03 May 2020

SUNDAY, 3 MAY 2020

SUBJECTS: Restarting Australia’s migration program and putting Australian workers first; Peter Dutton’s failure to stop the Ruby Princess; return of the NRL.

CHRIS SMITH, HOST: I nearly spat out my instant coffee when I read the headline on the front page of today's Sun Herald. “Cut the flow of migrant, Labor says”. Labor's calling on the Federal Government to overhaul its migration policy in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. The population debate is back on the table, where it should be. Now, the permanent migration intake sits at 160,000 for the year. That's this year, and the next three years. That's all up in the air given the current crisis. Senator Kristina Keneally is Labor's Immigration and Home Affairs spokeswoman, so it's her portfolio, and she joins me on the line. Senator Keneally, welcome.
SMITH: Now the main aim of our policy, of your policy, is to protect Australian jobs. Is that the rationale?
KENEALLY: Absolutely. You know, Chris, for the past few months, and particularly through some work we've been doing in the Senate. I've been raising concerns about the historically high level of temporary visa holders in Australia. You're right, the Government has capped permanent migration but temporary migration has soared to historic highs. And that has both helped our economic growth but it has hurt many Australian workers, particularly when we've got some 700,000 unemployed. Some 1.1 million underemployed and those numbers of course are soaring now with the coronavirus. And so, we are, as a result of having closed borders right now, going to at some point in the next few months or the next year or so, restart a migration program. We need to understand that migration is a key economic policy and it can either help or hurt Australians as we go through the economic recovery. My view, Labor's view, is that Australians need a fair go and a first go at jobs.
SMITH: Yes and I have a feeling that there'll be people who normally would be reluctant to take on the kind of jobs that temporary visa holders do, but under the new climate will be inclined to take what they can get.
KENEALLY: There is an element of that, Chris, that is correct, but the subtlety is that temporary migrants, don't just pick fruit. They make up one in five chefs, one in four cooks, one in six hospitality workers, one in ten nursing support and personal care workers, hold a temporary visa. Now, with the right skills and training, there are Australians who would love to do those jobs. Right now, the Government, along with business and unions should be identifying the coming skill shortages, as our borders are shut, and training Australians so that as the economy reopens they're ready to take on those jobs.
SMITH: And the Prime Minister in particular, and I think this is an accurate summation, but he's always been determined to get as many warm bodies as possible into the country, which of course increases revenue to Government. We've got to start being a little bit more selective in terms of the productivity of these people.
KENEALLY: Chris, you're spot on. The debate about population shouldn't be about the overall number, although that's important. It should equally be about who's coming in. In the last few years we've seen our migration intake shift towards younger and lower skilled workers who are here temporarily. Now when our kids are facing a labour market where there's 11 per cent youth unemployment, that doesn't help. But there's a really great argument to be had here about whether or not we should bring be bringing in people permanently, not temporarily, should they be higher skilled because they have less impact on the budget and they create more economic value to the community. And, quite frankly, Chris, if we are thinking longer term, we need to build a migration program that helps create jobs for Australians, not one that takes jobs away, particularly from younger and lower skilled workers.
SMITH: So how are you, how do you decide? This is obviously going to be a complex thing to reset. How do you decide that those people deserve to come in and those don't?
KENEALLY: Well, the Government, of course, is going to be in the driver's seat in making these decisions because it's quite likely the borders will reopen sometime before the next election. What we would encourage the Government to do is to – is to one, think about and respond to this unprecedented economic challenge. Two, identify the gaps in the labour market and ask, how can we get Australians into those jobs, first and foremost. And then, thirdly, think about how we design a migration program that looks for those migrants who are going to create economic growth with the lowest impact on the budget. And then, lastly, how do you get them to regional areas too. You know, our regional communities are really going to struggle if the population overall is declining and they don't need transient people, they need people are going to come and buy houses and start businesses and send their kids to the local school.
