Wednesday, 13 May 2020
Matters of Public Importance
I inform the Senate that, at 8.30 today, six proposals were received in accordance with standing order 75. The question of which proposal would be submitted to the Senate was determined by lot. As a result, I inform the Senate that the following letter was received from Senator Roberts:
Pursuant to Standing Order 75, I propose that the following matter of public importance be submitted to the Senate for discussion:
When Australia restarts our migration program, we do not want migrants to return to Australia in the same numbers and in the same composition as before the crisis.
Is the proposal supported?
More than the number of senators required by the standing orders having risen in their places
I understand that informal arrangements have been made to allocate specific times to each of the speakers in today's debate. With the concurrence of the Senate, I shall ask the clerks to set the clock accordingly.
As a servant to the people of Queensland and Australia, I recognise that, for 230 years, migrants of many races and religions, amazing people from all over the world, have joined us to build our beautiful country into something greater than when they arrived. Now, though, we may be ending 2020 with 1.2 million Australians out of work and 1.2 million temporary visas. For 20 years Senator Hanson has warned that this day would come. In 2016 the Productivity Commission issued its 700-page warning on the imbalance in our immigration policy. The report questioned our high immigration intake's strain on infrastructure, the environment and quality of life in our capital cities. The government ignored the Productivity Commission. Why? To keep the flood of cut-price workers coming and to hide the data showing a per capita recession. That led to long-term pain in relation to infrastructure, housing, wages and state budgets. The inevitable result of that is high unemployment and more underemployment. Many of these unemployed Australians are migrants who came to contribute their labour, yet now languish on jobseeker benefits they don't want instead of going to the job they want. I congratulate one of my Labor colleagues on finally seeing the light and joining us in speaking up on the issue of excessive migration and foreign workers.
People might not be aware that on 3 May in a Sydney Morning Herald opinion piece, Senator Keneally asked:
… do we want migrants to return to Australia in the same numbers and in the same composition as before the crisis?
Senator Keneally's answer was no. The question now is: will Senator Keneally stand by her words and will the Labor Party stand by their shadow immigration minister?
We know that the current coronavirus crisis has changed many things about our economy. One of the most dramatic changes we're seen is, indeed, our migration rate. Right now, our migration is almost zero because this government acted quickly to close our borders to limit the number of coronavirus cases coming into the country. Net overseas migration is expected to drop 30 per cent in 2019-20 and 85 per cent in 2020-21, from 2018-19 levels, due to closed borders. Clearly, there is going to be a long period of time in which migration will be significantly reduced and, as the Prime Minister has said, there is no likelihood of international travel to Australia resuming in the near future.
That will have major impacts on many parts of our economy, and looking at how we can support and rebuild industries affected by the cancellation of international travel will be key to Australia's economic recovery. Tourism, for example, is one of the most important industries that has been affected by this, turning over $45 billion a year. That has been incredibly badly affected as an industry by the coronavirus crisis and, indirectly, as a result of the reduced migration rate. The tourism industry and the hundreds of thousands of Australians that it employs will need visitors to come to Australia when international travel is again safe and possible, and we welcome that occurring when the appropriate time comes.
Another industry that has been significantly impacted by the reduction in migration as a result of coronavirus is agriculture. Agriculture is a key driver of the Australian economy and one which the Morrison government is strongly supporting. It's also a critical component of ensuring Australia's food security. Working holiday-makers are an essential part of Australia's agricultural industries and, indeed, an essential part of the tourism industry. These working holiday-makers are critical to filling workforce shortages in rural and regional areas and they inject over $3 billion into our economy each year. Coming from Tasmania, a state with a thriving tourism industry and a thriving agricultural industry, I am very alive to the impact that these working holiday-makers have on our local economy.
We know working holiday-makers who travel to Australia stay longer, spend more and travel further into regional areas that most other international visitors. That's why we've recently made enhancements to and increased the numbers of places in the work and holiday visa program to better support rural and regional areas. Ideally, we want Australians filling Australian jobs. But when this isn't possible farmers and other employers need to have a workforce available so they can continue their business. Again, in Tasmania that is certainly my experience, in my own state, talking to people, particularly within the agriculture and tourism industries. They appreciate having the ability to draw upon working holiday-makers if they are not able to get locals into jobs.
