SENATOR KRISTINA KENEALLY
SHADOW MINISTER FOR CITIZENSHIP AND IMMIGRATION
SHADOW MINISTER FOR HOME AFFAIRS
SHADOW MINISTER FOR GOVERNMENT ACCOUNTABILITY
SENATOR FOR NEW SOUTH WALES
BUILDING BACK BETTER
MIGRATION INSTITUTE OF AUSTRALIA
FRIDAY, 15 OCTOBER 2021
Good morning – it’s a pleasure to be here with you today.
I begin by acknowledging the traditional owners and pay my respects to elders past and present.
I also want to recognise that today is International Pregnancy & Infant Loss Remembrance Day and acknowledge those families who have been affected by miscarriage, stillbirth and infant death.
In Australia there are six stillborn babies every day.
The rate of death from stillbirth in Australia is higher than the national road toll.
As the Senate Select Committee into Stillbirth heard in 2018, women in regional Australia, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and migrant women are more likely to have a stillborn baby.
Indeed, I was a migrant of only a few years in Australia when my daughter Caroline was stillborn.
No doubt, there are those of you today in the audience who have known the pain of miscarriage or stillbirth or infant death.
Today we honour all these families who have known this loss and remember their babies.
The good news is that after Labor instituted the Senate inquiry into stillbirth, Australia now finally has a National Stillbirth Action Plan, setting the goal of reducing stillbirths by 20 per cent by 2025.
Not all stillbirths are preventable, but many are, and I encourage people to visit the website preventstillbirths.org.au to find out how we can address the risks of stillbirth and save babies’ lives.
This will mean Australian families – including many newly-arrived migrant families – will avoid a tragic loss and instead know the joy of bringing a new baby home in their new home country, Australia.
IMPACT OF COVID ON MIGRATION
Today we gather to talk about migration – and at what a historic moment.
The sudden and necessary border closures at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic brought migration to a complete halt.
Australians experienced what was once unimaginable –
- No longer did an Australian passport guarantee the right to leave the country,
- Nor did it provide Australians the right to return home.
Even today, as we approach 70 per cent of the population fully vaccinated, Australians are still required to apply to leave the country and more than 39,000 Australians are still stranded overseas.
The complete stop to migration has been tough.
It has been tough on businesses, especially tourism and international education.
It has been tough on families, who have been separated - some at the most difficult times, missing weddings, births of babies and funerals of loved ones.
It has been tough on your industry too. Partner visas, refugee visas, skilled migration, international student visas – suddenly nearly every aspect of your work, and nearly every issue, presented a new set of questions… and many of the answers still remain unknown.
The border closures created stress and distress for the very people you serve – for your clients – and I am sure for you too.
Thank you for continuing to care for your clients and for continuing to advocate for their needs.
Thank you for providing advice, feedback and suggestions to me and my colleagues on where things could be done better and how to get problems solved.
You make a difference.
MORRISON’S MIGRATION MISTAKES DURING COVID
So many of these challenges could have been resolved earlier, if Mr Morrison had just done the two most important jobs he had this year – roll out the vaccine and set up fit for purpose, safe, national quarantine.
Instead, Mr Morrison failed to order enough vaccine supply, even turning down meeting requests with Pfizer in June last year.
And he still hasn’t acted on Jane Halton’s report to set up a fit-for-purpose national quarantine system.
Instead, Mr Morrison left Australia with the leaky hotel quarantine system.
Hotels are for tourists, not for quarantine.
The third COVID-19 outbreak started with a breach from Mr Morrison’s leaky quarantine system and sent half the country into lockdown, shutting down schools and businesses.
Quarantine is a Federal Government responsibility. It says so right in the Constitution.
But Mr Morrison hasn’t yet seen a problem that isn’t someone else’s to fix.
Mr Morrison never takes responsibility – he duck-shoved quarantine onto the state premiers.
Mr Morrison always finds someone else to blame.
Now, as NSW emerges from lockdown and we start to anticipate re-opening our international borders, Mr Morrison seems prepared again to make the international border a state-by-state responsibility.
Now is the time for Australia to come together again.
As Australia emerges from COVID-19 and re-engages with the world, we need national leadership, not a national blame-game.
Sadly, Mr Morrison has shown he would rather pick a political fight with a state premier than deliver a practical solution for the nation.
WHY MIGRATION MATTERS AS WE OPEN UP
As we start to open to the world again, where is Mr Morrison’s plan for re-starting Australia’s migration program?
