House debates

Monday, 14 October 2019


New Skilled Regional Visas (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2019; Second Reading

12:09 pm

Photo of Andrew GilesAndrew Giles (Scullin, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Cities and Urban Infrastructure) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the New Skilled Regional Visas (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2019. I note that the Morrison government claims that the aim of this legislation, and matters already dealt with, is to change the geographic make-up of visa holders by increasing the number of people settling outside of major cities in regional Australia.

Labor supports this bill. However, we do have some serious concerns that this legislation and the matters connected to it have not all been properly thought through and that there are elements which have been poorly drafted and which could have serious, presumably unintended, consequences.

We are also seriously concerned that this once again demonstrates that this is a government of tactics and not strategy, and of marketing over substance—in the very image of its leader. We see this today on this very issue, with stories across the papers about increases in regional visas granted—and accompanying self-congratulation. But these reports don't withstand close scrutiny. As experts have noted, these figures, in significant part, reflect wider underresourcing and incompetence, leading to processing delays. These processing delays are something that we on this side are all too well aware of; they go right across the visa system and into cruel delays in the granting of citizenship.

It would also be helpful if this debate was rather more informed by evidence. We understand, on this side of the House, that the granting of the visa begins the journey to settlement and full contribution and participation. It doesn't resolve all those questions; it doesn't resolve them at all. It should be resolved—as just one example—by reviews undertaken by Peter Shergold into integration, employment and settlement outcomes for refugees and humanitarian entrants. But, of course, despite having had the report since February, the government still hasn't released its findings. These findings would be critically important for the particular challenges of ensuring that settlement works in regional communities. So I move now an amendment to the motion for the second reading of this bill:

That all words after “That” be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

“the House notes the Government’s failure to:

(1)   adequately fund settlement services; and

(2)   explain what extra services will be made available to support regional communities and the settlement of migrants under this scheme”.

The Morrison government has failed to produce a real plan for settlement and has failed to deliver infrastructure to meet the needs of our economy and our society. There has been no response to the very important report by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Infrastructure, Transport and Cities—a unanimous report—Building up & moving out. This shows six years of neglect in this third-term government.

This bill picks up on a definition of regional Australia that is: 'Not to be residing in Sydney or Melbourne or Brisbane or the Gold Coast or Perth'. Obviously, that's a lot of Australia, and I will return to that in my comments. Obviously, this definition is not a creature of the bill but it is fundamental to its operation and to the operation of the visa categories that it relates specifically to. These are: subclass 491, skilled work regional (provisional) visa, for skilled people nominated by a state or territory government or sponsored by an eligible family member to live and work in regional Australia—as defined; and subclass 494, skilled employer sponsored regional (provisional) visas, enabling an Australian business to sponsor skilled workers to work in their business in regional Australia. Holders of these visas will be required to live in regional areas for three years; after which, they will become eligible for a permanent visa.

These visas are a new concept in Australian immigration law, as you would be well aware, Deputy Speaker Vamvakinou—a provisional permanent visa. This is an important event for this parliament to give due consideration to. I will return to that. These visas will account for 23,000 places out of the 160,000 permanent places available each year. It is important on this point to remember that the Morrison government, to much fanfare earlier this year, announced, as part of its plan for Australia's future population, a reduction in the permanent visa migration ceiling, from 190,000 to 160,000—I will return to this figure later—because this government wants Australians to believe that it's cutting immigration, but this is simply not the case. The truth is that the Morrison government has no real plan for population policy in Australia.

The government claims these new visas and requirements will encourage visa holders to remain in regional Australia which, in turn, will support local communities and enhance the economies of regional parts of the nation, which is a laudable objective and one which is shared, I think, by all of us in this place. The bill directly gives effect to the government policy that holders of provisional skilled regional visas, which will come into effect on 16 November, will have access to social security payments and other government services as if they were holders of permanent visas in line with the current arrangements applicable to permanent resident visas. The following legislation picks up on this and is amended by this bill: A New Tax System (Family Assistance) Act 1999, Disability Services Act 1986, Fair Entitlements Guarantee Act 2012, Higher Education Support Act 2003, National Disability Insurance Scheme Act 2013, Paid Parental Leave Act 2010 and, most significantly, Social Security Act 1991.

The key amendment that's been made here is to the definition of 'Australian resident' in section 7(2) of the Social Security Act. Proposed subparagraph 7(2)(b)(iia) would have the effect of including holders of provisional skilled regional visas in this definition, which would make them eligible for payments under the Social Security act and also for family payments, paid parental leave and farm household support. It would also make it possible that other non-permanent visa holders may in the future be so eligible. This concept—that people on a temporary visa should have entitlements such as those generally associated with permanent visa holders—is a significant one. It marks a significant departure from past practice and is worth emphasising here, especially in the context of Australia's drift away from a migration framework which is predicated on paths to permanency. This is a debate that has been too little recognised in this place, and it is my hope that this debate here on this legislation will encourage all lawmakers and citizens to reflect on what is happening in Australia's immigration story more broadly.

The bill would also amend the Social Security Act to provide that provisional skilled regional visa holders be subject to waiting periods in qualifying for eligibility for certain benefits, such as Newstart and carers allowance, on the same terms as permanent visa holders—that is, on the day the provisional visa is granted, not a subsequent permanent visa date.

The government has touted that these new visas and, indeed, the population package will bust congestion, but the government has failed to outline in any great detail how it intends to provide support to the 23,000 visa holders who would be living in regional Australia—not a shred of detail. Given this government's track record and the Minister for Home Affairs's general mismanagement of his department, we wonder how and if these visas will ever be implemented properly.

The Minister for Population, Cities and Urban Infrastructure has been out trumpeting his new population centre located in the Treasury, and then there was a meeting with all the state treasurers with lots of talk about bottom-up approaches and data sharing, buzzwords all designed to give the impression that the government actually has a plan. But the government still needs to outline what social support networks and services will be made available to support regional communities with an increase in migrant populations and to support long-term and effective settlement and contribution, aspirations which again are shared across this place. But, on this side, we recognise and say directly that you've got to have a decent system of support in places where you want to settle new migrants, even skilled migrants. This is especially important in the present context, because we know all about the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government's record of cutting support to settlement services.

Of course, nothing in this bill addresses those issues which face regional universities. In 2018, there were more than 869,000 international student enrolments in Australia, of which only three per cent were in regional Australia. The international education market contributed $36 billion to the Australian economy in 2018, but Australia's regional universities have been struggling to increase their offerings to international students. The Morrison government has said very, very little about this big economic challenge, neglecting this very significant economic opportunity. So there are very legitimate concerns about the impact of all of this on the international education sector.