There needs to be a balance here, but, at the moment, we know it's difficult for these industries without having access to the migrant workforce, as a result of the coronavirus crisis. We will see an 85 per cent reduction on current modelling to migration to Australia, in the next financial year, as a result of the borders having to effectively close due to coronavirus.
The coalition has been consistent, and we have been clear about our approach to managing the integrity and the order of our migration program. It is clarity and consistency that allows businesses and individuals to plan for the future, and I certainly expect that we will see this clarity and consistency continue in the future as we begin, hopefully, one day, to open up our borders again and enable further migration. Conversely, Labor's inconsistency, division and history of mismanagement of the migration program has been on display, as evidenced by some of the commentary we've heard recently. Their shambolic uncoordinated approach, that changes almost daily, demonstrates that they didn't learn anything from their mistakes in government and can't be trusted to manage our migration program.
When my parents came to Australia in the late 1960s they were part of an enormous wave of arrivals who would go on to contribute greatly to the foundations of our nation's economic prosperity. In these times, people knew they could come to Australia in search of a better life. They could put down roots, raise a family, seek new opportunities and make their new home a better place. At the centre of all this was the certainty that permanency provided.
As a result, Australia has become one of the world's most—if not the most—successful migrant nations. Around one-third of all Australians were born overseas and around half of our population are the children and grandchildren of migrants. The majority of Australians know that this is a good thing and that our multicultural society makes us better and stronger. But owing to policy changes initiated in the early 2000s by the then Howard government, and later entrenched over the last seven years by this government, our migration program, unfortunately, has started to shift from being predominantly based on permanency to being based on a more temporary form of migration. I guess that's the heart of the debate on which I and a number of colleagues in this place have made commentary in recent times.
There are many hundreds of thousands of temporary visa holders here in Australia, and we are host to the second largest temporary migrant workforce in the developed world. Temporary migration will always have a place in any modern economy, but it is important that we are carefully examining what that place ought to look like here in Australia. As the chair of the Senate Select Committee on Temporary Migration, that's exactly what I and my Senate colleagues on that committee will be looking at. The terms of reference for our inquiry have tasked that we investigate temporary migration in Australia and the effect that it has on the Australian economy, wages and jobs, social cohesion, and workplace rights and conditions of Australian workers. There is also specific reference to whether permanent residency and permanent migration offer better outcomes to the Australian economy and our community.
I am pleased to say that, so far, we've received over 70 submissions from members of the public, policy experts, industry groups and unions, and that they have all made for interesting reading. I do encourage people to continue providing the committee with submissions. We've heard how the current system can leave temporary visa workers vulnerable to abuse and exploitation, that it can erode wages for workers and allow anticompetitive business behaviours to go unchecked. I've experienced this firsthand. As an official with the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association before entering this place, I represented hundreds of 7-Eleven workers, many of them being temporary visa workers, as they sought compensation for the wage theft and blackmail many had been subjected to. In some instances, workers were paid between $7 and $10 an hour. I met a young foreign student who was making as little as $5. In some cases their employers used their temporary visa status to keep them silent and prevent them from reporting the exploitation that they endured. These are matters, among many others, that the Senate select committee is seeking to inquire into and will report to the Senate on.
Temporary migration impacts a wide range of industries. As my colleague on the other side Senator Chandler had pointed out, hospitality, farming and agriculture are just some areas that we'll no doubt be looking into. Temporary visa workers don't just pick fruit. One in five are chefs, one in four are cooks, one in six are hospitality workers and one in 10 provide nursing support and personal care, and they all hold a temporary visa.
The inquiry will put the focus on important questions. We will ask our fellow Australians if we want to create and profit from an economic underclass, whether we want to stop people who are working in Australia putting down roots and raising a family, as my parents did. When they came here, they were temporary migrants, but now they are very proud Australians. From starting a business and creating ties with neighbours and the community through sport, schools, churches and local groups—the list keeps on going—migrants, whether they are permanent or temporary, do make an enormous contribution to our society here in Australia. Labor understands the benefits of a well-regulated migration program, particularly for skilled workers. But do we as Australians, as the people of a fair society in which a growing proportion are permanently locked out of getting a go? I know firsthand the opportunities Australia can offer many people looking for a better life. I've lived that experience. I know what my parents, their family, friends and the community gave back to this great country.