SMITH: Interesting, though, Kevin Rudd's mantra, back in 2009 was “big Australia”. I think you supported that, but that's where the population policy program kind of went off the rails, didn't it?
KENEALLY: You know, since 2005, more than half of our population growth in Australia has come from migration, and it's inarguable that migration has been part of our economic success. Our 28 years of uninterrupted economic growth. The shift that we saw though, with the election of John Howard and, you know, going through to the present time, is that shift away from permanent migration. You know, we're a nation built by permanent migrants, think of the Snowy Hydro scheme, and we've increasingly become to resemble more and more a guest worker nation. Now, that's not the type of migrant that comes in spends the same amount of money and invest in the same way in our local economy that a permanent migrant does. A lot of temporary migrants send their wages back home to their home country. And I'd have to say Chris, here, we do have a formal program, the Pacific Labour Scheme that does that for some of our Pacific Island nations, and I do think that should continue. That is a fundamentally important both foreign aid and foreign relations for us in our region, but overall taking in migrants from all over the world, temporary migrants, young migrants, who send their wages increasingly back home. That may not be the type of migrant we want here in Australia. We want people who are going to come and do as they've done in the past: build communities, build families, build businesses.
SMITH: Is this your own thought bubble or is Albo on board too?
KENEALLY: This is something we've been discussing internally, but as I said, I've been making this case for months now, since I've had this portfolio. We've got an inquiry up in the Senate on temporary migration to look at these very issues. You know, Labor has been raising concerns about the growing number of temporary migrants in Australia, and I dare say, Chris, this virus, this crisis has exposed some of the weaknesses of having an economy that's propped up by temporary migration. Right now, the Government has made a call, they have made a call, not to provide any income support to temporary migrants. They're telling them to go home. Now, a lot of temporary migrants can't go home because their borders are shut. And so we have a number of problems that arises from that. You've got a whole lot of temporary migrants who are without jobs, who would have to go out in the community and look for work or try to keep working or are vulnerable to exploitation, they can't self-isolate. It's hard to flatten the curve if you've got a large chunk of people who are unable to stay at home. But that was the Government's call, they've made it. Now that those temporary migrants are leaving we are going to have these coming labour market gaps and we need to be ensuring that now we're training Australians to take up those jobs.
SMITH: It's a great conversation that we need to face up to right away, given what is occurring, and I think you've articulated that very well. One other aspect of what you've been on about recently, when are you going to back off Peter Dutton over the Ruby Princess?
KENEALLY: This week we have a hearing into the Ruby Princess on the Senate Select Committee, come on come…
SMITH: I'll be going “ah nah nah nah nah nah” when I hear it. Like, seriously, there's no one with a thermometer in the Border Force agency.
KENEALLY: Actually that's not true, Chris, that is not true. They have a Chief Medical Officer in the Australian Border Force, they hire medical officers, and they are responsible for enforcing the laws at our border including under the Migration Act. Under the Migration Act, the Australian Border Force can require the medical officer of a ship to provide documentation ensuring that there is no one on board who poses a public health…
SMITH: But they relied on New South Wales Health, as you should.
KENEALLY: New South Wales Health only act as delegated federal biosecurity officers under the Federal Biosecurity Act. Every aspect at our borders is governed in practice and law by the Commonwealth Government. By the Federal Government of Australia. And you know what, the Prime Minister put arriving cruise ships under the direct command – those were his words – “bespoke arrangements under the direct command of the Australian Border Force.” So, when the Prime Minister says the Australian Border Force is in charge of cruise ships, we should take him at his word, and we should hold Peter Dutton to account.
SMITH: Okay. Are you looking forward to the footy coming back?
KENEALLY: I have been bereft without sport – like most of the country I am sure. You know the Rabbitohs, you and I are both big Rabbitohs fans, I miss seeing the red and green field out on the field.
SMITH: Yes it’s not the same. Fantastic to have you on the program, thank you for your time. Have a good weekend.
KENEALLY: Thank you, Chris.