Thursday, 30 March 2006
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Senator Vanstone. Will the minister inform the Senate of the valuable work being done by regional certifying bodies to assist the temporary skilled migration program?
I thank Senator Troeth for her question. Being originally from country Victoria, she will understand the importance of skilled migration into regional areas and have a great interest in it. No doubt Senator Troeth heard Senator McEwen’s question yesterday, and it would have occurred to Senator Troeth that Senator McEwen had no idea about regional certifying bodies—who they are and what they do—and so has very kindly, for the assistance of the Senate, asked this question today. I am grateful to her for that.
The annual regional certifying body conference is, in fact, being held in Cairns today and tomorrow. The government works in partnership with what we call RCBs to ensure Australia and, in particular, its regions get the migrants with the skills that are needed to help business grow and therefore generate more Australian jobs. The regional certifying bodies include state government departments, local councils, statutory authorities and some chambers of commerce and private bodies. State or territory governments endorse the RCBs and act as RCBs themselves.
These bodies certify visas for Australian regions for the 457 visa, that is, the temporary skilled visa; for the Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme; for the skilled independent regional visa and, of course, for the new trade skills training visa. These people are on the ground, dealing with the local communities. That is where they live, and they can see the real skill shortages. We want to help and support regional employers to fill the jobs that they need to. The state government endorsed RCBs play a crucial role in ensuring this happens through the part that they play in the certification process of those visas.
Some visas have regional concessions, where the sponsoring employer can demonstrate that they are appropriate. Sometimes the salary and skill levels for the regional areas will be a little bit below what is required in the metropolitan area. But the RCBs need to certify that these people have the right skills; that they will be paid the right amount—never below the award; that the position cannot reasonably be filled locally; and that the position is genuine. Who better to do that than local people? They are not going to argue the case for people to come from overseas and take jobs from their own local people.
I think it is important that the Senate understands the nature of who forms these regional certifying bodies. In the Australian Capital Territory it is the Department of Economic Development. In New South Wales, the biggest user of temporary skilled migration on the 457s, it is the Department of State and Regional Development. In the Northern Territory it is the Department of Business, Industry and Resource Development. In Queensland it is the Department of State Development, Trade and Innovation. In my own state it happens to be the Department of the Premier and Cabinet and in Tasmania it is also a government department. There are others of course. There are regional development boards that are sponsored by federal or state governments and there are a few that are not sponsored, namely the chambers of commerce. They nonetheless have to be approved.
There have been some issues raised about DIMA in recent days—and I certainly have some more to say about this particular matter—in relation to temporary skilled migration and whether people who are here on a temporary basis are allowed to stay. A particular case was raised by Senator Wong yesterday, and it has been raised by the Queensland minister. Sad to say, I have to admit to the Senate that there has been some duplicitousness here on behalf of the Queensland government. I am very worried about it and I think my colleagues would probably like to hear more about it.
I thank Senator Troeth for her question. What has happened is that one of the Queensland government ministers has accused my department of denying a Queensland doctor a permanent visa because his son does not meet the health requirements. It is quite an emotive issue. Senator Wong and others always like to attach themselves to those, and this matter was raised. Senators might like to know that the Queensland government has to date rejected a proposal by my department to allow a health waiver on those sorts of visas, which would allow the doctor to stay.
My department has been consulting with the states and territories on introducing a health waiver for some skilled visas. Without the waiver, the department’s hands are tied. The Queensland government stand out as the only government that have thus far said to us that they do not want the waiver at this point because they do not want to treat the people who have health needs as their cost, not as a normal permanent resident or an Australian citizen. No, they want the Australian government to pay, and if we do not, they do not want them. (Time expired)