One of the greatest pleasures each of us has as representatives of our community is welcoming new Australian citizens when they take their pledge of citizenship, and I might say that has been one of the best highlights of my job in the last 18 months. It's a moment of joy and one I want to continue to be available to those who choose to make Australia their home.
I did ponder a bit whether speaking on this matter of public importance was worth it, because it clearly seeks to divide us. But, to be honest, I have had it up to here with One Nation, so I will have my say. This MPI is just another way for them to define who should be in Australia, who is deemed as 'one of us' and who is deemed as the 'other' because of what they look like or where they come from. Let me make one thing crystal clear: when One Nation talk about changing the composition of our migration program, we know what you mean. It's not simply a technical or abstract debate about temporary versus permanent migration, or skilled workers versus family reunion. For One Nation, the party of the Muslim ban and decades of overt racism, it is about something else entirely.
Just two years ago, former Senator Anning, who was elected as a One Nation senator, said the quiet part aloud in his widely condemned first speech, calling for a migration program that reflects the historic European Christian composition of Australian society. That senator, thankfully, has gone, but unfortunately One Nation is still here. If you had your way, I would have never been allowed in this country that I call home, let alone sit in this parliament, in the Senate chamber. Shame on you. For all your talk about supporting good migrants who speak perfect English and assimilate completely, you would rather we just go back to the White Australia Policy. Well, we are not going back to White Australia.
It's not just One Nation sitting here relentlessly pursuing their agenda of racism and xenophobia; it's also the Liberals sitting over there and the Labor Party sitting over there who must cop blame as well. The Liberals have, for years, targeted and fanned the flames of hatred, from targeting the Sudanese community to Lebanese Muslim migrants to asylum seekers and refugees. The Labor Party's hands are dirty as well, with its continual dog whistling Australian-first rhetoric. This posturing and rhetoric normalises and gives oxygen to One Nation's racism and xenophobia. It hurts and damages us. We are not here as fodder for your inherent biases and white supremacy that you want to exert. We are proud upstanding citizens of this country and we work hand to make Australia a better place.
The first thing I would like to note is that the wording of this resolution comes from an article which was written by Senator Keneally. The contributions we have heard so far both from my friend Senator Ciccone and from Senator Farooq did not mention that, did not explicitly recognise that the origin of this resolution comes from the wording of Senator Keneally's article in the Sydney Morning Herald on 3 May 2020. Just as Senator Wong had to go in on Q+A on Monday night and put the pieces together after Senator Keneally's article, now poor old Senator Ciccone has to turn up in the chamber and put the pieces together for the Labor Party after Senator Keneally's article. At least be honest with this chamber that the specific wording in this resolution comes from Senator Keneally's article. Those are her words. I have read the article from front to start; they are her words.
I'd just like to make three points in the time I have available in this debate. The first point I would like to make is, Senator Ciccone, it is good to hear that you're having an inquiry into temporary migration. It would have been a good thing—through you, Acting Deputy President—if Senator Keneally, as the spokesperson for the opposition, might have waited for the inquiry to take full effect and actually come up with some findings before she wrote her article. Can I put to you that, when you're considering your inquiry, you might look at CEDA, the committee for the Economic Development of Australia, report on the effects of temporary migration which was released in July of last year, 2019, after the much-quoted Productivity Commission report. It had two key findings.
First, contrary to some concerns, recent waves of migrants have not had an adverse impact on the wages or jobs of Australian-born workers. That was the first finding. Second, temporary skilled migration has been an overwhelming net positive for the Australian economy, enabling skills shortages to be filled and contributing to the transfer of new knowledge to Australians. Neither of those points were referred to in Senator Keneally's article, but I do commend—through you, Acting Deputy President—to the work of Senator Ciccone's committee that they might have a look at that research report. You'll find it very enlightening.
