Thursday, 18 June 2020
Migration Joint Committee; Report
On behalf of the Joint Standing Committee on Migration, I present the report of the committee on the inquiry into migration in regional Australia, and I move:
That the Senate take note of the report.
Back in August last year the Joint Standing Committee on Migration began its work to examine the role that migration plays in many parts of regional Australia and how the Commonwealth can improve on its efforts to encourage migrants to settle outside of our major cities. This inquiry was important for many reasons. Regional Australia accounts for around 30 per cent of our nation's gross domestic product, and those with a passion for life outside of our major cities, such as me, know that regional Australia hosts an abundance of vibrant and growing industries. Yet, in many regional areas, populations have declined, and this has led to the development of significant skill shortages and security-of-labour concerns.
These persistent issues were highlighted in 113 submissions that were received and over the course of the 11 public hearings that were held. These issues represent a threat to the economic development of regional Australia. Throughout the course of the inquiry, we heard from a raft of stakeholders and individuals about their concerns and experiences. We heard from local councils who desperately needed workers to help their communities. We heard from migrant services and relevant organisations that told us that there is much more to be done to adequately provide for new migrants in regional areas.
One experience that was particularly profound to me was that of two individuals, Armant and Izelle. Both arrived in Australia from South Africa on skilled visas and chose to settle in Mount Gambier because the country feel it presented them with was not too dissimilar to what they were enjoying back home. It was in Mount Gambier where the committee first met them as part of our hearing program in regional South Australia. Armant is a logistics specialist. Izelle is a pharmacy technician. Both came to Australia in the belief that their jobs would be in high demand. Unfortunately, since arriving, they have struggled to find work and to access the support that they need. As I understand it, both have now been offered work and are starting to look at their own business in importing goods to South Australia from South Africa. Beyond the issue of employment, however, one of the specific concerns that was raised was the challenges that they've both faced in accessing housing. Without a rental history in Australia, it took some time to find residential property and any owners that were prepared to offer them a long-term lease.
These are just some of the challenges that many migrants that come to Australia have to face. We know from the submissions that were made to the inquiry that the difficulties of finding work and housing—just like this couple encountered—aren't isolated incidents. Rather, they are common for many migrants, just as it is common for migrants to encounter difficulties accessing other services specific to their needs, or even in having their skills and qualifications recognised by Australian businesses. What is clear from this one example, however, is that more work needs to be done to improve the services offered to people like this couple when they arrive in Australia. There is a role for us to help these new migrants find the work that we know is out there and to assist them in finding long-term accommodation on arrival.
Nonetheless, I am disappointed that we were unable to finish this important work and to present a set of comprehensive recommendations to this place. Migration to regional Australia is an important issue and, as was demonstrated by the volume of submissions received, is of great interest to the community in general. It is my firm view that, despite what we are currently going through with COVID, there are opportunities for us as a parliament to rethink what our migration program should look like going forward. COVID-19 has presented us with a chance to hit the reset button on the migration system and to ensure that the migration that we do have in this country doesn't displace local workers and is properly targeted and there to adequately support the many businesses that need these people. We cannot allow this chance to pass us by, and I'm hopeful that very soon we may finish the job that this inquiry has started. In the meantime, may this report serve as a valuable resource for us in this place as we embark upon making policy in this area.
Question agreed to.