Thursday, 19 October 2017
That the Senate—
(a) notes that Australia has the largest per capita immigration program in the world; and
(b) calls on the Government to address the extremely high, unsustainable immigration intake, including from both permanent and temporary residency visas, that:
(i) impacts on local, state and Federal Government delivery and planning for the supply of water, power and gas, and the protection of arable land for food production,
(ii) overburdens infrastructure, including roads and transport, telecommunications, schools, hospitals, nursing homes, sewerage, government welfare and services, and
(iii) has put a strain on available residential land, affordable housing, standard of living and employment prospects, including under-employment.
Notice given 18 October 2017
When it comes to immigration and population policy, the other parties are like drunken fools pouring petrol onto a bonfire. Unless we put a stop to this madness, it is going to blow up in our faces. It is time for the adults in the room to speak up and call them out because, otherwise, the idiots with the petrol can are going to burn the economy to the ground. Of course, it is difficult for anyone to question the level of immigration without being called a racist because it has always been seen as a legitimate tactic to label anyone a racist when they propose policy that others do not like. The racist card has been pulled out so many times in respect of policies I propose that it is fraying around the edges from the grubby little hands that hold it. I am, of course, talking about the Australian Greens and Labor.
Both major political parties believe more is better when it comes to immigration, with a result that voters have, up until now, been given no choice on the level of immigration or population size. In 1994, Barry Jones, a Labor member of parliament, conducted an inquiry into Australia's population and carrying capacity. His committee recommended that the year-by-year decisions on immigration should not be taken in an ad hoc fashion without realising the incremental downstream effects. Two years later, I made my maiden speech. I warned the parliament about the high rate of immigration. This warning was timely. The Commonwealth Bank, in a recent study, had found immigration was papering over Australia's economic weakness, as per capita GDP had been falling since 1990. The Commonwealth Bank recommended a reduction in immigration so that jobs would be soaked up by the existing pool of unemployed and underemployed. I agreed.
In 1997, Barry Jones admitted Labor uses immigration to gain political capital—by which he meant Labor uses immigration to lock up political votes for the future—and nothing has changed. I referred to what Barry Jones had said at that time, and he admitted that they only used to bring in people from certain countries purely for the vote. They knew it would create social incohesion in our country. Yet, here I am again, 21 years after my first maiden speech, warning parliamentarians about the high rate of immigration. We reached a tipping point in 1990. This was the year our standard of living began decreasing because of an excessive level of immigration. One Nation believes in taking 70,000 to 80,000 migrants a year and a stable population.
Who benefits from high levels of immigration? Both major parties use immigration to buy votes for the future, but these parties are also hostages to big business. I include our universities in the definition of big business because they set aside more than a quarter of a million places for international students. The government will say these students cross-subsidise Australian students, and I say, 'Rubbish.' Last year, the government granted 343,035 international student visas, and most of these visas carried work rights of 40 hours a fortnight in term time and unlimited work rights in other times.
On Tuesday this week, the Senate agreed with me that it is a matter of urgency that we understand the number of jobs taken by international students, because international students on temporary visas take lower-paid jobs that could be done by unemployed young Australians. I would remind the Senate that 37.5 per cent of young Australians aged between 15 and 24 are unemployed and many of them are in the same locations as our universities. International students are good for the remuneration packages of university vice-chancellors and those who invest in student housing, but they are bad for unemployed young people and others who find their wages and conditions depressed by hundreds of thousands of international students with automatic rights to work in Australia.
Not only do they have rights to work in Australia, but we find that a lot of them stay on to work after they have done their degrees here in Australia. It is quite often that I might get into a taxi in Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane and find they did their university degrees here and have gone on to actually become taxidrivers. Have we actually really opened up our universities for these people to get their degrees and go back to their own countries or have they used our universities as a back door to get into the country? That's because it then allows them the right to get permanent residency here and then to move on to citizenship. Or should we say: 'No, you get your degree and then you go back to your country. Then from your country you can apply, like everyone else, to Immigration to migrate to Australia.'