The second point I would like to make was made by Senator Chandler, which is the importance of temporary migration in relation to Queensland's agriculture industry. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, I received a copy of a letter from the Australian Banana Growers Council Inc urgently seeking changes to temporary visa arrangements. They said in this letter that the banana industry harvests and packs 52 weeks per year. There are 5,325 workers nationally. Approximately 40 per cent are locals and 60 per cent are either backpackers—for example, on 417 or 462 visas—or from the Seasonal Worker Program on 403 visas. In response to that urgent request that these temporary visa holders have their stays extended to assist the Queensland agriculture industry, the government acted in two ways. Seasonal Worker Program and Pacific Labour Scheme workers, an important part of our Pacific Step-up policy, could extend their stay for up to 12 months to work for approved employers.
Thirdly, working holidaymakers who work in agricultural or food processing will be exempt from the six-month work limitation with the one employer and will be eligible for a further visa to keep working in these critical sectors if their the current visa is due to expire in the next six months. That just shows, even during the course of this pandemic, how important some of those seasonal temporary visa workers are to the economy of my state of Queensland.
The last point I would like to make is this afternoon I had a call with a great fellow who is the councillor of Bulloo Shire in south-west Queensland. His name is John Ferguson. I gave him a call because I saw a quote he gave about the importance of attracting immigrants to country towns like Thargomindah. I want to conclude my contribution of this debate with his words. Shire mayor John Ferguson of Thargomindah wants more people in his town. He said he is not looking at who you are or what colour you are. He said 'you are out there with us and you are part of us, and we are going to welcome you out there'.
I'm proud to be part of a political party, the Labor Party, which recognises and values the contribution that migrants make to Australia. We are a party that has stood strongly for multiculturalism and stood strongly against racism. Australia is the most successful multicultural nation on the planet. Half of us were either born overseas ourselves or have a parent born overseas. We can be so proud of the role that migration has played in our past and can be sure of the important role it will play in our future. It is a vital building block of our society, and the public agree. Eighty-five per cent of Australians believe multiculturalism has been good for Australia, so, like the vast majority of Australians, I am incredibly proud of our country and the strength that we have in our diversity.
I have spent my working life representing some of Australia's lowest paid migrant workers in sectors like cleaning, hospitality and agriculture. I visited migrants in their workplaces. I visited them at their homes. I've stood with them when they've spoken out about the rampant exploitation that they've experienced in these industries. I've listened to them talk about their hopes and dreams for a better life in this country.
I've heard that the hopes and dreams of migrant workers today are the very same hopes and dreams of all Australians, be they First Nation Australians, fourth- or fifth-generation Australians or Australians who've migrated from all over the world in the decades since World War II. Those hopes and dreams are: a good, secure job; to be able to settle down and have a family, a community; to be safe, secure and supported; and to make a contribution back to the society that welcomed you.
Australia's shift from permanent to temporary migration without adequate protections for migrant workers and without adequate paths to permanence has put those basic fundamental hopes and dreams on hold for so many migrants to this country. Our temporary migration program invites people here, not to build a life but just to contribute their labour. Our temporary migration program cannot be said to be delivering that most basic hope of generations of migrants to this country—a good, secure job. In so many cases, temporary migrants are suffering the most from the absolute shame that is the widespread endemic wage theft in our country. International students in the cleaning industry are so often forced into sham contracts well below the Australian minimum wage. Backpackers and students working on farms and in hospitality are facing extreme rip-offs. Wages on farms are as low as just a few dollars an hour. Sexual harassment, coercion and assault have all been reported widely. In hospitality, I've seen wages as low as $12 an hour for migrant workers. It is also workers on temporary skilled visas who are ripped off in the most extraordinary and brutal ways. Earlier this year, I met three women who came here on skilled migration visas who were locked in a house in Canberra and forced to work in a massage parlour. Their families back home in the Philippines were threatened with violence if they spoke out, and eventually they had the courage to do just that.
Our temporary migration program invites people here not to settle down and have a family or a community but to work harder and harder to get by, to put up with the often unlawful wages and working conditions, the lack of respect and, in so many cases, the outright exploitation. Our temporary migration program invites people here not to be safe and secure but to be afraid. Too often, temporary migrants are afraid to speak out because they fear being fired. They fear being reported to Immigration and they fear not being able to survive in this country, away from home, without the job that they have. At the first sign of crisis, this government has said to hundreds of thousands of temporary migrants, 'It's time for you to just go home; we won't support you here.'