I draw members' attention to the report of the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee on this bill. Again, while Labor supports the bill, a number of concerns were highlighted here and should be addressed, including the threat to Australia's international education reputation—specifically, that the government seems to fail to understand the complexity of the issues that must be considered when we make even minor changes to visas that affect Australia's international education system. These issues are sufficiently complex such that there can be no quick fix, but the reputation and high standards of the Australian higher education market are a matter of great importance and should be treated as such by this government.

We also note that the committee has drawn our attention to an overreliance through this scheme on delegated legislation, which raises not insignificant democratic concerns. There are issues which go back to the importation of the definition of 'regional Australia' into this bill. No plans were put forward to maintain and develop a regional workforce, and questions go to the transfer of existing exemptions for Australian universities. I mentioned earlier that Australia's regional universities have been struggling to increase their offerings to the important international student market, and the government's own consultation paper Growing international education in regional Australia has acknowledged the perception that regional institutions have limited offerings and other related matters. We have been paying very careful attention to this and are conscious that they be supported to develop this offer whilst not putting the reputation of standards of international education here at risk.

Since the coalition government's funding freeze ended the demand-driven system, Australian universities have of course been forced to turn to the international market to balance their budgets. It's been reported that RMIT University generates 40 per cent of its total revenue from international student fees, and that some of the elite, research intensive Group of Eight universities generate about 35 per cent of their total revenue by the same means. However, some sector experts believe these figures to be understated. With China, India and Nepal making up close to 50 per cent of the market, any change in geopolitical circumstances could place Australian universities in dire straits.

In their dissenting report to the Senate inquiry, Labor senators rightly expressed their concern that there had been no advice from the Department of Home Affairs about resourcing compliance of these two new visa subclasses. This is raised in the context of the growth of student numbers from the subcontinent and media reports that the department has raised the student visa risk status of India, Nepal and Pakistan from medium to high on the basis of a number of concerns. Labor senators have asserted, properly, that there is a risk if international students' decisions on where to study are driven by visa issues rather than education choices. This is an important point.

Australia saw the consequence of these imbalanced incentives previously in 2009, which prompted the focus on quality assurance. As I raised previously, Labor is concerned more broadly by an over reliance on delegated authority. Substantive provisions should generally be enacted by primary and not delegated legislation, but this bill once again highlights the government's reliance on delegated legislation. We note that neither the establishment of the visas themselves nor the locations to which they will apply are part of the legislation but may be subject to change by the minister.

Concerns have also been raised by members of the higher education community about the inconsistency in how the minister has defined the 'designated regional area'. I believe that there are concerns that this change may not be driven by the needs of students or with the aim of improving the quality of education in our regional areas, but rather by the prospect of directing funding for political reasons. These concerns have been raised by Griffith University and by the Australian Technology Network of Universities. I quote from them:

The Australian Technology Network notes that the regional/rural classification creates some inequalities in relation to Perth being excluded from the definition, while areas such as Canberra, Adelaide and Wollongong would be included. Perth is considered one of the most isolated cities in Australia and as a consequence would be at considerable disadvantage in relation to attracting international students to the state. A reconsideration of this classification would assist in resolving this matter.

Griffith University stated:

Three state capital cities, Adelaide, Darwin and Hobart as well as the national capital, Canberra, are considered regional for the purposes of Skilled Regional Visas that include International Students. It is particularly difficult to comprehend why Adelaide, with a population of 1.3 million, more than twice that of the Gold Coast's 663,321 according to 2018 data, is considered Regional over the Gold Coast.

The seemingly ad hoc manner in which the definition has been applied is of concern and is something that should be carefully looked at, particularly in the context of past actions by this government which have seen university campuses in suburban areas defined as 'regional' and eligible for additional Commonwealth funding. One example of this is Federation University Australia's Berwick Campus, just 40 kilometres south-east of Melbourne city centre, which received over $40 million in a program that was designed to support more students at five regionally focused universities over four years.

The NTEU has expressed their concerns about issues of rorting and perhaps worker exploitation if left unchecked. The NTEU submission stated:

The two provisional skilled visas referred to in this Bill—that is, the Skilled Work Regional (Provisional) (Subclass 491) visa and the Skilled Employer Sponsored Regional (Provisional) (Subclass 494) are specifically created for regional and rural areas, where evidence has been shown the risk of exploitation to be particularly high. This is of significant concern because, as noted, the current provisions to deal with exploitation of temporary workers have proven to be ineffective.

This doesn't go to the terms of the bill but to the context within which this bill is being debated and the circumstances of these regional communities. These are matters the government should have paid closer attention to before now and should be addressing now.

The Senate inquiry also had concerns raised by the ATN and Rural Councils Victoria that the government has not presented a plan or long-term strategy on how to encourage visa holders to remain in regional communities after a required three-year waiting period is over. This is a fundamental point. Rural Councils Victoria noted specifically that:

… changes made at the Federal level to the migrant intake need to work in tandem with State and Local Government programs and initiatives that provide essential support services to new migrants and their communities.

It is encouraging that dialogue has begun across Australian governments on this point. But, as has too often been the case, this is simply too late for too many people and too many communities.

Sufficient funding, from state and federal governments, needs to be provided for housing support, education and training services and community assistance programs. Without these supports, and without sufficient job opportunities, long-term retention of these workers in regional areas is unlikely—a point that has been made also by Peter McDonald, the government's own population adviser. I say again: while Labor is very supportive of the policy aims and design behind these bills, we are concerned about some of these issues, and, unless the government address those concerns—particularly those raised by the education sector—they should be prepared for unintended consequences. These are matters which should be addressed in advance, not after the fact.

I raise, also, some concerns in relation to the existing exemptions for Australian universities. My colleagues' Senate minority report to the Senate bill inquiry said:

Labor Senators note the recommendation in the Joint University Submission which calls for the existing exemptions that apply to the Employer Nomination Scheme (Subclass 186) and the expansion to the existing exemptions in relation to Age, Skills Assessment and Work experience requirements for Australian University sponsors for professional and managerial positions be made available to the two new visa sub classes.

Labor also notes the advice given by Universities Australia to the Senate committee, which advised caution in finalising the settings to ensure that the conditions associated with the new skilled regional visas are not so restrictive as to act as a deterrent to potential visa applicants. This is yet another concern which should have been addressed earlier.