The unemployed have no friends in the Labor Party, because this week Labor strongly defended the rights of international students to work here in Australia. A 2015 Deloitte Access Economics study for the government revealed that 95 per cent of international students live and study in our big cities, where we are already experiencing most of the population growth. In the 2016-17 financial year, the government granted over 343,000 international student visas with work rights, over 200,000 permanent visas and over 87,000 four-year temporary skilled visas. That is over 630,000 people coming into the country every year on these visa categories. It is pure madness. The government is on steroids. Australians don't want it. These numbers are driving the largest per capita immigration program in the world. It is a social experiment on an unprecedented scale, and no-one knows how it will end. It's a population Ponzi scheme.
A bigger population means more demand for more goods and services, which in turn increases an economic measurement called gross domestic product, or GDP. The government says that our growing GDP is a sign of their good economic management; but these figures are inflated by export sales of our gas, even though these revenues do not contribute to the income or welfare of Australians. The only Australians to benefit from the export of our gas are the small number of people directly employed in the industry and those who own shares in Chevron, BP, Shell and ExxonMobil, because these companies don't pay tax in Australia. One Nation is shocked that neither major political party is willing to address the overly generous taxation regime which sees Australians pay foreign-owned multinationals to take our gas and never pay for it. This ridiculous situation is the result of the way oil and gas companies are allowed to treat expenses when calculating their paper profits.
Next time you see your electricity or gas bill, just remember this government allows petroleum giants to claim more in expenses than they actually paid, which, in effect, represents a subsidy by taxpayers. Let me explain: these gas giants are able to claim 18 per cent more than they pay for goods and services. The genuine expense—plus 18 per cent—is a base amount, which is further increased year by year by 15 per cent, plus the long-term bond rate, until the moment the companies earn revenue. By the time the gas cartel companies earn money on the export sales of our gas, they can call on the mountain of existing tax credits—a $250 billion mountain—to ensure they never make a profit. I would remind the parliament that $250 billion in petroleum resource rent tax credits is enough to pay nearly half of our national debt.
An article, 'Population growth masking Australia's economic weakness: CBA report' was put out on 12 July 2017 by Michael Janda. It basically says that a report by the Commonwealth Bank's senior economist, Gareth Aird, has found that Australia's high immigration intake is papering over economic weakness in headline figures, and:
Per capita measures of the economy suggest that growth in living standards has stagnated and for some sections of the resident population, in particular younger people, it has gone backwards.
…pointed out that Australia has one of the highest population growth rates among developed economies, more than half of which is due to net immigration. However, while this makes Australia's headline economic growth rate look reasonable, on a per capita basis GDP growth has been trending downwards since the recovery from Australia's last recession in the early 1990s.
Most Australians will tell you that they are feeling the pinch of high immigration in our country. I want the Australian economy to grow for the right reason, which is growth because of increased productivity. As it stands, our economy is growing for the wrong reason—growth because of increased population.
I wonder how many Australians have made the connection between high energy prices and high immigration. Every new international student or permanent migrant requires essential services like housing and electricity. Excessive demand causes prices to go up. Very soon, we will see council and water rates increase rapidly to reflect the increased cost of water, access to sewerage networks and places to dispose of rubbish. Services we take for granted, services we call essential, will take an increasing proportion of our income and crowd out the ability to pay for other things. This is what I call a fall in the standard of living. It's a smaller slice of the economic cake. Despite the fact living standards are dropping, we continue with our high level of immigration consequently increasing our population through naturalised citizenship.
Australians have been surveyed often over the past 30 years and, every time, respondents say that the population growth is too high. But, of course, governments, both Liberal and Labor, believe they know what is best for the uninformed voter. Recently, the October Fairfax-Ipsos poll found two-thirds of Australians thought the population growth was too high. What Australians are really saying is that they want lower levels of immigration because 60 per cent of our population growth now comes from immigration. I believe Australians have a right to decide the pattern and number of migrants we take in and they have a right to say what is in the national interest.