Migration is one of the most significant key economic levers available to the Australian Government.
Economic growth relies on the three Ps – productivity, participation and population.
In Australia, migration policy is de facto population policy. Migration has played a key role in Australia’s economic success.
And it is not only the numbers of people who have come as migrants, but most importantly, the composition.
It was under Ben Chifley that Australia first opened itself up to the world and welcomed a generation of New Australians who shaped this nation and improved the lives of all who call it home.
The Chifley Government created the Department of Immigration to administer Australia’s first migration program and passed the Nationality and Citizenship Act to create Australian citizenship.
Our nation’s first migration program sought to grow the country by welcoming skilled migrants to settle here permanently.
The system provided clear pathways for those New Australians – and their families – to seek citizenship and begin their lives anew in our community.
Historically, temporary migration played an important, albeit secondary, role in Australia’s migration program.
Temporary migration was designed to meet skills shortages – even still, those migrants were often able to apply for permanent status through clear pathways.
The results were clear.
Australia experienced an era of unprecedented economic growth and nation-building, in part driven by the skill, effort and determination of those welcomed permanently from the Chifley Government onwards.
THE LIBERALS HAVE TAKEN MIGRATION IN THE WRONG DIRECTION
Indeed, Australia has never been a guest worker nation.
Even John Howard said that ‘you either invite someone to come here permanently, or you don’t invite them at all’.
However, for the past eight years, the Liberals have turned Australia’s successful model of migration on its head - and taken Australia’s migration program in the wrong direction.
The Liberals capped permanent migration – under the guise of ‘congestion busting’ - but the Liberals have also pushed temporary migration to an all-time high.
The Morrison-Joyce Government – and its Abbott and Turnbull predecessors – have granted more temporary work visas than any other government in Australian history.
Before the pandemic, Australia was home to the second largest migrant workforce in the OECD.
Australians have noticed these changes to the migration program.
It is hard not to notice temporary visa holders, denied JobSeeker and JobKeeper, queueing up at foodbanks and charities during the pandemic.
It is hard not to notice shocking examples of wage theft, like at 7-11, or exploitation, as chronicled in the #88daysaslave in the Working Holiday Maker program.
Australians are generally quite positive about migration and multiculturalism. But many Australians are also understandably concerned that historically high levels of temporary migration are creating uneven impacts in the Australian community, especially among working families.
Indeed, as Anthony Albanese said at the National Press Club in July –
‘Labor will bet big on Australians because we know they will deliver.’
In that speech - ‘An Economic Recovery for Everyone’ - Anthony spoke of his plan to create Jobs and Skills Australia, which will advise on the future work opportunities and ensure Australians can benefit from them.
As Anthony said, Jobs and Skills Australia is ‘vital if we are to ensure that Australians can fill future employment opportunities, given the Intergenerational Report predicts that the temporary migration population will almost double over the next 40 years.
‘Migration policy done right can lift wages and job opportunities and contribute to economic growth, but as Reserve Bank Governor Philip Lowe has pointed out, the reliance on temporary workers by Australian business has “not made wages responsive to the economic conditions.’
I agree with Anthony – ‘we must heed the Governors advice and do better’.
Poor Pathways to Citizenship
Not only has the Morrison Government pushed temporary migration to a historic high, but also made it harder for people to settle permanently or become citizens.
I was shocked to learn that Quade Cooper – a 75 Test caps-and-counting Wallaby who has lived in this country for 20 years – had his application for Australian citizenship rejected on four occasions.
When the Morrison Government rejected Quade Cooper’s application for Australian citizenship the last time, I took up a position I would have never imagined playing – halfback to the country’s greatest fly-half – to make Quade an Aussie.
I proposed reforms that took into account that holders of Distinguished Talent visa - like Mr Cooper - will often fail to meet the general residency requirement due to the very nature of their work.
That proposal was adopted by Minister Alex Hawke – a welcome moment of bipartisanship in our political system!
On a similar note, I want to thank Minister Hawke for his announcement yesterday of the Government’s decision to fund refugee legal organisations to assist in lodging Afghan visa applications.
This was an issue that I raised with him some weeks back, and I am glad that the Morrison-Joyce Government have seen fit to provide these much-needed resources.
Now, our proposal would mean that thousands of would-be Australians on Distinguished Talent visas – whether they be doctors, scientists, artists or sports stars – now have a clear pathway to citizenship that recognises their talent and their contribution to our country.
Reforms to the Distinguished Talent visa are but a drop in the ocean.
