Tuesday, 23 March 2021
Joint Standing Committee on Migration; Report
I too rise to speak on this interim report on Australia's skilled migration program. Can I just start off by saying that, as the member for Calwell said, I'm a child of migrants myself. My parents migrated here. My father came out on the system that Mr Calwell, the Prime Minister, first introduced, which was carried on by the Menzies government, where workers were asked to come out on a three-year contract. The agreement was that they would come here to fill positions for three years, and then, if they wanted to stay, they could stay, or they could go back. But three years was the minimum that they had to do.
At that time—I'm talking the early fifties—Australia's program on migration basically had a two-pronged approach. One was to fill a lot of manufacturing jobs and labouring jobs that couldn't be filled here in Australia, and the other one was to assist and help populate this vast country of ours. And that was the intention of that particular program. At the time, both the Menzies government and prior Labor governments had put in place a long-term measure—not a short-term fix, but a long-term measure—that benefited the nation, and our migration continued like that for a number of years, right through to the eighties. The department and researchers would look at where the shortages were and what the needs of the nation were and then would come up with the plan for migration. They'd basically say that we need 50,000, 100,000 or 80,000—depending. Those people would come here on that particular program and would immediately become permanent residents—immediately.
You may ask why I am raising this in the context of this particular inquiry. It's because we've been doing a skills program and point systems for a number of years, and they are not fulfilling our needs. We still have shortages in certain areas. We still need to grow our population if we want our economy to grow, our productivity to grow and the creation of jobs. What we've been doing is plugging holes. I think we have to revisit entirely the way that we do our migration in this nation. We have produced two-tier systems, where overseas workers are brought in specifically on a work visa for a short period. The majority of those people will put measures into place to get permanent visas down the track, costing them thousands of dollars in visiting migration agents et cetera. Nearly 80 to 90 per cent end up becoming permanent residents after a period of years and a lot of frustration and work.
Secondly, there's the system at the workplace. We've heard, as to this report, that the government members wanted to agree to watering down the market testing. Now, that would be very wrong—and it's not for a philosophical or ideological reason that I'm saying that—because, if we want to fill a position in Australia, I think it is our absolute duty, as employers and as governments, to ensure that there is not an unemployed person here in this country who could fill that position. When you can prove that, then you can be allowed to bring someone over. Taking that test away will make it open slather, for unscrupulous bosses as well, to bring people over and to keep on building on that two-tier system.
There is a two-tier system. While the majority of businesses are very ethical and they do care about their workers et cetera, there are many around—and I've seen this firsthand, because I've had constituents come and see me—where people are brought over, their passports are taken, they have to pay a certain amount back to the employer for bringing them here and for rent, food and a whole range of things, and, at the end, they're left with nearly zero. We've seen instances of this, and I'm sure my colleagues on this side and on the other side have seen instances of this. Even if this is happening at a very minimal level, we are giving the opportunity for it to happen more by taking away that market testing.
Market testing is an important part of skilled migration. It is an important part of work visas. There is nothing wrong with an employer having to prove that he has done all that is possible to fill that position with someone here in this country who is looking for work. It's not an unreasonable thing to have a market test so that you can prove that there is a need. What this does is to water it down completely.
In some of the occupations, they want to extend the occupations—everything from hairdressers to seafarers, which I found really hard to believe, when seafaring in this country is being diminished. It was only last week that I was speaking with a secretary of the MUA, Jamie Newlyn, who was telling me that most of the shipping companies and mining companies that run their own ships have basically gone offshore. There is absolutely no work for seafarers. There are no new people coming into it. Yet it is on the list. Hairdressing is another occupation that's on the list. There may be a shortage—I don't know. That's why we, on the committee, have asked to have all the TAFEs and training organisations and the departments that analyse skills and shortages to come and talk to us and tell us exactly how they came to the view that, in these particular occupations, there are shortages and why there are shortages.
We heard the member for Nicholls, Mr Drum, talk about chefs. There may be shortages of chefs in certain parts of Australia. But certainly in my seat—and I specifically made a point of going to talk to some of the restaurants and cafes et cetera—they told me that, yes, sure, there is a bit of a shortage, and people come and go, but the majority of the time they manage quite well. It could be very different in other parts, but that is no reason to take market testing away.
One of the other recommendations that we didn't agree to was the proposed funding cuts to skills and training provided through funding to the Skilling Australians Fund. That is the fund that employers pay into to assist with training. So it puts a bit of an onus on the industry to train people up, to look towards the future and train people up to be able to fill those positions. When you cut nearly $3 billion out of TAFE, as has been done by this government over the last eight years, you're going to have difficulty in getting people through apprenticeships et cetera. Let's not just throw everything out because there are shortages in some areas—and there are; no-one's denying it—but look at the systemic reasons that it is happening. One is skills and training. As I said, $3 billion has been cut out of TAFE. Surely it's going to have an effect when there are fewer staff at TAFE and fewer training courses and a whole range of other things?
Secondly, the market testing should remain because it is important. Thirdly, we have to overhaul entirely the way we look at migration so we don't fall into the trap of a two-tier system of workers. Workers who know their rights and what they're entitled to can speak out—and certainly they should be able to speak out, because we have a system in this country where we are all seen as equals—but underlying all of this are the overseas workers who come in and are unaware of their rights. They're unaware of what they can and can't do to speak out and ensure they're getting proper pay and are not being used at work, working extra hours. Only recently in South Australia an overseas worker in a cafe was physically abused. That is before the commission at the moment. We certainly do not support this interim report. (Time expired)