What is extraordinary is that, despite all of this, every single temporary migrant worker that I've ever met wants to make a contribution back to this country. They work hard, they pay their taxes and they want to be respected for their contribution. To be clear, it is not the fault of the temporary migrant workers who come to this country that they are treated like this. It is our responsibility, as the host nation, to make sure that migrant workers are treated with the respect that they deserve. It is up to employers to stop the exploitation of temporary migrant workers. Indeed, it is up to all of us to make sure that employers are treating them fairly, with dignity and in line with the rules.
It's not just the temporary migrant workers who lose out from this exploitation, because an attack on these workers is an attack on the rights of every worker in this country. We are and we remain the most successful multicultural society in the world, and our success has been built on the invitation to build a life here, to be able to work and be respected, to lay down roots, to have family and community, and to be safe and secure. Right now, our temporary migration program fails too many migrants who just want what we all want here—a secure future.
How curious that not one Labor senator who's spoken to this matter of public importance has acknowledged the elephant in the room that was revealed by Senator Scarr in his contribution moments ago—that the terms of this MPI put forward by One Nation are lifted directly from the Australian Labor Party's new migration policy, revealed by Senator Keneally in a recent op-ed. Well, to Senator Keneally and to the Australian Labor Party: how proud you must be of your new migration policy, which now has the backing of One Nation. Labor got the front-page treatment with Senator Keneally's op-ed in The Sydney Morning Herald, and that op-ed told migrant workers exactly what you think of them. Now, bang—in comes One Nation to support you. Well, Labor blew the whistle and now the dogs are barking, and no-one should be surprised at that. This is exactly what the Labor Party wanted. It wanted a unity ticket with One Nation to demonise migrant workers, and that is exactly what the Labor Party has got.
The Labor Party's stance since the election has been nothing short of shameful. But we shouldn't be surprised, because back in 2013 it was the Australian Labor Party in government that restarted offshore detention, which resulted in thousands of innocent human beings—men, women and children—being indefinitely detained on Manus Island and Nauru. We all know the death, the human suffering, the torture and the human misery that are still going on today because of that shameful decision made by the Australian Labor Party.
If that's not bad enough, Labor has more recently been attacking people seeking asylum in this country by describing them as airplane people. I've got a lesson for the Australian Labor Party based on human history: it's very dangerous to try and outflank fascists and human rights abusers from the Right. But that is exactly what the Australian Labor Party is doing. It's decided to focus on demonising migrants instead of focusing on the real issues in this country, which are to improve workers' rights and to curb the power of unscrupulous employers. Those are the issues that the Labor Party should be focusing on. You can't hope to improve the lot of workers in Australia by kicking down on temporary visa holders. You cannot hope to protect migrant workers by deporting them or seeking to prevent others from arriving in this country.
Labor is strengthening the cause of Minister Dutton and One Nation and making life more difficult for migrants and temporary visa holders. The Labor Party needs to get with the program and start pushing to help all workers, no matter where they come from. They could start by committing to strengthen the Fair Work Act so that workers have more bargaining power. Maybe, for once in Labor's recent history, it could actually start opposing what the government is trying to do, rather than dog whistling and seeking to lie down with One Nation on the issue of migration policy in this country. I hope the Labor Party is ashamed of itself today.
I'm standing before you as the daughter of a migrant. I'm one of the 49 per cent of Australians who are either migrants themselves or children of first-generation Australians. So I cannot support this matter of public importance at all. I agree with Senator McKim. This matter of public importance fails to look at the real issues that we should be talking about, and one of those real issues is: how do we actually incentivise people to take the jobs that many of these migrants are taking in regional Australia? When I say that, I don't mean they're stealing our jobs, because they're not. They are coming here and voluntarily taking positions that are vacant right across rural and regional Australia. Without these migrants, our regional economies would be devastated. People in old-age homes in regional areas wouldn't have carers. Senator Hanson and Senator Keneally have said one in five chefs are migrants. Well, I bet those one in five are actually working in restaurants in regional Australia. Without them, it would be a very different place out there.