I want to also speak about the Morrison government's recent foray into population policy. Just a few weeks ago, the population minister launched a new population centre—within Treasury, oddly enough. Labor of course welcomes a mature debate about population, one that is informed by evidence. Understanding how migrants and international students decide where they settle in Australia and what the government can do to incentivise them into regional areas is an important and worthy aim. Having a population strategy—a proper population strategy—is a must for any government today. Over the next 30 years, our nation's population is projected to increase by 50 per cent, and most of this growth will be in our large cities. This reflects economic growth and opportunity and poses policymakers with a big challenge and one that Labor has been grappling with: how do we continue to realise the benefits of agglomeration and maintain livability? This is critical to boosting productivity and also people's wellbeing.

In Melbourne and Sydney, we know that populations will grow from around five million today to eight million by mid-century. We also know that, in the past, the vast majority of migrants settling in Australia have chosen to stay in our big cities. In those cities, we know, the congestion is getting worse. Commuters in Sydney are experiencing a massive 71-minute average journey to and from work each day, and Melburnians spend an average of 65 minutes on their commute. We know that Infrastructure Australia has predicted that road congestion costs in our major cities will more than double by 2031. We know that the Reserve Bank governor has called for infrastructure investment to be brought forward seven times since the election. We know that, despite this, the Morrison government failed to spend a cent from the Urban Congestion Fund in all of 2018-19, even though money was forecast to have been spent in this year's budget. All we get from this government are calls for the states and territories to do more. The truth is that this government is using population and migration to cover up for its failures to invest in productive infrastructure. They are trying to hide their failure to bust congestion in our cities by blaming migration.

Just last week I was at the FECCA conference, and I heard about a young girl of South Sudanese background who explained that she always stood up on the bus to school because she's anxious that she and, as it was reported, people like her are blamed for crowded public transport and congested roads. How utterly awful! Government members should think about this in terms of how they speak about congestion in our cities and what causes it. People like this girl aren't to be blamed for going to school or going to work, so they shouldn't feel blamed. Instead, we need to see from this government some responsibility taken for failures to plan and deliver infrastructure that is fit for purpose.

This bill seeks to facilitate measures that are all about the distribution of population. But tinkering around the edges of our visa system won't make a huge difference, especially without a wider plan for resettlement and development to ensure that these changes are lasting. It won't count for much if we fail to increase the attractiveness of our regional areas through greater supports and more economic opportunities. We see no mention from the government of the great challenges of socio-economic inequality posed by some of these questions here, which are huge issues at the moment. I encourage members to look at some of the reporting in the Nine newspapers last week, which really demonstrated the extent of geographic inequality in Australia. There is also no mention of the skills and workforce challenges posed by these questions, or of the health and wellbeing challenges, or of the environment and climate change challenges, and no mention of the failures to adequately invest in infrastructure—created by the government's ineptitude. The reality is, despite its rhetoric on population, the government's policy response has been found wanting time and time again.

Returning to an earlier point, the Morrison government claims it is cutting migration. The government clearly likes the political optics of this. It says it has cut permanent migration from 190,000 to 160,000 places. That much is true, but it doesn't reveal the full story. It doesn't show that the temporary migration program, which has been around the order of 700,000 for the last decade or so, is driven by the demand for international student places, the number of working-holiday visa holders and temporary skilled migrants, amongst others.

For its COAG processes the government hand-picked an expert, Peter McDonald from the University of Melbourne, who did not offer support for this approach. A study by his school, the Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, said of the government's plan to introduce new visas to create incentives for new migrants to settle outside of the major capitals:

This is flawed logic … If labour demand remains very strong, at least in the large cities, firms unable to fill that demand from international migration will draw instead upon the rest of Australia …

This is a matter that government members should think seriously about. It doesn't go to the worthy aspiration that underpins the measures referred to in this bill but to some of the underlying facts, which have not been addressed.

Like most things with this government, the rhetoric simply doesn't meet the reality. The Morrison government has talked a big game when it comes to development in our regions. When an election campaign is on, with media releases to drop and votes to win, we hear about big plans and grand ambition. But when the hard reality of governing comes along, what do we get? Not very much. Proposals to relocate government departments to regional towns don't cut it.

Labor understands that both improving regional services and investing in community infrastructure will enable regional cities and towns to grow, and attract and retain the workers needed to power regional economic development that is sustainable. An effective decentralisation strategy requires investment in communities and their infrastructure, including settlement services. While regional cities are developing rapidly as economic and service hubs, like major capitals, they are facing the need for supporting investment in enabling infrastructure. Labor has been a great proponent of creating an office for regional development to provide high-level advice and assessment of regional plans. That's why, at the last election, we committed to a comprehensive $795 million plan for regional development, to ensure the strength of our regions over time. This government has failed on regional development, and that goes to the heart of meeting the aspirations that are the subject of this bill.

Labor will be supporting this bill. We support it because of its aims, not because of the great change, we believe, it will of itself effect in terms of regional settlement. But something is better than nothing. We do think that this bill could be greatly improved if it were connected to a plan to invest in settlement services for our regional areas. We think, in combination with the measures referred to in this bill, that that could better attract and retain migrants in our regional areas, to enable them to build great lives in those communities and to make a great contribution to the future of those regional communities.

Photo of Sharon ClaydonSharon Claydon (Newcastle, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Is the amendment seconded?

Photo of Terri ButlerTerri Butler (Griffith, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for the Environment and Water) Share this | | Hansard source

I second the amendment and reserve my right to speak.

Photo of Sharon ClaydonSharon Claydon (Newcastle, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The original question was that this bill be now read a second time. To this the honourable member for Scullin has moved as an amendment that all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting other words. The question now is that the amendment be agreed to.

12:34 pm

Photo of James StevensJames Stevens (Sturt, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It's my pleasure to address the House on the New Skilled Regional Visas (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2019, which is fundamental to the government's population policy agenda that we announced back in March, before the election. We are, of course, honouring the commitments from that campaign. This is part of implementing what is a fundamental principle of our approach to population policy in this country, which, first and foremost, is that we simply cannot continue to have a one-size-fits-all approach to population growth and immigration in Australia. We are a big country, an entire continent, and it is not the reality that we have a consistent population growth occurring across the major cities and through to the small towns of this country—far from it. As a South Australian, which I'll touch on a little later in my remarks, I think there's a very stark difference between the challenges of population growth in somewhere like South Australia versus other parts of the country. Clearly, in our major cities, particularly Melbourne but also Sydney and the south-east corner of Queensland, population growth has been very, very strong over recent years and for quite some time. A lot of pressure has been created around that, frankly, because the sorts of investments that needed to occur around infrastructure in particular, simply weren't keeping up with the growth rate.

