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Monday, 16 March 2009
Page: 1570

Senator BOYCE (4:12 PM) —I also wish to take note of the response of Senator Evans to Senator Fierravanti-Wells question. It is interesting to note that Senator Forshaw has suggested that other speakers might have strayed away from the particular point on immigration. Given that he himself strayed into illegal immigration, I am not sure what point he was trying to make about how our migrant workforce should be arranged.

Senator Forshaw —On a point of order, Mr President: the question to the minister during question time referred to the supposed failure of this government to deal with increasing numbers of boat people.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Senator Forshaw, that is part of a debate; it is not a point of order.

Senator BOYCE —Perhaps I would be better to use the response of Senator Lundy as a starting point to discuss this question. She pointed out that immigration is part of a very complex puzzle that needs to be addressed if we are to get our economy right. The problem is that puzzles tend to be something you do in a very leisurely, stop-start fashion. Unfortunately, that is exactly the approach this government is taking to vital questions that need to be answered to address the problems in our economy, of which the migration workforce question is one. It was not until unemployment jumped to 5.2 per cent last week that the minister managed to act by cutting the skilled migrant workforce program by 14 per cent. As other speakers have pointed out, there have been signs for months and months—since October last year at the very least, when it was first raised by the shadow spokesperson for the coalition, Dr Sharman Stone—that action was needed not in a leisurely, stop-start fashion but in a prompt and targeted fashion.

In my own state of Queensland 24,100 people have become unemployed since February 2008. I do not think we had to wait until now to begin to address that question. This month alone 3,100 more Queenslanders have lost their jobs. It has been pretty clear since mid last year that business after business was having to put off staff because they simply could not survive. I am aware of one major plumbing supplies company that has put off 500 workers since Christmas, many of them skilled tradesmen, simply because the economy has slowed to the stage where there is no-one buying the products that the supplier sells. The question goes on and on. Of course, there is a complexity to this. If you look at the so-called fair work legislation, if you look at the emissions trading scheme legislation that is proposed, they all tie in with jobs—they all tie in with the need for action well before now on cutting our migration workforce numbers.

In May last year the government proudly boasted that they were bringing in a record number of skilled migrants. I think it was pretty clear last year that that was not the case. We have been calling for a managed, strategic response to this problem for the last six to eight months. We have not been the only ones. The National Retail Association pointed out today that youth unemployment in Australia is rising very rapidly. It has gone from 11.9 per cent 12 months ago to 17.9 per cent in February 2009. With figures of 17.9 per cent for youth unemployment, we are heading back to the dreaded figures of ‘the recession we had to have’.

The figures in Queensland, where the Premier is purporting to be interested in jobs whilst not having the courage to tell her federal counterparts what to do about Fair Work Australia or the emissions trading scheme, just grow and grow as well. Manufacturing has lost 3,200 jobs; construction has lost 10,600 jobs. Youth unemployment has also climbed massively in Queensland. The figure for under 25s looking for full-time work in Queensland has gone from 8,900 in February last year to 20,500 in February 2009. Yes, this is a complex problem. It needs an intelligent answer. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.