05 May 2020



SUBJECTS: Migration; exploitation of people on temporary visas; people on temporary visas trapped in Australia; Senate Covid Committee hearings into the Ruby Princess today.

FRAN KELLY, HOST: That's the Immigration Minister Alan Tudge speaking to us yesterday confirming for us then that permanent migration will crash by 85 per cent next year due to the worldwide border closures. Senator Keneally joins us now. Kristina Keneally Welcome back to Breakfast.

KELLY: So I'm sure you've heard you've got the backing of Pauline Hanson and One Nation for a cut in immigration, but certainly not of all your colleagues or certainly not for the way you described it. Are you comfortable with that?
KENEALLY: Look I always take on board the views of my colleagues, but let me just say we are now having a conversation that we need to have. We're facing an unprecedented economic crisis; migration's an important economic tool, and it does make a big difference to our economy. And, as I have said unlike Pauline Hanson, I've said often and included in my opinion piece that Australia has been proudly built on migration,. It will always have an important contribution to make. But what this crisis is exposing is that Australia is heavily reliant on temporary migration, that often results in workers being exploited. That temporary migration sees employers hiring temporary migrants and these are people whose visa status depends on their employer- it leads to exploitation, it has resulted in serious wage theft. This is unacceptable and unfortunately though it has an effect right across the economy. So as we're in this crisis Fran we need to examine the migration settings to determine how we can use this lever as we go through this crisis to ensure that we have one, sustainable economic growth and two, help Australians get back into work into secure, well paid jobs.
KELLY: All right, important policy issues to be sure, but what about the way you've described it. And I mean you talked about a fair go and a first go for jobs. You talked about cheap labour cutting work wages. Some have labelled your cost jingoistic, xenophobic, dog whistling and Trump-styled populism. Were you dog whistling?
KENEALLY: I want to make clear as I said in my opinion piece and I've said over and over throughout my career, Australia is the most successful multicultural nation on Earth. And it can stay that way, in a post-COVID world with a migration program that responds to this current economic crisis. This conversation we have to have in this country does not need to be and is not an attack on the individual people who come to Australia for work.
KELLY: And that goes to the tone in which you put it forward. I mean your own colleague, Anne Aly, is unhappy with the language you used. She said it's akin to complaining quote, ""that the wogs have got all our houses. They're going to take our jobs, we're going to be invaded, there is overcrowding.""
KENEALLY: As I said, I always take on board the views of colleagues. Anne Aly is a valued member of our caucus and someone I have been working with closely in terms of developing policies and an approach to combating right wing extremism. But she also makes the point this is a valid conversation that we need to have about the role that temporary migration plays in our economy.
KELLY: Do you regret the language you used? I mean, if Bob Carr says framing this – former Premier of New South Wales, as were you – says framing it around jobs for Australians first has tones of dog whistling. The argument should only be about numbers, and the congestion in our big cities. And last year, I'm sure you remember, that the former Labor leader in New South Wales, Michael Daley, offered an unqualified apology for claiming Asians with PhDs were taking the jobs of young Australians. He lost the state election a few days later. Does that tell you there's not much appetite in this country for this kind of this kind of rhetoric- foreigners stealing Aussie jobs?
KENEALLY: Well in fact Fran I think we need to have a very frank look at what is happening in the economy. Let's think about an employer who pays sub-award wages and conditions to a temporary migrant. Especially in areas like hospitality where there are high levels; we know that one in six workers in hospitality is on a temporary visa. Once that exploitation, that sub-award wages, that wage theft sets in there, it starts to come across the entire sector because businesses who are competing on price, have no choice but to follow suit. And it quickly becomes a race to the bottom. The people who are hurt most are workers. Both Australians and people on temporary visas. We need to address this and our current settings on temporary visas are not helping.
KELLY: Sure but isn't that an argument for...
KENEALLY: But migration policy, this reset of our migration policy, that will occur as a result of COVID-19 is an opportunity for us to ensure that we reduce those opportunities for exploitation. That we build a migration program that sees people who are able to come here, settle, have those pathways to permanency. I mean, to listen to Alan Tudge, you would think that they have revamped this migration program and there is nothing wrong with it. You know one, I was interested to hear him claim that they introduced the labour market testing- it was in fact Labor who moved those amendments to get labour market testing into the temporary skills stream. You know, I also point out that this Government has narrowed the pathways to permanent residency so that when people come here as temporary workers they have less opportunity to stay here permanently; to have a long term stake in the future of this country. That's the type of migration program we should be building- where people can contribute long term, build businesses, build their families, contribute to the Australian culture and the economy.