In a state such as Victoria, I reflect on the fact that, unfortunately, for most of the last 20 years there's been a Labor government. They've had this high rate of population growth, and an enormous pressure created around that, because they haven't been investing in the kind of infrastructure that's needed to support and sustain that growth rate. Thankfully, in New South Wales the Liberal Party were elected in 2011 and then in 2015 took a very aggressive infrastructure investment package to subsequent elections. But they are playing catch-up, frankly, and it is very difficult when it comes to population pressures and the infrastructure required when you're not planning ahead—not around electoral cycles, not around pet projects in key seats—but actually around the kind of fundamental infrastructure we need to be planning ahead for many, many, many decades into the future.

That's why, of course, we've got the congestion-busting agenda that we took to the election. This involves investing in some of the major choke points across the country. In my own seat of Sturt, we are lucky to have three very significant projects that are going towards busting congestion and helping relieve the kinds of pressures that we could see coming from increased migration into Adelaide, were it not for us planning ahead and identifying the kinds of choke points that need to be invested in. I've got the Magill and Portrush roads intersection, the Glen Osmond and Fullarton roads intersection and the Fullarton Road and Cross Road intersection. Those are all being funded by the Morrison and Marshall governments working together to make sure that, as we grow the population in South Australia—which we absolutely support and intend to do—we're not being left with infrastructure bottlenecks of the kind that would have occurred if we weren't making these decisions with foresight. Through an independent process, we're identifying the kinds of choke points in our cities and towns and across our state that we need to be investing in.

South Australia has very poor population growth and has had for a very long time, and there is a great amount of risk if we don't seriously address this—not just in South Australia but across a whole range of communities across our country that are seeing low rates of growth. The purpose of this new approach to increasing regional migration is to address the fact that there are parts of the country that have very low population growth rates. The impact of that is going to become very significant in the years and decades to come if we don't do all we can to address that. As a government, that's exactly why we're undertaking policy prescriptions like this: to put an emphasis on growing the population in the parts of the country that need it, whilst undertaking an overall reduction to reduce the pressure in other parts of the country, particularly the major cities, that have not been able to match the high levels of population growth with the kinds of investment in social infrastructure, in particular, that's been required.

There are two new visas being created. This legislation consequentially addresses both of these visas, which give people a pathway to permanent residency in this country via living in a regional area for a minimum of three years and satisfying some other requirements.

We hope, of course, that by undertaking a policy like this and creating these two new categories we'll see people taking up the opportunity to live in regional parts of Australia, including Adelaide, which is absolutely considered, within the government policy framework, part of this regional classification because it's one of the parts of the country that desperately need population growth. These two visa categories, we hope, will see large numbers of people—up to 23,000 people a year—being accepted into this program and living in those areas for three years, and then, through their pathway to permanent residency, we hope, of course, that they will have developed deep ties to the community and stable employment outcomes and they'll continue to live in regional areas well beyond that period of time.

South Australia, like many other areas that are classified as regional, has had a very poor population performance for a long, long time. We're growing, on recent figures, at about 0.9 per cent now. It's been 0.8 per cent for a very long period of time, compared to the national average over the last 10 years, which has been 1.6 per cent. So we've been growing at half the national population growth average for an extended period of time. We've tended to be about seventh out of the eight jurisdictions—the six states and the two territories—for more than 10 years now. Interestingly, whilst other jurisdictions have at times moved quite significantly from different categories within that league table, we've sat consistently at No. 7 for the whole period of time. The Northern Territory at the moment is eighth, but a few years ago it was first. So we have had a very long period of low population growth.

The risk to our economy in South Australia if we don't address this is that we're going to have an ever-diminishing percentage of our population that's in the workforce and therefore paying taxes, not just nationally but at state level and other taxes, to support—quite rightly, as we should be doing—people, particularly in their retirement, who need government services and need the ratios to be strong so that we can provide the highest standard of living in the world to our citizens. If we don't make sure that we've got a strong percentage of our population in the workforce earning an income and paying the taxes that support those services, we're going to be in a lot of trouble in South Australia.

Having said that, I note that there is some scope for hope that things are changing in South Australia, and there have been some recent developments that are quite exciting when it comes to being positive about South Australia's future not only from a population growth point of view but generally. If we're going to grow our population and increase the migrant intake to South Australia, we've got to make sure that we're growing the economy and creating jobs for not only migrants coming to South Australia but also our young people who are going through school and other qualifications now and who also need a bright future in South Australia.

Before I get to that, I think it's also very important to understand that South Australia finally has a proper, robust policy and structure for planning infrastructure investments in our state. This had not been the case for an extended period of time, until the election of a Liberal government last year with a key policy objective to establish Infrastructure South Australia, much modelled on Infrastructure Australia, which we've got at the Commonwealth level. That puts us in a position to do the kind of long-range planning for productive infrastructure for economic growth but also for population growth. If we're going to be undertaking initiatives like this legislation that will hopefully see an increase in migration into the state of South Australia, we've got to be planning effectively for that.

So Infrastructure South Australia has been formed. It has a very impressive board. It is independent, and it's undertaking a long-range 20-year infrastructure plan for the state of South Australia that will ensure that we're planning for the kind of infrastructure that we need as we hopefully are growing and increasing our population while also growing our economy. This 20-year forward infrastructure plan, which will be announced early next year, will have five-year increments, again overseen by Infrastructure SA, so that we are always in a position to invest in the kind of infrastructure that South Australia needs to support an increase in our population and growth in our economy.

The federal government have made some very important decisions in recent times that are going to see a significant increase, we hope, in demand for people to move to South Australia because the economy is growing and we are creating jobs. The obvious one, of course, is the defence decision around the capital procurement of surface and subsurface vessels. The $90 billion naval shipbuilding program, based at the Osborne Shipyards in South Australia, is for 12 Attack class submarines to replace the Collins class submarines, going from six to 12; and nine future frigates built by British Aerospace, based on the type 26 anti-submarine warfare frigates, to slowly but surely replace the Anzac class. The scale of this means thousands upon thousands of jobs—thousands of direct jobs and even thousands more indirect jobs around supply chain, and then, of course, all the other multiplier effects of that kind of expenditure in the South Australian economy. It is really, really exciting. We need to make sure that we are planning for the growth and maximising the growth from those opportunities, particularly through the supply chain, and part of that is going to be the workforce—making sure that where we have skills gaps, one of the options for us is to bring people into our economy who have got the ability to contribute to that program and make sure it's a success.