Australians are feeling this in their cities—mainly in the capital cities. They have to put up with road congestion and they have increased costs in housing and services. They have to line up if they want to go to the hospital or doctor. They can't see specialists—there's even a waiting period of 12 months to see a specialist in this country. This is where our standard of living has dropped and yet we don't have a debate about this. People have nowhere to turn to get our politicians to listen to what is happening. It's all right for people in this House. We have a very good income. We have a standard of living and a lifestyle. Many Australians will never ever know what it's like to be in our shoes. But I feel for the struggling people of this nation and the younger generations that are coming through with no hope of a job or a long-term position—they're underemployed. And that's why, with high immigration too, we have casualisation. This is why real wages have not increased over a period of time.
We have too many people coming into this country, and it's only going to get worse. We are now in debt by over $500 billion in this country. How are we going to pay it off? We can't provide the services for the people here with the increasing population. We are one of the driest nations in this world, yet we are not providing the water resources that we need. How many dams have we built? Where is the water coming from? And the answer to that is, 'Well, look, we've got a water shortage, so let's start and keep increasing the prices.' So we're telling people, 'We don't have the water, but you're going pay for it.' That's what we're doing to our farming sector with the amount that we're charging them. It's all right for foreigners and everyone else to own our water rights in this country, but it's not all right for the farmers to have the use of the water when they need it to grow the food that will eventually feed us.
This is all due to high immigration, and we have to look at this sensibly. What sort of country do we want? What do we expect in the future? Or are we just going to be here for the number of years that we are here, passing legislation without the true vision of seeing what this country is going to be like further down the track? Are we just going to pass it on to the next people: 'That's your problem. That's your responsibility; that's not mine; I'm out of here.' That's not the way to deal with this.
And this has been the big issue. When I raised it in the early nineties, when I was in this parliament first off, we had high immigration—around 150,000 a year then. And the then Prime Minister, John Howard, realised what the people wanted. He knew the impact it was having on our country, and he reduced the numbers. It was a sensible move. But now it has increased time and time again. Now the fact is that we're bringing in approximately 600,000-plus a year into this country. We can't sustain this, maintain our standard of living that we have today and also ensure that we're handing on a strong country for future generations.
It's not only our immigration. I'm going to touch on the facts about our free trade agreements, which are actually going to open up the borders for these countries to bring the people in here to Australia. There's no limit to it. These are things that our government is doing behind the scenes, that people—the general populace—don't understand. I feel for these workers. They live in the cities—they've grown up in those towns and suburbs—and they actually want to stay there, but they can't. They have been forced out, not only by high immigration but by foreign ownership. There are people who are not supposed to be buying established housing in this country, but everyone seems to turn a blind eye to it—councillors and governments, the federal government and the Treasurer. How many have we reined in? We know that we have so many people from other countries buying up our established housing. It's against our laws, but who really looks at it? Who really wants to do anything? They don't want to do it.
I will tell you why. It's because these state governments are pulling in so much revenue from stamp duty from these people, without regard to the Australian people, because of supply and demand. If we have more people coming in here and buying up investment properties then foreign ownership is driving up the demand so Australians can't buy those houses. They're forced out of the suburbs that they grew up in, where they're around their families. And we're forcing them out—out of their own cities and out of their own towns. And the attitude of the government is: 'Oh, well, go out west. Go out to rural and regional Australia. There's plenty of housing there.' Yes, there is. But those areas are for people who want that lifestyle, and we are forcing people there. If you're not a lover of the land who wants to be there in that environment, well, you shouldn't have to be forced out there.
But we've just opened up our borders, and I feel for the people. As I said, people in these cities actually have to get in their cars and drive an hour plus, or maybe two hours, to get to work. Or if they want to catch a train—if there is a train—then they're stuck on the train for ages. Then our infrastructure, whether it be trains, buses or whatever—we can't provide that as well. It's just that everything is impacting.
What we're doing is propping up big business in this country. Oh, they want high immigration: 'Bring 'em in.' Do you know why? Because they sell more whitegoods and products. They're making more profits to put into their own hip pockets. But a lot of these companies now are also foreign owned, so we don't get the profits here. Those profits go overseas, and it's at the expense of the Australian people.
Yesterday, the citizenship bills were withdrawn. And I am disgusted with that as well, because what is happening here is: we're allowing people into this country, and Labor and the Greens have no respect for what it is to be an Australian. Someone can come in here and only be in this country for one year, and then they can go for their citizenship. Where's their allegiance to this country? Why are we the lowest one, out of the Western world, for anyone to get their citizenship in this country? Where is the allegiance that we demand of them? What is wrong with someone waiting four years, as the government wants—but I believe eight years—to prove their allegiance to this country? Let's start being Australians and looking after our country first.