KELLY: Yes, but you were arguing in your piece for fewer temporary migrants. You weren't arguing, it wasn't a wages argument per se, I mean what you said was we must make sure Australians get a fair go, and a first go at jobs. So, in that light how big a cut to temporary migration will deliver that figure for Australians in your view?
KENEALLY: Well, first of all, let's take on board that Alan Tudge acknowledged yesterday, that we are going to see Net Overseas Migration fall and as the Government is telling temporary migrants to go home, new temporary migrants are not arriving. We are going to have skills shortages. We do need now, Fran, in the next few months to be training Australians to fill those jobs. We know that, you know, we've got something like one in five chefs, one in four cooks, one in six hospitality workers, one in nine nursing and personal care support workers, hold a temporary visa. Now if those people are not coming to Australia because of the COVID-19 border closures, we are going to have to train Australians to do those jobs.
KELLY: That is true but that was not the nub of your argument. You said it was an opportunity to reduce our reliance on temporary visas; that was your argument. So you were saying this is an opportunity to have fewer temporary migrants that's what you were arguing.
KENEALLY: And this is our opportunity to think about the reliance that we have had on temporary migration and whether or not we need to reopen those pathways to permanency. Whether we need to do as the Productivity Commission recommended in 2016, and look at how our migration intake, the overall composition- temporary, permanent- and matching skill shortages can help build a stronger economy and build a stronger budget bottom line. You know, there are things that we can do in the migration program that can build the economy and that is what we need to be asking ourselves now as we're going to have the opportunity to restart it from the standing stop.
KELLY: Did the Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese sign-on on your op ed before it went to print?
KENEALLY: This is something I have been discussing with my colleagues. I have been making the case for months now. Four months ago I gave a speech that outlined very similar arguments and this is something that has gone through internal processes. Yes. What I can say is that this is a conversation, it's not a policy announcement. It is a conversation that we need to have as a country about how migration can best support the economic recovery going forward.
KELLY: And just before I leave this, do you see any anomaly, or contradiction, between you, you have been forcefully arguing that the Government extend JobKeeper or JobSeeker, to those temporary, to those on temporary visas who are still here, and your call for Australia to contemplate fewer in this category?
KENEALLY: Fran these are in fact two separate issues. One is about the present crisis and how it impacts people in Australia regardless of their visa status and the other is about our future- a post-COVID world. I wrote to Minister Tudge back in March, urging him to assist non-citizens in Australia to try to get back to their home countries, he didn't do that. Now because international borders are closed, airlines are shut down, temporary migrants are trapped here. And let's remember a virus is not going to check some visa status before it infects them. And so I've argued that we do need to protect temporary migrants in Australia who can't get home, because if they don't have that support, they're going to fall into destitution or continue working or seeking work, and possibly spread the coronavirus. If we're all in this together that needs to include all of the people who are stuck in Australia, who are here in Australia, during this health crisis,
KELLY: You're listening to RN breakfast. Our guest is Kristina Keneally, Shadow Minister for Immigration and Home Affairs. You're going to be on the Senate COVID-19 committee hearings today into the Ruby Princess cruise ship, which is linked to more than 20 deaths from the virus and 600 infections. The Secretary of Home Affairs Mike Pezzullo will be the star witness. You've already blamed the Federal Government for the fiasco. What do you hope to find out today?
KENEALLY: First of all I don't think today we'll get to the bottom of what's happened with the Ruby Princess but as you say it's the first time for federal parliamentarians to ask questions at the federal level. I don't think it will be the last. We have sought to work constructively with the Government throughout COVID-19 but we do need to hold the Government to account for their failures and that includes the Ruby Princess. If you include the Tasmanian outbreak which now seems to be linked to the Ruby Princess, it's responsible for 850 cases, over 30 deaths and 10 per cent of cases in Australia. So I think what we'd like to explore today- there are four handbrakes the Morison Government could have applied to stop the Ruby Princess debacle. So why weren't these applied? These are the questions that Mike Pezzullo and Australian Border Force will have the opportunity to answer. I also think we need to explore what the Ruby Princess exposes in terms of the gaps in our border security. We were told when Home Affairs was created that this mega department would streamline and make our border management more effective. I think the question now is, is Home Affairs just too big for one Minister to manage? Or does it need more powers in order to do its job properly? And these are questions that go to how we think about border security into the future to ensure this never happens again.
KELLY: Kristina Keneally thank you very much for joining us.
KENEALLY: Thank you.