The Australian Space Agency is another example of something that is going to see jobs growth in our state and why having the ability to increase skilled migration into South Australia is going to be so important—because the Morrison government has made the decision to base the space agency in Adelaide, in the state of South Australia. This gives us an opportunity to have an ecosystem around that space agency from an industry point of view so that the space sector that will definitely grow across the planet, in all countries around the world, is equally going to grow in Australia. We've made the decision to base the space agency in Adelaide, and, as firms in the space sector, in the space industries—lots of which, I might add, come from the defence sector, which goes to show the sort of synergy around that decision—there is going to be enormous opportunity to grow a workforce around space and space related industries. So we need to make sure that we are fostering that. We've made a decision that gives an enormous opportunity to the state of South Australia, but again we've got to make sure we're addressing the workforce requirements that that announcement brings.

There are other things that we're doing that are going to grow jobs and potentially require skilled migration into the state. In horticulture, the Northern Adelaide Irrigation Scheme is an opportunity to massively grow an industry that already exists, as we increase the amount of water we can take out of the Bolivar treatment plant and open up opportunities for further investment in horticulture. There are an enormous number of jobs in horticulture, and the simple reality is that, at times, a lot of those require support through a migration program that brings workers with particular skills, or to address skill gaps, into the South Australian economy. The Adelaide Casino expansion is going to require, by its very nature, skilled migration into the state of South Australia. Whilst that's exciting and whilst there are many new jobs coming from that investment, equally, we need to ensure that we've got a migration policy in place that can provide the skill requirements—in particular, where there are skill gaps—so that the state of South Australia and my home city of Adelaide are not missing out on any opportunity that is coming our way in the near future to grow our economy.

This scheme can increase our population growth rate, and I'm confident it will. As I've said, that rate being traditionally at 0.8 per cent—0.9 per cent now—and seventh in the nation has just not been acceptable. This government wants to grow the population in areas like South Australia, to balance out the opportunity for economic growth, where for too long we've had low population growth and the poor economic outcome associated with that.

12:49 pm

Photo of Jason FalinskiJason Falinski (Mackellar, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Madam Deputy Speaker Claydon, it's nice to see you again. I hope you've been well. I thank the members for Scullin and Sturt for their contributions to this debate on the New Skilled Regional Visas (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2019. The member for Nicholls has not spoken yet. We always look forward to his contribution to any debate. Member for Makin, I see that I've jumped the gun. It is unfortunate, but, if you don't mind, I'll keep going.

A diverse and vibrant Australia is a great Australia. A great Australia is one that promises prosperity, economic growth and opportunity. That's why I'm speaking in favour of this bill today. Australia is a land of opportunity. This place we call home is a land of wealth and prosperity. It is truly a great place. It is this parliament's responsibility to create opportunities, not to enforce them, so that those who show a genuine want to take advantage of the Australian way of life get a go. This bill promises prosperity, and it is for this reason that I'm happy to speak in favour of it.

I think of my own family and how we came to be Australians. My father was the son of a Polish migrant, who initially fled Nazi invasion and then fled communist oppression in 1957. When my father arrived in this country he was a young man and learnt English by selling encyclopedias door to door. I will not repeat some of the words he learnt while selling encyclopedias door to door. His mother, my grandmother, helped sustain her family by spending her nights screwing caps onto toothpaste tubes at the Colgate factory in Sydney. Many nights she came home with bleeding fingers.

These new visas being introduced today represent opportunity and potential. The new visas proposed by this bill today show our government's commitment to generating jobs and helping communities. These new visas being introduced today show that this government is serious about bringing economic growth and prosperity into the hearts of regional towns and smaller cities. Most importantly, these new visas being introduced into the House today give people a go.

This bill is a testament to the attractiveness of Australia on an international stage. We should be proud that there is such demand for a life in Australia. This bill shows how lucky we are to have a country where there is free speech, functioning democracy, and economic hope and opportunity for all. Australia has one of the greatest immigration systems in the world, and this bill only strengthens our rural communities. It is imperative that our primary industries be supported. Primary industries are one of the most important parts of the Australian economy, and this bill will only strengthen our rural workforce in keeping Australia's key industries vibrant and lively with strength in numbers. We need to help our primary industries and we need to support our regional towns with skilled workers.

These new visas promise greater prosperity and will rejuvenate the towns and cities that need assistance. The bill is part of the government's current population policy, which aims to reduce the migration cap by 15 per cent and provide incentives for migrants to settle in the regional hubs and small towns of Australia's vast working landscape. Along with strengthening regional jobs and workforces, the Australian government's population policy aims to ease the pressures on our larger cities, better match migration to regional needs and, most importantly, ensure that Australia remains an attractive destination for skilled and talented workers to live in and to enjoy. This approach will provide consistency across skilled visa programs. The regional migration programs will allow more regional businesses to access skills in short supply.

Australia prides itself on being free, fair and open-minded. This bill is centred on a new definition of 'regional Australia', which is simplified to be all of Australia except for the metropolitan areas of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, the Gold Coast and Perth—areas that have suffered the strain of rapid population growth. The new definition will form single continuous borders, as defined by postcodes, around these metropolitan areas. The bill provides employers with access to a wider range of occupations as well as to priority processing. This approach will provide consistency across skilled visa programs and allow more regional businesses to access through regional migration programs the skills that are in short supply.

These new visas mean that if you have a go you get a go. The visas proposed by the House today highlight innovation, hard work and willingness to participate as the skills that Australia wants its citizens to have. The bill reinforces the idea that you should keep more of what you have earned. Economic freedom in Australia is something that this government is very proud of and it is also something that people around the world are desirous of. Australia is the most successful immigration nation in the world. It is our job, as leaders of this great nation, to ensure we appropriately plan for Australia's future generations.

The New Skilled Regional Visas (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2019 provides this government with the opportunity to diversify our regional workforce and help brand Australia as the greatest country in the world to live. The key focus of this policy is to secure greater economic growth for small cities and regional towns and to better target the key public services they rely on. The key benefit of the bill is that it provides motivated individuals and families with a place to call home. Australia is a very friendly country. As a very attractive place to work and live, Australia must always act in a way that incentivises hard work and rewards the individual, which is exactly what this bill aims to do. These new visas being proposed today symbolise a ticket into Australia and represent an opportunity for those who are motivated enough and want to give it a go.