I rise to speak today on Senator Hanson's general business debate topic regarding the Australian immigration program. Can I just firstly say—as somebody who has lived my life across the diversity that is, today, contemporary Australia—that there are a few things that I really believe need to be said in this debate. The first thing that I would like to say is that Australia is one of the most culturally diverse yet socially cohesive nations on earth. We are, indeed, an international and unique model for respect, for inclusion and for integration.
Senator Hanson, you are correct to say that, per capita, Australia has a generous immigration and humanitarian program. However, under the Turnbull government, we have ensured that our migration settings and underlying visa systems are specifically designed to meet our nation's needs. Because of our migration system, today we are a nation which has welcomed people from right across the globe and our country is home to people from over 300 nationalities. Australia welcomes people to our shores from across the globe, with about 190,000 people moving to Australia every year. But that's not a figure, Senator Hanson, that's just simply plucked out of the air. It is a considered decision that is made on the basis of looking at a whole range of different factors, including economic and other factors, combined, and looking at what our needs are—what our employment needs are; what our needs are as a nation—and that's the figure that governments have got to. Governments from different parts of the political spectrum have consistently, over decades, made these decisions.
We do recognise that this is a significant number for a country with 24 million people. Over half of us were either born overseas or have at least one parent born overseas. Whilst times have changed from when my parents came here, the aspiration of migrants remains the same, and that is to work hard and to build a better life for yourself and for your children. I am a product of this migration story. My father came to Australia in 1953; my mother came in 1959. And, as I said, my parents, like millions of other migrants, came here to build a better life for themselves and for the children that they were to have.
Since World War II, we have welcomed to Australia 7½ million migrants, including over 860,000 under our humanitarian program. Indeed, our postwar migration program is lauded today as the start of our very modern and diverse society. Of course, this has included people from a humanitarian-program background, and there was the decision made by the then Abbott government to add 12,000 places under our humanitarian program as a consequence of the Syrian and Iraqi conflict. We have delivered one of the largest offshore humanitarian programs. Indeed, we are not just one of the highest contributors to the permanent resettlement of refugees under the UNHCR but also balance that with community support programs that enable Australia to support genuine refugees and also to ease the burden on our taxpayers. But, of course, we cannot effectively manage Australia's migration program without first securing our borders. I doubt that the public would have supported the government had we continued to face daily boat arrivals. The coalition has taken back control of Australia's borders and restored integrity to the migration program. One of the most important reasons we are a successful migration country is that we have had an ordered migration process. When you have an ordered migration process, things are done in an appropriate manner.
Without any policy foresight, those opposite—Labor and their Greens alliance partners—tore down the successful framework of the Howard government's border-protection policies. So, Senator Hanson, as a consequence of that, we had 50,000 illegal maritime arrivals on over 800 boats, 1,200 deaths at sea—that we know of—and over 8,000 children in detention, and we were forced to open detention centres. As a consequence of Operation Sovereign Borders, we have now restored respectability to our border-protection policies. We haven't had boat arrivals for three years, we haven't had deaths at sea, we've closed 17 detention centres and we have removed children from detention.
Our humanitarian program has been a very good one, but it's also supported by good settlement services that include full access to the Australian labour market, which supports integration. It's encouraging to see that, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics employment statistics, the long-term employment outlook for our humanitarian entrants is promising. Of those who arrived between January 2006 and August 2011, the percentage employed is 72 per cent. For those who have been in Australia for a longer period of time, who arrived between 1 January 2000 and 2005, the percentage employed is 82 per cent. These people are not only vital contributors to our economy but also pay taxes, which generates revenue to enable governments to provide services. I think this is something that we should all be very proud of.
