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22 November 2021


SUBJECTS: Mr Morrison’s failure to produce a migration plan; temporary and permanent migration; skills shortages; wage exploitation and wage theft.  
TOM CONNELL, HOST: The Prime Minister has announced skilled migrants and international students will be welcomed back into the country from December 1, without quarantine. Joining me live now is Senator Kristina Keneally, also Shadow Home Affairs, thanks for your time. So borders finally beginning to open up a bit more, the next cab off the rank I guess, what we've got so skilled migrants, overseas students… so that’s a good priority?

KRISTINA KENEALLY, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HOME AFFAIRS: You know Tom, we've had the borders closed for two years in Australia and as we open back up we have not just an opportunity, but an obligation to build back better, to build a better future. Today, the Prime Minister stood up - he didn't announce a plan for migration, he just announced a headline, just a headline. Where is the Morrison Government’s plan to grow our economy, to invest in the skills and training for Australians and to put forward a plan for what role migration will play in all of that. Today, all we got was an announcement so lacking in detail, that the Minister for Home Affairs herself couldn’t tell you how many people were anticipated to come back.

TOM CONNELL: I guess part of it is a demand thing that we’ll see… and what of the COVID gap? There is a shortfall, compared to where we were going to be, in particular on skilled migrants. We usually get about 110,000 a year, so we're maybe 200,000 down by the time this thing restarts. Do we need to fill that gap back in via migration?

KENEALLY: Let me make a few points. One, it’s not a COVID gap. We were having skill shortages prior to the pandemic.

CONNELL: This is a COVID gap with this cohort, as I said, we're about 200,000 down from those who would have regularly arrived here. That's my point.

KENEALLY:  But my point Tom, is, those skill shortages exist, in part, because we've had a Government that cut apprenticeships, cut TAFE, cut traineeships, cut university funding. And so Australians weren’t able to get the skills. The Reserve Bank Governor, Phillip Lowe has made the point, the observation, that prior to this pandemic, we had an over reliance on temporary migration. It was far easier for employers to get cheaper labour from overseas, than to invest in the skills of Australians.

Now, when we talk about a plan to build back better, when we talk about needing a plan for migration, we have an obligation to ensure that we have a migration program that works in the national interest, that gives Australians a first go and a fair go at  jobs, that stamps out wage theft and exploitation, that ensures that we are investing in the skills of Australians, and where there are legitimate skill shortages, verified by labour market testing, that the people who come to fill those jobs have two things. One, a guarantee that they’re not going to suffer wage theft and exploitation and two, where appropriate, they have pathways to permanency.

Understand this, our migration program, as designed and introduced by Ben Chifley, has been built on permanent settlement, when people come in here, with their skills, and if they like it, and we like them, they stay here. What this Government has done, prior to the pandemic, is let temporary migration soar to historic highs, has entrenched wage theft and exploitation, and has made it easier for employers to get skilled labour from overseas, than invest in Australians.

CONNELL: You mentioned Phillip Lowe. He’s said, what the pandemic’s also shown, that warnings about migrants - either meaning that jobs are taken or house prices go up, are false. Do you agree with him on that?

KENEALLY: I think we should have a migration program…

TOM CONNELL: But I'm asking you if you agree on that?

KENEALLY: What I agree with Phillip Lowe on is that migration plays an important role and will continue to do so.

CONNELL: But  he's also said essentially, that what, what this COVID- this accidental experiment has shown is the previous scares around, they'll take your job and your house are unfounded.

KENEALLY: And that's not what I'm arguing Tom. That’s not what I’m arguing. I'm not arguing that point either. I think Phillip Lowe makes valid observations.

CONNELL: But this goes to skilled migrants and whether you think we rely on them too much.

KENEALLY: I think what we have to do is ensure that we have a migration program that ensures Australians get the first go and a fair go at jobs, that stamps out wage theft and exploitation, that temporary migration in particular, only fills legitimate skill shortages. And lastly, that we restore the links between temporary and permanent. Now all of this could have been enunciated by the Prime Minister and the Minister for Home Affairs, who have had two years to think about this. All got today, as we always get with Mr Morrison, is an announcement but no delivery.

CONNELL: Well, what’s your policy then?

KENNEALLY: Well, first of all, Tom, I've been talking and writing about this now for two years. Secondly, I have made clear, that the fundamentals of our approach to migration do have to focus on Australian…

CONNELL: But the specifics there. Is it to come?

KENNEALLY: Yes, it is to come. We’ll have more to say about this before the election. But Tom…

CONNELL: We’re running out of time but if I can just ask you this, in a broad sense, again, on that gap. Do you think we need to pay a bit of catch up on migrants because of COVID, even if it's a temporary sort of surge? Because a lot of work- places are saying we’re desperate for these people.

KENEALLY: Tom, it’s not just about the number, it is also about the composition. It's also the point to remember… So, when we talk about a number of temporary and permanent, we have to talk about restoring pathways to permanency and we have to talk about stamping out wage theft and exploitation. It's not just about saying that is a number – job done. That's what the Prime Minister did today. He put out a number, 200,000, he doesn't have a plan. He hasn't done anything to address the skill shortages, the wage theft or exploitation that’s occurring.

CONNELL: But do you have a view? The number matters as well.

KENEALLY: The number does matter but it doesn't, it cannot be seen in isolation.

CONNELL: What’s your view on the number?

KENNEALLY: Well first of all, I'm waiting to see the MYEFO, because the Government don’t have a number Tom.

CONNELL: OK, so you’ll have something else with that?


CONNELL: Righto, we’re short on time with events. Thank you.

KENNEALLY: Thank you.