workers that they need to do them. It was the Howard government who first recognised the importance of matching our workforce pipeline, through skilled migration, with new jobs coming online. John Howard's policies led to an historic first. For the first time in history 50 per cent of migrants were skilled migrants. Fast forward to last year's program and about 70 per cent of permanent migrants were in the skilled stream.

One of the reasons we need to have more skilled migrants is Labor's failed education policies. Time and again Labor tinkered with the education system, leading to students graduating from courses with skills and qualifications unrelated to the types of jobs needed to advance this nation. Labor meddled with the vocational education system, allowing dodgy providers to rip off unknowing students. Under Labor's scheme, unethical training providers were able to target the vulnerable or unsuitable, who were signed up to training courses they had no chance of completing. Quite often students had no capacity, yet were offered inducements to complete these courses. Some students didn't even know they were signing up to courses. All of this indicates that we need to have a properly focused migration policy. We need to ensure that we are building public confidence in all three of those aspects. We need to ensure that we are providing the skills for our country's prosperity into the future.