Australia is known and respected internationally for its migrant heritage. This longstanding record is underpinned by Australian core, shared values of rights and responsibilities. As a nation built on migration, it is important that the Australian public have confidence in the migration process. As I have said, a well-managed migration program is crucial for Australia's future prosperity. The benefits of migration and its effect on lifting living standards must flow to all Australians, and temporary and permanent migration both bring significant benefits to Australia. Skilled migration makes Australia more internationally competitive. It has helped our nation achieve more than 20 years of uninterrupted economic growth. The Migration Council Australia estimates that migration will add $1.6 trillion to Australia's GDP and 16 per cent to workforce participation by 2050. Temporary migration is also increasingly important. More than 560,000 foreign students have helped make education our third-most-important export, worth nearly $22 billion in 2016 alone. Family migrants reunite families and retain skilled Australians onshore, enhancing Australian society.
Let's look at one of the very interesting statistics that emerged from a 2013 inquiry into migration and multiculturalism. Thirty per cent of small businesses are owned by migrants in Australia. You only have to look at the top 100 wealthiest people in this country. How many of them are migrants? They started out with a small business, and today they are amongst the most successful Australians. Some have international enterprises and virtual economic empires internationally that all started from their small business in Australia.
Any government has to retain the sovereign right to determine who comes to their country—to Australia—and it must work in the interests of all Australians. I would now like to say something on the work this government is doing in reforming the visa system to ensure that this remains the case. Whilst our visa system has served our nation well, it needs modernising. We do need a visa system that is more responsive to our economic, social and security interests. That is why the government has signalled an intent to reform our visa system and has engaged in a public consultation process to seek input into what our future visa and migration systems should look like. The public consultations on designing the new visa system concluded in September this year, and the design of the new system is underway.
To inform future changes to the visa system, the government commissioned a review by the Productivity Commission into the migration program to ensure that we have the settings right. The Productivity Commission made a number of recommendations to improve the economic contribution of migration for all Australians, including through positive growth in per-capita incomes. The Productivity Commission noted that there are, indeed, a number of important benefits from migration. For example, by increasing the proportion of people in the workforce, immigration can provide a demographic dividend to the Australian economy and reduce the impacts of population ageing. But the benefits of migration to the Australian community, including increased incomes on a per-capita basis, can be achieved especially when the migrants entering the labour force have high levels of employability. Selecting migrants with high rates of workforce engagement and employment in skilled and high-demand occupations will deliver economic outcomes.
There is also a benefit to having a diverse workforce. Australia's workforce obviously reflects our diversity, but having people with different skills and different language skills enables Australia to be a country where people may wish to invest and do business, and it also affords us the opportunity to offer ourselves up as a gateway for companies wishing to come to Australia to invest. It also affords companies the opportunity to be a gateway into the Asia-Pacific area, knowing that here in Australia they are able to find a workforce with different language skills to enable them to do business not just in Australia but in the Asia-Pacific area.
Coming back to visa reform, the coalition will now be looking at reforming our visa programs with the aim of delivering safer communities to support employers with genuine skill needs, and reduce the scope for migrants to compete with local workers and graduate jobseekers in the labour market. By doing so, we have restored Australia's migration program following six disastrous years of Labor government.
In my closing comments, I will make some observations. As Minister for International Development and the Pacific, I have responsibility for our neighbourhood, including for labour mobility. I would like to take this opportunity to talk about our new Pacific Labour Scheme, which is important not only to enable citizens from Pacific Island countries to take up low- and semi-skilled work opportunities in rural and regional Australia for up to five years but also to enable a transfer of vital capacity building in our area. What this will do is afford Australian employers access to a reliable and returning pool of workers.
I did hear what Senator Hanson had to say but the reality is, Senator Hanson, that there are job opportunities in rural and regional areas, and our farmers do require labour, particularly in the horticultural area. For this reason, there are job vacancies. Regrettably, there are people who do not wish to take up opportunities in those areas. But it's incumbent on us to ensure that Australian employers in regional and rural areas have availability, have a pool of workers that they can rely on to plan and to grow their businesses secure in the knowledge that workers will be available when needed.