I'm very pleased to hear Senator Ciccone and Senator Walsh stand up and support migration because, like Senator McKim and Senator Scarr, I wasn't sure what Labor would say after reading Senator Keneally's opinion piece. Senator Keneally has concerns largely about temporary migration and temporary migrants. These are the very people who live and work in regional Australia, taking positions that have been languishing and vacant. Don't forget it's this government that brought in the labour market test so that employers can't just go and seek cheap overseas labour. Employers must prove that they can't source labour here onshore before they can apply for a temporary skilled visa, and I'm glad that they can do that.
Senator Keneally in her opinion piece didn't say anything about how you actually get Australians to take the jobs that she thinks we should now prioritise only for Australians, and I haven't heard a solution to that from Senator Hanson either. I've heard nothing about the importance of temporary migration in regional Australia from the Labor Party or from One Nation, and I just want to paint the picture to help Senator Keneally and Senator Hanson understand and learn a bit more about regional Australia, because there are many employers out there who have tried but can't. Regional Development Australia Murray used to run a temporary migration advisory service, and they used to get about 250 applications a year from their area alone seeking skilled migrants. These people fill positions such as nurses, aged-care workers and doctors. I live regionally, and, without skilled migration, I wouldn't have been able to see a doctor in my own town for several years.
I should add that the Nationals in government have also introduced two new regional visas for skilled workers which actually require them to come to regional Australia for three years before they can apply for permanent residence. It works because, once you come to regional Australia and once you see how good regional Australia is, you are more inclined to stay there. That's one thing that we are doing to incentivise new migrants to settle outside our big and congested cities. When we have migration, it's really important that it goes to the areas which need it most.
This matter of public importance raised today does not understand and gets the issue of migration wrong. Migrants, particularly working holiday-makers, are absolutely vital. We have heard about issues in the Northern Territory if we don't have seasonal holiday visa holders and working holiday-makers—and these people are not permanent migrants, admittedly, but are here visiting our nation, spending money in our nation and also helping us get our food and our produce harvested and onto our supermarket shelves. We've found examples where working holiday-makers who fill short-term shortages, particularly in these rural and regional areas, inject over $3 billion into our economy each year. They stay longer, they spend more and they travel further, and that is all good for our economy.
We are working to get our working holiday program right. It's something we're committed to. In the face of this COVID crisis, we have worked hard to extend visas for those who were already in the nation so that we can ensure that we keep people able to do our harvest jobs, able to work in the agricultural sector and able to fill those vacancies so that we can keep our businesses going. Bear in mind that at the moment our migration is currently zero in the face of COVID, and it's having a devastating impact on our economy.
Let's look at where our migration numbers go. Forty-seven per cent of our migrants in 2018-19 were international students. Does anyone seriously want to put 240,000 jobs at risk by slashing that $37 billion industry? We are already seeing, because of COVID-19, the devastating impact that the loss of these international students is having on our regional universities. In fact, Charles Sturt University has put a number on it. The impact could be as high as $80 million a year on that university's bottom line, and that has a flow on impact on our universities' capacity to undertake vital research programs. Twenty-two per cent of our net overseas migration is visitors to Australia, including to regional Australia—that is a $45 billion a year industry. Twelve per cent are skilled migrants. These are people who come here to fill the vacancies, who have the skills we need, who work significantly in regional Australia. They fill critical skills gaps right across the Australian workforce.
The Liberals and the Nationals in government are taking a sensible approach to migration. We have kept migration at 160,000. It is a cap, not a target, but it is also a responsible and realistic figure. We are focusing more and more on skilled migration. We have introduced the new regional visas to ensure that we get people out of our cities and into the bush, and we hope that they stay there.
Since the new temporary skills shortage program commenced—it replaced the shambolic and often abused 457 visa program—we have seen salaries increase. We have seen average remuneration that is $15,000 higher than what was being paid under the 457 program. Again, it was the Liberals and Nationals who implemented the labour market test to ensure that those people are filling a genuine skill shortage rather than being the cheap labour that this motion accuses Australian employers of undertaking.
We are a migrant nation. More than half of our population growth since 2005 has come from migration. High levels of immigration, especially skilled migration, helped sustain Australia's 28 years of uninterrupted economic growth. We wouldn't have the Snowy Hydro or even the Opera House without migration. Migrants have come here to contribute to our country and have made their homes and lives here. But there is a big difference between an economy and a nation built on a properly managed permanent migration scheme and one that is dependent on piecemeal temporary migration. If we are not careful this powerful, unifying, uplifting national idea will soon be nostalgia rather than reality.