The real benefits of this bill are the numerous economic and cultural benefits for regional Australia. An important outcome of these new visas is that they will refresh the regional workforce. The bill allows regional employers, as well as state and territory governments, greater access to more occupations than the equivalent non-regional visas. The bill promises that the skilled employer-sponsored regional provisional visa will have access to over 450 more occupations than the closest non-regional equivalent visa, and the skilled work regional provisional visa will have over 70 more occupations than other visas. This means that we are diversifying our workforce and increasing the range of individuals that can be sponsored in our regional areas. This is not only a great thing for regional Australia; it is also a big step for Australia's workforce in its entirety. The abundant opportunities that present themselves in these towns and cities promise long-term work and hence a potential long-term solution to the need to strengthen rural towns and cities.

In addition, the bill also promises that priority process arrangements will be expanded to include all visa applicants sponsored by regional employers as well as other visa applicants who will live and work in regional Australia. This streamlined visa process makes the two new visas more attractive to those seeking work in Australia and hence incentivises applying for the new visas over equivalent non-regional visas.

The new skilled regional visas bill not only helps our smaller and more isolated communities; it also aims to ease pressure off the big cities in terms of population growth. This bill even provides extra incentives to potential migrants considering moving to regional Australia. For example, the bill offers five additional points for regional nomination or sponsorship. And for those who think that there is no potential in rural towns—in late 2018 Jack Archer, the former CEO of the Regional Australia Institute, even stated, 'The notion that there are limited available jobs in rural Australia is a fallacy,' alluding to the fact that, at the time, there were over 47,000 job vacancies in rural Australia. Our regional towns and suburbs will benefit exponentially from these new visas, and it is our obligation to strengthen the rural workforce in a way that helps all Australians and Australian businesses.

This bill ultimately means that skilled migrants will stay in the regional centres of Australia for longer, and in this long-term arrangement they will develop and create ties and bonds to their respective communities. Such ties to local communities are made through participation and community involvement. Community involvement is what Australian suburbs are all about. The Australian difference is that feeling of belonging and that sense of identity. Tight-knit communities and strong social capital are what make Australia feel like home to so many of us. Whether it be the local footy team, the Lions club or even your local RSL on a Friday night, this country has something for everyone. By strengthening our regional workforces, this bill will ease the pressure off our congested major cities over time. We have been forced to play catch-up when it comes to introducing skilled migrant visas, due to the failure of other governments in planning for the impact of record migration into Australia.

Separate from these outlined benefits, these new visas also provide extra options for international graduates from regional institutions. The bill states that, for any international student who graduates from a regional campus of a registered university or institution with a higher education or postgraduate qualification and maintains ongoing residence in a regional area while holding their first temporary graduate visa, an additional temporary graduate visa, with an extra year of post-study work rights for international students, will be available. By allowing international students to gain a temporary visa, whilst then working for a minimum of two years in regional Australia, we are expanding regional tertiary education and leveraging the populations of Australia's towns and cities. This policy will create an influx in population and, therefore, will also provide jobs to those Australians who wish to educate incoming students. From here, other services and sectors will grow as population demands will increase all around the country, not just in cities.

Therefore, I strongly support this bill whilst also supporting the Morrison government's policy on population distribution and immigration. Our great nation deserves to be shared with motivated individuals who wish to contribute to local communities and live productive lives. It is only right that we provide opportunities to those who wish to take them.

1:02 pm

Photo of Tony ZappiaTony Zappia (Makin, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I speak in support of the amendment moved by the member for Scullin to this legislation, the New Skilled Regional Visas (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2019. The purpose of this bill is to establish two new provisional skilled regional visa classes which, after three years of living and working in a regional area, will allow these provisional visa holders to apply for permanent residency. That in itself is quite an attractive incentive to someone who wants to migrate to Australia from overseas. Additionally, the new provisional skilled regional visa holders will have access to government services, such as social security payments, similar to permanent residents. That was previously not the case, and so this is also a new additional incentive for people wanting to come and work within Australia in a regional area.

The policy intent of this bill is twofold: firstly, to overcome a skills shortage in regional Australia and, secondly, to ease the growth pressure on big cities by providing incentives for new migrants to settle in regional Australia. The government proposes to reduce Australia's annual migration intake from 190,000 to 160,000. Of those 160,000 places, 23,000 places will be allocated to the two new skilled regional visa subclasses—491 and 494.

This legislation was referred to the Senate Standing Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee, and their report was handed to parliament only a couple of days ago. In their minority report, Labor senators—whilst supporting the aim of the new skilled regional visas—noted that the new visas had not been fully thought through, that details were unclear and that there could be serious unintended consequences. In particular, the higher education community raised issues with what they see as inconsistencies in the definitions of 'regional Australia', which seem to have been made in an arbitrary way. For example, it has been pointed out that Perth, one of the most isolated cities in Australia, is excluded from the definition of a regional location, despite it being at a disadvantage in attracting international students. Previously, this government has directed additional funding to university campuses in suburban areas, under programs intended to support more students at regionally focused universities. Definitions are important and they should not be used as a cover to pork-barrel money into marginal seats.

The need for this legislation highlights two serious failings of government. Firstly, there is the failure of the government to support Australian vocational education. We know that today there are about 150,000 fewer apprenticeships than there were when this government came to office. We also know that about $3 billion has been cut from TAFE funding over the past six years by this government. We know that billions of dollars were wasted on shonky VET providers under the watch of the government. And we know this government continues to pursue a privatisation ideology of selling off state or federal government utilities and assets that, in the past, would provide tens of thousands of apprenticeship opportunities. All of those opportunities are also being lost. It is short-term, foolish policy, because the apprenticeships that those government entities were providing in the past are not being provided by the operators of those very services that have been privatised. Secondly, as the member for Scullin quite rightly pointed out in his comments, there is the failure of this government to support regions with government services, while infrastructure funding fails to keep pace with growth in big cities. On both of these matters, the government has failed.

Poor planning by all governments in our cities has resulted in cities outgrowing the pace of infrastructure investment that is being provided. That is partly a responsibility of this government—contrary to what other members have said, that it is simply a responsibility of the states. If better infrastructure had been provided, those big cities would not be bursting at the seams in the way that they are. Simultaneously, if regional Australia had better services, more people would very likely be living there today. As the member for Scullin also quite rightly pointed out, it is those services that are particularly important for new migrants as they transition to Australian life. Yet this legislation says and does nothing about additional resettlement services for the very people that it says will be located in regional Australia. The government makes no commitment about that whatsoever.