The Pacific Labour Scheme will commence in July 2018 with an initial intake of up to 2,000 workers. It will focus on those sectors with projected employment growth in Australia which match a Pacific Island skill set. It will be employer sponsored and require, importantly, labour market testing to ensure that Australians have priority for local jobs. And it will contain protections to safeguard against worker exploitation. The important thing to understand is that, as part of this scheme, we will be focusing on sectors and industries where there are needs. In the accommodation and food services industry, for example, hospitality and tourism, employment levels are projected to grow by around 100,000 for the five years to May 2022. In the healthcare and social assistance industry, in aged care and in disability care, employment levels are projected to grow by around 250,000 for the five years to May 2022.
Of course, in an ageing population and with the introduction of the NDIS, there is going to be a greater need for us to fill jobs in these two vitally important sectors. Also, in the non-seasonal agriculture, forestry and fishing industries, employer demand remains high, but employment levels are projected to decrease by 2,400 workers, or 2.4 per cent, for the five years to May 2022. This scheme will be flexible, but it will be vitally important to those sectors and industries where there is a genuine shortage of Australian workers. But, more importantly, it will be employer-driven where an employer has demonstrated that they cannot fill these positions from the Australian labour market.
I will conclude my remarks on the importance of immigration in this way: Australia is a country of migrants. Migration has been a feature of our past. It is a feature of our present. And it will be a feature for the future. We have a wonderful migration legacy. There are so many people in this country who are, today, occupying positions and contributing to Australian society and who but for our successful migration program could not have made that contribution. So, Senator Hanson, I think it is important to put migration and our migration intake into context and to emphasise the importance that migration has made to Australia, to our history and to our heritage.
Last night, I thought it may have been my very last speech in this chamber. But here I am! I'm still here and still waiting for the wise women and men of the High Court to determine the outcome of the so-called 'citizenship seven' case. But I'm very pleased that I'm still here because it gives me an opportunity to repudiate what Senator Hanson said and to endorse what Senator Fierravanti-Wells said. I look forward to Senator Dastyari's contribution.
I am very proudly the child of migrant parents. My father, Theodore, came here from Cyprus in 1951. He came here just as my mother, Georgia, did in 1956 from Greece—wanting a better life and wanting a chance to contribute to this wonderful country of Australia that they adopted as their own. And can I emphasise that neither of my parents sought dual citizenship once they became Australian citizens. They are very proud of the fact that they are Australian citizens and that they have contributed to this nation.
We are a nation where migration has been such an integral and important part of this nation's development. Almost one in two Australians were either born overseas or have at least one of their parents born overseas. That is testament to what a great success Australia has been as a multicultural nation. It reminds me of the words of former US President Jimmy Carter, who said this:
Different people, different beliefs, different yearnings, different hopes, different dreams. We become not a melting pot but a beautiful mosaic.
Migration has made Australia part of the beautiful mosaic we have today.
What Senator Hanson said about the economic impact of migration was fundamentally wrong. Study after study—whether an OECD study or a local study in South Australia—indicates that, with an orderly migration program, with a sensible, well-planned migration program, it clearly has direct and net economic benefits for Australia. It adds to the economic wealth of the nation. It deals with issues such as ageing populations, it deals with issues such as genuine skill shortages, particularly in regional communities, and it builds those communities.
To blame international students, as Senator Hanson did, for our increasing electricity prices is absurd. To blame international students for water rates going up is absurd. It has more to do with failed energy policies and bad administration than anything to do with international students. When you consider that international students play such a vital role to Australia's economy—it's one of our biggest export earners, it's the third-biggest export earner behind iron ore and coal and it is, conservatively, worth $21.8 billion, which is the figure from last year and which does not include education consultancy services, royalties from intellectual property or income from correspondence courses—it is a huge earner for this country and it is something that, unambiguously, builds this country up.
Of course we need to have an orderly program. Of course there are issues of proper and appropriate border security so that we do not have an immigration policy in any way determined by people smugglers. But we must acknowledge the benefits of migration to this country. We must acknowledge what the OECD says in its position papers and the research that it's done—that migration is good for the economy with a proper and orderly migration program and that migrant workers make important contributions to the labour market and to spur innovation and economic growth. They contribute more in taxes and social contributions than they receive in individual benefits, according to the OECD study. These are important issues that we cannot ignore.