Under this Liberal government we are changing from a nation built by permanent migrants to an economy built on temporary migrants. This government has used temporary migration to undercut the value of the permanent scheme. Before Howard, Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison—in fact, for nearly 70 years—our immigration department actually managed the selection, arrival and settlement of migrants and refugees in Australia. As James Button wrote in 2018, we had a model of managed migration. The department arranged English classes and access to health care and welfare. It helped people to find housing, skills and jobs, to learn how to become a good citizen. What do we have now? We have permanent migration capped at 160,000 a year as a so-called congestion-busting measure. At the same time, temporary migration is soaring to historically high levels.
Under Peter Dutton and Scott Morrison, the government couldn't care less about how migrants cope when they arrive on our shores. It's either too expensive or too hard to figure out. Instead of investing properly in permanent migration, which brought us economic and social success, the government has lazily lapsed into a dependence on temporary migration. Where has that landed us? For one thing, we have created an economic underclass of people with no stake or say in our country's future. These are people who have faced appalling conditions but who don't have the right to vote out the very government that created the conditions for their exploitation. Instead of a managed process we have the government turning its back while workers are sent to dodgy labour hire companies and businesses. That's the beginning and end of the migration process and any chance that migrants have of a viable, secure, economic future in our country. These workers are forced to accept pay as low as $4 an hour, often physical or sexual assault, extortionate costs for food and accommodation, and curtailed movement through the withholding of their passports. All this has come up in report after report, as Senator Ciccone highlighted before. All this does is undermine the hard-won conditions and pay of every other worker in this country, as well as the work of the good employers, because the good employers—the ones who do the right thing by paying the right wages and ensuring the right conditions for their workers—are now at a competitive disadvantage.
The ongoing wage theft inquiry has received several submissions that include stories of this system's true impact on the lives of these workers. These submissions reveal that the very insecurity of temporary migration and this government's reliance on it has created the conditions for rampant migrant worker exploitation. Nowhere is it more evident than in the way that temporary visa status is used as a tool by unscrupulous employers across a variety of sectors in the economy to abuse, coerce and denigrate migrant workers. They are forced to accept exploitative, unsafe and illegal conditions and remuneration only because employers can exploit their insecure status.
What is worse is that the government knew about this exploitation long before the current debate. In 2014 we had the Independent Review into the Integrity of the Subclass 457 Program. It was chaired by John Azarias, with a panel of eminently qualified experts. What did they tell us? They told us that a lack of monitoring and sanctions for employers who exploit temporary migrant workers was leading to the whole system being undermined. I commend the Azarias report to all of you who have an interest in the subject.
Then there was the report of the government's own Migrant Workers Taskforce, chaired by Professor Allan Fels and Dr David Cousins—a report that correctly described in horrific detail the state of abuse of migrant workers. Again, this government has made it clear that the report is not a priority. It is being glacially slow to act on the report's very sensible recommendations.
Workers should and will continue to come to Australia in search of an economic future, but this government is completely mismanaging that process at the expense of these workers and our economy. Companies that exploit labour decide who comes to this country. Instead of the economic security, pay and conditions and workplace rights that have embodied an Australian dream that is so attractive to migrants, the government has created conditions for abuse and exploitation. Temporary migration workers are in turn being used by this government to undercut the wages and conditions that in the first place make our country such a great place to work and live in. Australian companies, companies in this country, exploiting migrant workers should not be making decisions on who comes to this country. It should be the government, this parliament and the people of this country.
One Nation submitted today's matter of public importance:
When Australia restarts our migration program, we do not want migrants to return to Australia in the same numbers and in the same composition as before the crisis.
I have to admit that they are not my words; they are Senator Keneally's words, which she used in her article. It's quite interesting. I've always said there should be a debate on this, and I'm pleased that we actually got to call on this debate.
Forcing debate about immigration and foreign workers is often a thankless task. No-one knows this more than me. When you bring up facts such as more than half of the nation's population growth since 2005 has come from overseas migration, you get called a racist. When you explain that instead of flooding Australia with migrants to drive economic growth we should be increasing productivity or investing in skills and training, people call you xenophobic. When you make commonsense statements like, 'Australians should get a fair go and the first go at jobs,' people call you a white supremacist. When you argue, like Senator Keneally did the other day, that once Australia restarts its immigration program migrants must not return to Australia in the same numbers and in the same composition as before the coronavirus crisis, people might even accuse you of stealing One Nation policy.
