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Monday, 16 March 2009
Page: 1539

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS (2:00 PM) —My question is to the Leader of the Government in the Senate, Minister Evans. The 2008 budget announced an extra 31,000 skilled migrants as part of the overall record high of 133,500 places in the 2008-09 migration program. Today the government announced a 14 per cent cut, of 18,500 places. That still leaves, Minister, a net increase of 12,500 skilled migration places in 2008-09, an overall increase of 7,000 skilled places from 2007-08. Don’t these figures just make a mockery of today’s announcement?

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Leader of the Government in the Senate) —I thank the senator for her question; it saves one of our people asking me the very same question. The government set the 2008-09 migration program at a time when the Australian economy was booming and there were extensive skills shortages around the country. Business was crying out for skills and labour. Clearly, the global financial crisis has seen Australia’s economic circumstances change dramatically. Even the opposition must understand that. What we have done is adjust the migration program so it is responsive to the changes in the economic circumstances. So we have decided to cap this year’s program at 115,000 persons. It is a cut of 18,500 places and represents a 14 per cent cut to the original level, but that is very much as a result of those changed economic circumstances. I made some changes in December last year to make sure that we were only bringing in the people who were on the critical skills list or who were employer sponsored. These changes go further, but fundamentally they do the same thing—that is, only people who have a job will be coming into the country.

Under the previous policies, which the previous government administered, people were self-selecting, so we brought in a lot of hairdressers and a lot of cooks. What we are bringing in under the program now are people with high skills who are going straight to a job. It is the linkage between the job and the person that is the key. These changes I think will be welcomed. They will ensure that Australians are not competing with persons coming into the country for the same job. They will ensure that we have a better targeted program and I think they will ensure that we protect Australian jobs. Migration is important to this country, and will continue to be so, but these changes are prudent and timely and reflect the changed economic circumstances.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Why has the government decided to cut Australia’s migration targets while at the same time failing in its duty to address the recent increase in illegal immigration?

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Leader of the Government in the Senate) —I think I made clear why we have changed the permanent migration program: we want to stay responsive to the economy. It is interesting that the opposition are concerned about unlawful boat arrivals, given that I have heard nothing from them as the government has changed its policies in the last year to reflect a more humane treatment of asylum seekers. I do remind the Senate that the figures for arrivals for 2008 are exactly the same as for 2007 under the last year of the Howard government. I think there was an increase of 14 people over the year. What we have seen is a resurgence in people seeking asylum, particularly those fleeing Afghanistan and, I suspect, increasingly Sri Lanka, and those pressures will continue. But Australia maintains very strong border security measures—we retain the patrols; we retain the excision arrangements. We are committed to very strong border security. (Time expired)

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. How can the government claim to be protecting jobs by cutting immigration when at the same time the Rudd government is exporting jobs overseas with its proposed flawed and bureaucratic emissions trading scheme?

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Leader of the Government in the Senate) —We are very much committed to protecting Australian jobs by growing the economy. What we have done in recent times is ensure, as much as we can, support for the Australian economy—

Opposition senators interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —Order! Resume your seat, Senator Evans. I will ask you to resume when there is silence. Senator Evans.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —The support programs the government has put in place have been designed to try and support Australian jobs. They have been welcomed as a proper economic response to the problems the Australian economy faces. We are absolutely committed to Australian jobs. One of the things that will come from a proper measured response to the threat of carbon pollution is that new jobs will be created in new industries. What we are doing is transitioning to a cleaner economy. The costs of inaction are much greater than the costs of action. We will continue to protect Australian jobs by creating new jobs and ensuring those existing in the economy are preserved. We are committed to retaining Australian jobs. (Time expired)