The Morrison-Joyce Government has also narrowed – if not completely eliminated – pathways to permanency and citizenship, especially for skilled visas and international students.
And in the permanent skilled stream, the Skilled Independent Visa is no longer the centrepiece of the program.
In 2014 the Skilled Independent Visa accounted for 40,000 visas. Today it only accounts for 7,500.
Instead, the Business Innovation and Investment Visa and the Global Talent Visas now make up 30,000 of the permanent skilled stream.
While Labor introduced the Business Innovation and Investment Visa, under the Liberals it has become a ‘buy a visa’ scheme that attracts older, less-skilled migrants.
The Distinguished Talent and Global Talent Visa are highly subjective, unproven and open to fraud.
In 2016, the Productivity Commission recommended that the permanent skilled migration program should focus on younger, higher skilled migrants who would deliver a triple bottom line: improve social cohesion, enhance economic growth, and lower fiscal cost.
The Morrison Government never responded to the Productivity Commission report. Instead, the Government went in the exact opposite direction of what the Commission recommended.
Temporary migrants and Domestic Violence
Finally, I want to tell you about a letter I received last week from Minister Alex Hawke about the Strengthening The Character Test Bill – a supposedly ‘urgent’ piece of legislation that he wants Labor to support.
You’ve probably heard of this Bill – it has been on the notice paper in the parliament for over 1087 days.
The Bill has also been through two Senate inquiries – and neither inquiry could identify what this Bill enables the Minister to do to cancel a visa on character grounds that the Minister is not currently able to do under the Migration Act.
I was a little surprised to receive the Minister’s letter.
After all, in 2019 I wrote to then Immigration Minister Coleman proposing amendments to the Bill that would secure Labor’s support – and I never received a response.
Minister Hawke claimed that he needed the Bill to pass so he could expel temporary visa holders who perpetrated domestic violence.
I am more than a bit concerned that the Minister fails to understand that the Migration Act already gives him the power to expel temporary visa holders who perpetrate family and domestic violence.
Nonetheless, I was pleased to receive this letter from Minister Hawke acknowledging that there are victims of domestic violence on temporary visas.
You see, victims of domestic violence on temporary visas are often unable to access legal, housing and other crucial support services.
Their visa status is often at risk if they report domestic violence to the authorities.
The Morrison-Joyce Government has left these women and children behind for too long.
And so, Minister Hawke’s newfound interest in their circumstances is welcome.
I have written back to the Minister this week to propose we meet as soon as possible to discuss the issue.
I’ve pointed the Minister to two recently released reports – by the Australian Women Against Violence Alliance and inTouch Multicultural Centre Against Family Violence.
Both reports recommended steps the Government could take to better protect women and children on temporary visas who are experiencing family violence.
I told the Minister that I am incredibly keen to know what initiatives the Morrison-Joyce Government is now proposing to assist victims of domestic violence who are on temporary visas.
If Minister Hawke is genuine, and not just playing a game of wedge politics with women and children’s lives, then we can work together on a terrific bipartisan approach to helping survivors of domestic and family violence to recover and live safe lives.
The Minister and I have worked constructively on reforms to citizenship – such as in Quade Cooper’s case – and I hope he willing to meet with me to discuss how we can ensure women and children on temporary visas to access support, services and safety.
A Chance For Reform – And How Labor Would Do It
As we emerge from COVID, we do have an opportunity to build back better – stronger families, more secure jobs and build a better future made right here in Australia.
That means a migration program that supports good, secure jobs for Australians.
A migration program that stamps out wage theft and exploitation.
A migration program that continues Australia’s long and successful record – since Chifley – of permanent settlement.
A migration program that creates equitable economic growth in which all Australians can share.
Over the last eight years of this Liberal Government, Australia has become a harsher place, with too many Australian workers left behind with low-wages, underemployment and insecure work.
Anthony Albanese and Labor have already announced policies and plans to deliver good, secure jobs for Australians – such as the Australian Skills Guarantee, Jobs and Skills Australia and cheaper child care for working families.
And a Future Made in Australia – rail manufacturing, new energy apprenticeships and a $15 billion National Reconstruction Fund.
Labor has real plans for an economy that delivers for working families and creates good, secure jobs.
And when it comes to migration, we will have more to say before the election.
Australia is at its best when we all do well. Our values of fairness and opportunity are part of what makes our country great.
Under an Albanese Labor Government, Australia will seize the opportunity to build back a stronger country.