With respect to one particular profession, the medical profession, we know that many of the health services provided in regional Australia are provided by overseas trained doctors. One of the biggest shortfalls or one of the biggest areas of concern was that, for many of those doctors who relocate to regional Australia, there were no support settlement services once they went out there, and that was becoming one of the serious barriers that they faced.

It would be my expectation that skilled people in a developing country would jump at the opportunity to come to Australia with a pathway to permanent residency. The three years of working in a regional location, in my view, would not be a barrier whatsoever. Indeed, it is not much of an impost when you consider there are people trying to get to this country, asylum seekers, who have now spent years in detention centres. But more importantly, it is not much of an impost when it is something that many other professionals already do in this country. There are a number of vocations where people, once they graduate, are expected to work in a regional area for one, two or three years. It's not uncommon in several professions. It is also a pathway, within those professions, to advancing a career. So working in a country or regional part of Australia is not unusual, nor is it a great impost.

But the reality is that even graduates from within our own country who have done that don't often return to the regional location where they perhaps did part of their work once they graduated. So I have serious doubts that this program will be effective. After the new migrants have spent three years in the regional areas, I doubt very much whether all of them will remain in those locations. I suspect that, like all other Australians, they will seek work where they get the most benefit—and, indeed, not only work where they get the most benefit but work which offers the most benefits to their family members as well. So, whilst this might be legislation that initially provides some benefit to the regional areas, I'm not convinced that, in the long term, it is going to overcome the skills shortages that we see in those areas.

There are other concerns with respect to this legislation that I want to talk about, and these are concerns that were also raised in the Senate committee's report. One of my serious concerns with this scheme is the likelihood of widespread exploitation of migrant workers. Only on Saturday, in the South Australian Advertiser, there was a story written by Tory Shepherd on this very matter. I want to quote the first three paragraphs of that story:

DOZENS of Adelaide businesses have been busted exploiting workers or cheating the visa system since a public register began in 2015.

Australian Border Force figures show 82 firms have been sanctioned for breaching their obligations as visa sponsors.

And immigration agent Mark Glazbrook … said those who were caught were just the tip of the iceberg.

Those comments are consistent with my own observations and stories that have been brought to me during my time in this place—stories of sponsors exploiting workers and of workers who have little understanding of their rights, who do not know who to turn to if they are being exploited, who often come from countries where labour abuse is common and who don't want to jeopardise their opportunity of permanent residency within Australia. These are vulnerable people.

Both of the two new visa subclasses proposed by this legislation will require a sponsor, which could be a family member or an Australian business. I hope that this legislation is not used as another form of access to cheap labour by employers who would do that ahead of doing the right thing by the employees they will ultimately employ. But it's a real concern that I have, and again I wonder: what is the government going to do to ensure that worker exploitation does not continue as a result of people going out to country areas, where, again, their access to support services is even less than for those who go to the cities?

In the couple of minutes I have left, I want to highlight a matter separate to all this. We have unemployment in Australia at 5.3 per cent—roughly 716,000 Australians unemployed. We have 8.5 per cent of people underemployed, which is perhaps another million people or so who are underemployed. Simultaneously, we are told that we have a shortage of skills in this country. We also know that some of the highest unemployment occurs in regional Australia, the very parts of Australia that this bill seeks to address. Indeed, we know that, under this legislation, South Australia—and, in fact, the Northern Territory and Tasmania—will be designated regional Australia for the purpose of this legislation.

In South Australia we now have the highest unemployment rate in the country, at 7.3 per cent. We know that, if we were to train people who are unemployed or underemployed, we should be able to meet those skills shortages through our own people who are looking for more work. When I look at the 7.3 per cent unemployment rate we have in South Australia, I look at the skills shortages we have, and I look at the cuts to education and TAFE in particular. Not only has the federal government made cuts, but the Marshall Liberal government in South Australia has closed TAFEs at Tea Tree Gully, Port Adelaide and Parafield since coming to office just over a year ago. The Marshall government and the federal coalition government are not only not investing in training Australians who are looking for more work and who are in the very regions that this legislation seeks to address but also, at the same time, are simply saying, 'Let's bring those people in from overseas.'

The member for Mackellar talked about the 47,000 job vacancies that appear outside of capital cities. I'm not in a position to dispute that figure—and I am not prepared to dispute it, because it may well be correct—but why are we not training Australians who are looking for work, rather than bringing in people from overseas? Shouldn't that be our first priority? Indeed it should. But this government is not prepared to do that. It would rather simply say, 'Let's bring in skilled workers from overseas,' instead of investing in training our own people. We have seen cuts right across the board in education, but we have particularly seen them in vocational education and training. I suspect that we can train people here rather than bring people in. The other matter, of course, is the integrity of the whole system. As we have seen in the past time and time again, not only are people who are brought in being exploited; one has to question how legitimate their qualifications are.

The intent of this legislation is one that Labor supports. But there is no question that there are unintended consequences, and there are a lot of other things we could have done as a country to meet the skills shortages that this legislation seeks to overcome.

1:17 pm

Photo of Damian DrumDamian Drum (Nicholls, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

When you listen to the Labor Party talk on labour and regional skilled visas, it is incredibly scary. There are a whole raft of underlying tones that are perpetrated in the speeches of the Labor Party where they refuse to acknowledge the fact that in regional Australia around five per cent equals full employment, when you see the range and the types of employment that are available and how hard our businesses, our Australian businesses, in regional Australia have to advertise for their workers and how hard it is to get workers into many of our areas of trade, agriculture and also hospitality. To see the Labor Party continually focus on the exploitation of workers as a reason why they want to semi-oppose this—they'll probably end up supporting the bill, but they'll raise a whole range of issues. If there are issues of worker exploitation, those labour firms need to have the book thrown at them. They have got unions out there keeping an eye on things. They have got the Ombudsman and the Fair Work Commission. There are a whole raft of policemen out there who are prepared to act very quickly and diligently if there are areas of worker exploitation.