This is why I today want to say thank you to Labor's shadow immigration minister, Kristina Keneally. I know she will not be getting much support from her Labor colleagues. Reading through some of the recent comments made by Senator Keneally, I can only assume she has spent much of her time in quarantine reading through my speeches from 1996 and taking copious notes, because so much of what she said could have been taken from comments and arguments I've made over the past 24 years. Perhaps Senator Keneally may want to make an admission here today that she's a closet One Nation supporter. I know it took Mark Latham a couple of decades to come out of the One Nation closet, but look how great he's doing! He's a new man and loving it, and so are the Australian people.
Today I want to reassure the Senate that if Senator Keneally wants to cross the floor in support of her own comments and finds herself thrown out of the Labor Party for breaking ranks, I will always have a position in my office for talented immigration speechwriters such as herself. I know I don't often get a chance to congratulate my Labor Senate colleagues, but I always give credit where credit is due. Credit is due, because, by revealing herself as a convert to One Nation's position on immigration, Senator Keneally has proven that what I have long said is true: so powerful are my arguments on immigration that even a staunch opponent of One Nation like Senator Keneally will eventually be dragged kicking and screaming to support cuts to immigration and cuts to foreign workers. I know there are many in the Labor Party, and even more among Labor's allies and the unions, who agree with my position on immigration and foreign workers behind closed doors but refuse to speak the truth publicly out of fear of being called a racist or some other meaningless insult.
Right now, due to coronavirus, there are millions of Australians unemployed or underemployed. These are the people we need to look after, not foreign workers. This is the debate we need to have. We can't go back to our old immigration program. Australians have a right to a job and to a way of life that is not tied to welfare handouts. For decades, the coalition and Labor parties have used mass migration and foreign workers to artificially pump up economic growth. For decades they have cynically used insults and slurs to try and shut down this debate. For decades they have refused to admit that this is creating problems with increased demand on our limited services, housing affordability, unemployment and underemployment, wage stagnation and congestion in our cities. Senator Keneally and I have now warned each and every one of you that if we continue down the same path, the path of mass migration and foreign workers, our economy will come crashing down. I moved a notice of motion today on the floor of parliament, and I'll just read out some of the comments in this notice of motion:
… relying on high levels of immigration to boost population to fuel economic growth is arguably a lazy approach
… letting lots of migrants come to Australia to drive economic growth rather than increasing productivity or investing in skills and training is a lazy approach …
… instead of letting lots of migrants come to Australia to drive economic growth, we should be increasing productivity or investing in skills and training …
… as at June 2019, there were 2.1 million temporary visa holders in Australia …
… one in five chefs, one in four cooks, one in six hospitality workers, and one in 10 nursing support and personal care workers in Australia hold a temporary visa …
Another one says:
… when Australia restarts its immigration program, we must understand that migration is a key economic policy lever that can help or harm Australian workers in the economic recovery and beyond …
Senator Davey talks about regional areas. It says here:
… we must also ensure that regional areas don't only get transient people but community members who will settle down, buy houses, start businesses and send their kids to the local school …
The whole fact is that Labor said I was pulling a stunt. No. All those words were from Senator Keneally, from her article. That was from Labor's shadow minister for immigration, yet they said I was pulling a political stunt. No, I wasn't pulling a political stunt. The fact is that I called Labor out for what this is: they themselves pulled a political stunt. Keneally was the one that actually made those comments, but Labor clearly do not stand by them, because they did not support the notice of motion today. So who's really pulled a political stunt? They use it when it suits them. As I've said, high immigration props up our economy and has been used by both the major political parties.
And I will make a comment about Senator Faruqi today saying that One Nation stands by white supremacy. At no point have we ever. I'm sick of the lies put across in this chamber with regard to One Nation, and I'm going to call that out for what it is. I encourage people to go to One Nation's website and look at our immigration policy, which is nondiscriminatory. That is purely a lie. To talk about immigration policy, we need a debate; Australians want the debate.