We cannot have a debate on migration being dictated by irrationality and xenophobia. This is something that we must deal with, because it is wrong to say that migration is a drag on the economy. Indeed, in my home state of South Australia, we have a situation where our population growth has fallen behind the rest of the nation. We have an ageing population, we have a drag on economic growth, we have regional depopulation, and we have a disproportionate reliance on owner-managers who are, on average, older and cannot sell their businesses.
That is why the work of Migration Solutions, in conjunction with many other key stakeholders in South Australia—including the work done by the SA Centre for Economic Studies—indicates that a balanced migration program to encourage more people to come to South Australia, to encourage the economic growth that comes with it, to deal with population imbalances and to deal with the ageing demographic would be a clear net benefit. When you see Melbourne and Sydney bursting at the seams, I say to the federal government and to state governments that you need to go back to a regional program where you acknowledge the benefits of migration to low-population and low-economic-growth areas. Done properly and sensibly, it will deliver real economic benefits to a state such as South Australia. Mark Glazbrook, the CEO of Migration Solutions, says:
Unfortunately, the current migration system does not support South Australian businesses, particularly in regional areas.
There are skills gaps. There are gaps in terms of businesses being filled. As ageing owners of these businesses want to leave their communities, there's no-one to replace them. That is why investment migrants and business migrants are very important to that.
Of course, if we have skills shortages in this country as a result of failures in our vocational training system, we need to deal with those. For instance, in the automotive sector, there is the shortage of 27,000 skilled employees that the Motor Trades Association has spoken about; I launched their report a few weeks ago. These are issues that point to policy failures, but they are not the fault of our migration policy. We can do both. We can fill our skills shortages primarily with young, Australian-born workers, but we also have other skill shortages which we need migration to fill.
I think it's important to indicate that the UDIA in 2014, prior to the state election, released a policy document entitled Growing South Australia to economic and social prosperity. In it, the following observation was made about South Australia:
… if we do not grow then we are locked within our existing paradigm. Only population growth can deliver the changes we need to make to urban form, public infrastructure and service delivery.
Incredibly and inexcusably, since then the state's rate of population growth has gone backwards. The population situation in SA has gone from bad to worse to critical. The data released at the end of last year shows that SA's population growth has fallen to just 0.5 per cent, an increase of just 9,300 per annum, whereas seven years ago the state's population growth was 1.3 per cent, with an annual increase of more than 21,000. ABS figures released last year show that Melbourne grew by 2.1 per cent in 2014-15, Sydney by 1.7 per cent, Brisbane by 1.6 per cent, and the ACT by 1.3 per cent. Adelaide's growth was an anaemic 0.9 per cent, just above Hobart's, which was 0.8 per cent. Victoria, like Melbourne, is racing ahead at 2.1 per cent population growth.
All I am saying is that a proper, well planned, well reasoned migration policy is unambiguously a good thing for our nation; and it is particularly good for South Australia, which has been struggling with low population growth. I want to emphasise this so it's not misrepresented by my political opponents: if we had a population growth strategy in areas of low population growth and low economic growth to encourage business migrants—a program designed to facilitate and boost economic growth, jobs and training opportunities—that would be a good thing for South Australia and a good thing for our country.
Looking at demand in regional areas, where there has been a dearth of positions that need to be filled and there is no other way to fill those positions, that needs to be looked at. We need to be able to attract prospective migrants willing and able to invest in designated areas such as South Australia for extended periods. This could involve a four-year provisional visa with a pathway to permanent residency over several more years. We also need to consider a class of visa for business start-ups in designated areas—again, binding visa holders to specific regions for a specified number of years so that they can establish themselves in those communities. This will revive regional areas and lift population growth. If Victoria and New South Wales get a little less population growth—which may be welcomed when you look at issues of congestion and services and the like—and these people go to areas of low population growth, that would be a win-win for those communities.
I repudiate what One Nation has said in relation to this. It is important that we have a reasoned and balanced population/migration policy that is good for our nation. We need to be very mindful of a debate that has more heat than light, that is devoid of facts, because the economic impact of a sensible migration policy is unambiguously good for a nation such as Australia. That is why I repudiate the premise of this motion and that is why we need to do much better to explain to all Australians that migration can deliver real benefits when done properly.
