Friday, 10 November 2023
Questions without Notice
Senator Roberts, I note your interest all week in these matters of migration, and the short answer is that under governments of all persuasions, including those who are having a chuckle over there at the moment, the immigration program in Australia is demand driven. That has been the case under this government and the former government as well.
Yes, it's quite normal for ministers who represent others to look at their notes. Senator Canavan, we can't all be the genius that you are. You are a genius—I pay respect to that—especially when you get into your dark web and your bunker and you dig out all those statistics. You're an absolute genius!
Honourable senators interjecting—
I know Senator Rennick was a bit offended by the fact I singled out Senator Canavan as the only genius in the opposition and the only person who could get into the bunker and find statistics. We know Senator Rennick is pretty good at that as well.
Honourable senators interjecting—
I would like Minister Watt to withdraw a whole raft of his commentary and reflections on a number of senators over here and his continual snarky personal smears and vilifications.
I think the difficulty—through you, President—is it was a generalised proposition that the senator was making. If there is a request to withdraw particular language that has just been said—
There is a generalised complaint about Senator Watt saying things about a number of people. I don't know what those are, but if the request is that Senator Watt withdraw particular language that's just been used—
Thank you, President. I did want to pick up on one part of your ruling there, which was to suggest it was necessary for the senator to name a particular senator who had been impugned. I will make it clear that it is possible for groups of senators to be impugned or to have improper motives attributed to them by a senator and that is also against standing orders.
President, as you're well aware, it's not necessary always for a senator to make a point of order and, in the spirit of this week, it would be helpful for strong proactive intervention if senators can't restrain themselves to actually ask them immediately to withdraw. Preferably they would restrain themselves, Senator Watt.
I haven't called you, Senator Watt. I am going to respond to those points of order. I am not in the chamber all the time. That's the point that I made in the statement to the chamber yesterday. It is very difficult for me to ask a senator to withdraw when I don't know where that language has landed. I take your point, Senator Birmingham, that a slur can be made against a group of senators. That's not what Senator Hughes was implying. My understanding of what was indicated was that the minister had made, in Senator Hughes's view, a number of comments to senators throughout the week, not to a group of senators. However, I know that Senator Watt is always willing to own his behaviour and I will, as Senator Watt—
Opposition senators interjecting—
For the benefit of those interjections, a number of you are always willing, on both sides of the chamber, to withdraw. Some of you are not but most of you are. So I am going to invite Senator Watt, if he thinks he has offended senators this week, to make a general withdrawal without making any comment to comments that you may or may not have uttered.
Senator Roberts, the government does have a range of controls in place around the number of migrants coming into Australia, the categories of those migrants, whether they be international students or tourists, humanitarian, skilled workers. The government does have a range of controls around the numbers and types of migrants who come into Australia.
I think I know where you're going with this, because you have followed these issues all week. I point out that we haven't really seen a lot of consistency from the opposition on matters of migration either, because what we do know is that, for instance, when the now immigration spokesperson, the member for Wannon, was in government he was saying things like, 'We need to get our international students back. We need to get our working holiday-maker visa holders back.'
On 15 May, Treasurer Jim Chalmers told Australia that the level of net overseas migration is 'not something the government determines'. Minister, is that a lie, given your government issues the visas and decides who comes to this country? Why are you letting immigration spiral out of control while hundreds of thousands of Australians are homeless?
Is that misinformation, given your government issues the visas and decides who comes to this country? Why are you letting immigration spiral out of control while hundreds of thousands of Australians are homeless?
I reject the suggestion that the Treasurer has misrepresented the facts on this issue. It is a really important issue that Australia is dealing with at the moment. But, Senator Roberts, in answer to similar questions from you over the course of the week, I've pointed out a number of steps the government have taken to fix the fundamentally broken migration system that we inherited from the opposition and, in particular, from the now Leader of the Opposition, Mr Dutton, who oversaw the migration system as the Minister for Home Affairs for a number of years.
We've already scaled back the pandemic event visa. We're taking action about the working hours for international students, which has been a real drawcard for international students coming to Australia. We've made all sorts of improvements to Home Affairs, in terms of its processing of visa applications. And, of course, when it comes to housing, as I've pointed out to you already, you and your colleagues have an opportunity to vote for more housing and you chose to vote against it.
Again, I know that we've addressed this issue in previous answers, both in chis chamber and in estimates, and the issues around the number of net overseas migrants is a matter that is handled by the Treasury. I've already acknowledged in previous answers on these questions that post COVID, when we had a couple of years of pretty much zero migration to Australia, it was always inevitable that there was going to be an increase in that migration as we had tourists, working holiday-maker visa holders and skilled migrants coming back into the country. That is exactly one of the reasons why our government is trying to fix the broken migration system that we inherited and trying to build more homes, despite your opposition and that of the coalition.