The fact is, these so-called cuts are to higher education and to the TAFE system—the TAFE system is run by the state government. If you want to start criticising the Daniel Andrews Labor government in Victoria, knock yourself out. But don't throw that criticism at the federal government. All we are trying to do here, with the New Skilled Regional Visas (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2019, is ensure that these Australian businesses bracing themselves for a very busy time ahead in the harvest season have an adequate workforce that will enable them to get the crops sorted and packed in the packing sheds and shipped off to market. Having the workers and the legal labour force to do that is the most crucial thing. The Victorian, New South Wales and South Australian governments have recently moved legislation to actually increase the penalties of labour hire firms that are not registered. This, in itself, is seen as a way of making it even harder for our farmers to be able to access the labour that they need.

The coalition is delivering on its commitment to support rural and regional Australia. In my electorate of Nicholls we regularly meet with farmers, food processors, manufacturers, health providers and small business owners—and all of them are struggling to find both skilled and unskilled workers. Only last week I met with Richard Buchner, Managing Director at MATelec Australia—a high-technology switchboard manufacturer based in Shepparton that employs around 50 people. It's a dynamic business looking to grow, but its biggest challenge is finding skilled workers. These shortages are holding back his business, and similar skills shortages are holding back other like businesses throughout the Goulburn Valley—holding back our whole economy.

These aren't fictional facts that we are bringing up; these are the facts that we see by going out on the street and meeting with our businesses and asking them, 'How are you going sourcing the skilled workers that you need?' I continually stand in this place and talk about the struggle with finding fitters and turners, mechanics, diesel mechanics, sheet metal workers, food processors and even food technicians, who need a university degree, and how it's very difficult for all the food manufacturers in the Goulburn Valley to be able to access the food technicians they need to run their businesses.

More than seven million people have migrated to Australia since the Second World War, and they have added incredibly to our nation. They have stimulated stronger growth and they have created more jobs for our economy. The immigration system has historically had a strong view on how many people should come to Australia in any given year, but we have never actually determined where they should go; we've always left it up to them. We know that Sydney and Melbourne experienced strong population growth, of 18 per cent and 25 per cent respectively, between 2006 and 2016. A disproportionate amount of migrants have tended to settle in two major cities, leading to congestion and pressures on infrastructure. Elsewhere in Australia, like in my electorate of Nicholls and also out to the west of Victoria and up to the north of Victoria, we are crying out for skilled migration. There are around 60,000 job opportunities in regional Australia where locals are not available or willing to fill the roles. Workforce attraction and retention are the key challenges for our regional employers. Of course, our first priority is always to try and fill these jobs with Australian workers. When that isn't possible, migrants present an opportunity that doesn't otherwise exist.

This bill will give effect to government policy whereby holders of the new provisional skilled regional visas, which come into effect on 16 November, will have access to government services consistent with skilled permanent visa holders. The new provisional skilled regional visas are the subclass 491 skilled work regional provisional visa, for skilled workers who are nominated by a state or territory government and sponsored by an eligible family member to live and work in regional Australia; and the subclass 494 skilled employer-sponsored regional provisional visa, which will enable an Australian business to sponsor skilled workers to work in their business in regional Australia. These new visas are part of the coalition's plan for Australia's future population to ease the pressure on the big capitals while supporting the growth in smaller regional cities.

The plan includes reducing the annual migration ceiling from 190,000 down to 160,000 and setting aside 23,000 places for these new regional visas. It's a new feature of visa requirements for regional migrants to live and work in regional areas for up to three years before being eligible for permanent residency. This will encourage visa holders to remain in regional Australia, which will in turn support the local communities and enhance the economies of regional parts of Australia. The amendments in the bill will ensure that holders of the new visas have access to government services in line with current arrangements for permanent visa holders.

Since the Howard era, our immigration has emphasised skilled migration. In the 1997-98 program year, skilled migration represented more than 50 per cent of the migration program for the first time in our history. This figure has now risen to 70 per cent under the coalition government. Our skilled migration, which has generally very high participation rates in the workforce, increases the number of people paying taxes. Migration offsets the impact of an ageing population and helps enable us to pay for the essential services that we all need.

There have also been some changes to the working holiday-maker program. This is an essential part of Australia's agriculture and tourism industries. It's a crucial part of our labour force in the Goulburn Valley, the GMID and certainly the entire electorate of Nicholls. The GMID, the Goulburn Murray Irrigation District, is arguably the most productive fruit-growing region in Australia, with apples, pears and stone fruits for domestic and export markets. Without the working holiday-maker program, it would be impossible to bring that harvest from the trees and into our economy each and every year. Working holiday-makers are critical to filling the short-term workforce shortage that we have in rural and regional Australia, and they also inject over $3 billion into our national economy.

A range of new working holiday-maker arrangements come into effect on 1 July this year. This will include an increase in the number of places available to Malaysian nationals but also to nationals of some other countries as well. We are also going to see an extension in the working holiday-maker program that will enable visas for those that work for the same employer to be extended up to 12 months. There will be an increase in the number of places available in the 462 program for travellers from Malaysia from 100 up to 1,100, for Argentina from 1,500 up to 2,450, for Singapore from 500 up to 2,500, and for Portugal from 200 up to 500. For Greece we have 500 places available for their young working holiday-makers, and for Ecuador there are 100. It was interesting that only last week I shared the opportunity to go to Greece with some of the members in the chamber. We talked to the Hellenic Parliament, and they were very excited about the fact that many of their young workers are going to be heading to Australia. Many of them are looking forward to working on orchards owned by Greek families that have been here for three generations. So it's great that we are able to be part of this incredible program, a program that's going to help not only young Greek working holiday-makers but also many of our families and our farmers.

I build on the work from the previous speakers who have spoken about the Regional Australia Institute, which has been a very strong promoter of smaller communities that have been able to get behind skilled migrants and even unskilled migrants with a view to housing them, putting services around them and giving them the employment they need in many of these places such as Nhill, Pyramid Hill and a whole range of other small communities that have worked very hard to make themselves attractive to workers from overseas countries who are looking for a better way of life. Rupanyup also comes to mind. There are lots of programs that are going to make their economies much, much stronger because of this bill. Those 23,000 places we have set aside for regional skilled migrants from 2019-20 are going to direct migrants who are going to help these communities that are crying out for more people.

In the short time I have available, I need to acknowledge the Shepparton City Council, the Campaspe shire and the Moira shire, who are combining together to work with the government and its departments to introduce a DAMA. We have DAMAs currently working across other parts of Australia, making it easier for these regions to bring in skilled migrants to assist with businesses that are very heavily in need of new migrants.

Photo of Kevin AndrewsKevin Andrews (Menzies, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! The debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 43. The debate may be resumed at a later hour.