Senator Hanson just got up in this chamber and said, 'In this debate, there is no respect any longer for being Australian.' In doing so, she implied that those of us who oppose extreme proposals by the Minister for Immigration to change citizenship fail to understand Australian identity. I say it is those like Senator Hanson who don't understand what it means to be Australian. What makes this country great, part of the great Australian story, has been our ability to embrace wave after wave of migrants, not our ability to reject migration. Our ability to take people with skills and talents from around the world and incorporate them into our society makes them great Australians and part of the great Australian story.
I'm proud to be in this chamber. Sitting in front of me is Senator Dodson, who can trace his history back to the First Australians up in Indigenous country in Western Australia. The success of this nation has been our ability to look at these generations that have come, to grow from those generations and to use migration as a tool to make this country great. Migration creates jobs, it creates culture, it creates identity and it makes being part of the Australian story so much greater. Frankly, we can all throw the economic statistics at one other and we can all throw around the facts and figures and show how powerful migration has been. But it's more than just the figures themselves: it's part of what it means to be Australian. And there's something very unique about the Australian story when it comes to migration.
But you have those, like Senator Hanson, who like to attack it. It's cheap politics and it's easy politics. Senator Hanson herself says that she's been banging on about this for 21 years, since she was first elected. And she has. But 21 years ago she was banging on about Asian migration. Now, 21 years later, it's about Muslims and it's about those from the Middle East. And 20 years from now it'll be about blaming another group, a third group—whichever group ends up coming next. It's the politics of fear, it's the politics of hate, it's the politics of division and, unfortunately, it's the politics that Senator Hanson is very, very effective at.
And the irony of all this is that sitting behind Senator Hanson today was Senator Roberts, someone who his own lawyer refers to as a natural-born Indian. That is a matter of fact—he is part of the great Australian migration story. I think it was really telling when it was his lawyers in a recent High Court matter who were talking about how it would be 'un-Australian' for him to be treated differently from anyone else simply because of where he was born—that that would be something un-Australian. But they went on to say of him:
I'm trying to get myself in the same boat as Mr Joyce and Senator Nash, and then I want to demonstrate that I'm actually in a better boat.
Now, I welcome Senator Roberts and wish him all the best in his boat journey. I know a lot of Australians—migrants, people who weren't born in this country—who made a boat journey of their own to be part of the Australian story. I think it's going to be telling if Senator Roberts is fortunate enough in his own legal matter and determined to be able to stay in the Australian Senate—we can say at the end of it that the only path for Senator Roberts to remain in the Australian Senate was to become a boat person while being a senator for One Nation. It's something that certainly will not be lost on any of us.
I know you'll listen to everything I say now, Senator Roberts. Senator Malcolm Roberts from One Nation, your own lawyer said that you're trying to get yourself in the same boat as Mr Joyce and Senator Nash, and that you want to demonstrate that you're in a better boat. So I wish you, as the first senator in this nation aspiring to be a boat person, the best on your boat journey. If you're fortunate enough, it will be great to have another migrant in this Australian Senate, be they Indian—as you clearly are.
The migrant story in this country is a powerful one. The migrant story is one that we should be proud of. I'm very conscious of time and I'm very conscious that there are other matters pressing in the Australian Senate, but I do want to stress the sheer economic benefits that come from immigration. The fact is that we have had 7.5 million people arrive since World War II who've helped to build Australia into a vibrant society. When it comes to the issues that this motion purports to address, like communications and NBN, these failures have nothing to do with migration and have everything to do with poor government planning. Certainly, we will demonstrate in estimates next week the failure of this government. When it comes to infrastructure, energy and housing, in fact, the story of migration is a strong and powerful one.
I also want to take this very brief opportunity to mention that when we're talking about migration, we're talking about the best of our society at times and those who really contribute to our society. I want to note that two of my very close friends, Mustafa and Zhalla, recently had a baby: Shershan Khattak Sayed. I note that, being the terrible, terrible friend that I am, I did not send a gift. But let me just say this: toys get broken and clothes get grown out of, but forever your son's name will be recorded in the Hansard of the Australian Senate! And, yes, that may demonstrate just what a cheap individual I am, but I still think it's a fantastic gift!