Wrest Point Hotel and Casino, Hobart
INTRODUCTION / ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
Good morning everyone. It is a pleasure to be here with you all today.
I wish to pay my respect to the traditional and original owners of this land, the Muwinina people. I pay respect to those that have passed before us and acknowledge today’s Tasmanian Aboriginal people who are and always will be the custodians of this land.
I thank the National President Julie Williams, Chief Executive Officer Peter Vymys and all at the Migration Institute of Australia for the kind invitation to speak at your National Conference. I know those elected over the past 35 years as office bearers don’t do so for themselves. Instead, they serve to give effect to a set of principles, upholding the importance of the migration advice industry.
IMPORTANCE OF MIGRATION ADVICE INDUSTRY
This year marks the 35th anniversary of the Migration Institute of Australia, and I’d like to take this opportunity to recognise the work the MIA has done since its inception.
The Albanese Government is committed to fair and balanced regulation for the migration advice industry, because of the life-changing impact agents have on the futures of prospective migrants.
I know the importance of good migration advice. It changes lives for the better by transforming them.
And I know the consequences of bad advice. Aspirations of a better life, and vast sums of money dashed by those who seek profit over and above everything else.
Unfortunately, there remain too many unregistered migration agents.
People in this room are forced to compete against those who deliberately flout the law. It’s unfair. It’s not right. And this Government will not tolerate misconduct nor unlawful activity in this industry.
Through the Office of Migration Agents Registration Authority we are strengthening the industry and enhancing professional standards for registered practitioners.
We are focusing on addressing unscrupulous providers, to protect migrants and all Australians.
The Department of Home Affairs is streamlining migration agent registration processes and is expanding the OMARA to enhance its complaint and investigations functions.
The aim is to disrupt and change poor behaviour at the earliest opportunity, and to act quickly to make disciplinary decisions against those involved in serious misconduct.
I intend to work with you in this room to ensure any problems are promptly acknowledged and addressed. As Minister, my door is open to those who have a perspective to share on how our migration system works, and how it can work better.
Following two years of border closures, Australia is reintroducing our universities, regions and tourist attractions to the world.
We are in a crucial period of renewal and recovery, but we continue to face challenges, including fierce global competition for talent and skills.
We are relying on a strong and resilient migration advice industry with integrity and the confidence of the community to help us deliver our migration agenda which is so vital to our future prosperity, and who we are, as a modern nation built on migration.
VISA PROCESSING BACKLOGS
As so many of you know, there were almost a million visas waiting to be processed for this Government after the election.
This is not just a number. Behind every application sits a person, a family, a worker, a business – lives in limbo.
The ongoing uncertainty for people not knowing when, or if at all, they could come to Australia or remain here.
Businesses who had no idea when their new hire would be able to join or lead their teams.
We have started the work required to clear the backlog and bring down waiting times, to end the limbo.
Today, an additional 260 staff are working to process visas compared to when the election was held. Another 260 are being on-boarded.
The Albanese Government has committed an additional 36.1 million dollars to hire 500 staff in a surge capacity.
We are introducing policy changes to allow more streamlined processing of temporary visas lodged in Australia. More visas will be decided and fewer will be waiting in the backlog.
Beyond the lives in limbo, it’s not smart to allow hundreds of thousands of people to wait months and months on bridging visas for their application to be decided.
Australia does not have the luxury of operating in an environment free from competition.
You don’t deal with integrity risks by sitting on them. You deal with risks by making sure you have the settings right, targeting those who demand it while efficiently deciding everyone else.
We are starting to see results.
Since 1 June 2022, the Department of Home Affairs has made a decision on more than 2 million temporary and permanent visas applications, including 1.35 million visitor, student and temporary skilled visa applications.
Today, the visa backlog is around 880,000.
Of course, there is much more to do.
Yet I am hopeful by early 2023, our visa system will be setup to help deliver our immigration policy goals, looking to the future.
I know many of you will have a host of stories about the Department of Home Affairs. I’ve heard some of them directly.
That’s one reason this government has just this week appointed a new Associate Secretary for Immigration, Stephanie Foster. Ms Foster will use her decades of experience, particularly when it comes to building up institutional culture – not tearing it down – to help the Department of Home Affairs once again prioritise immigration and visa policy.
I would like to ask the people in this room to give the Department of Home Affairs a chance, noting there are so many good people working there, trying their hardest every day.
I’ve met them – in Parramatta, in Perth, in Melbourne, in Adelaide, in Canberra – later today in Hobart and next week in Brisbane.
The backlog is not their fault. They are professional and follow the directions set by government.
And as we know, the last Government had no plan when it came to immigration- drifting towards a hermit kingdom, heads buried in the sand.
PRIORITISATION OF IMMIGRATION POLICY BY NEW GOVERNMENT
Unlike the previous Government, this Government has prioritised immigration policy, and its administration.
That’s why getting the backlog to a manageable level is so important.
We have a plan to continue to tackle the short-term crisis.
And we must look beyond the horizon to ensure Australia’s migration policy settings support the national interest. The goal of immigration policy must be centred on what works for us as a country, as a society.
I know many of you would have followed the Jobs and Skills Summit last month.
There, Minister O’Neil and I announced an increase to the permanent Migration Program from 160,000 visa places to 195,000 in 2022-23.
This is a major change, occurring for the current financial year. It will help address shortages and help reshape the narrative that had taken hold internationally about Australia, to the detriment of all Australians.
This is in large part why Minister O’Neil announced the Government’s intention to develop a new migration strategy.
The economic and social disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has presented Australia with a unique opportunity to re-examine the purpose, structure and objectives of the migration system.
A system which starts from the position of how to keep people out will hold us back when it comes to attracting the people we need.
The Summit found consensus on a host of matters concerning visa and migration policy.
I certainly do not need to tell people in this room how poorly many parts of the system have been functioning.
The point of a temporary skilled visa is to facilitate workers into high-wage jobs quickly. This has been frustrated by delay.
Occupation lists are so complex as to confuse prospective migrants, putting them off coming to Australia.
The deliberate restriction of permanent residency by the former Government hurts businesses ability to hire the best people for the job.
Leading technology businesses, medical research institutions, and major infrastructure companies are faced with the impossible situation of trying to recruit across the world and unable to offer the sponsored pathway to permanent residency, that is required to compete internationally.
This Government understands the benefits of permanent residency and the dangers of keeping people trapped on temporary visas.
Keeping migrants ‘permanently temporary’ is corrosive to some of the most important principles of Australian society.
A temporary skilled work visa with no permanent residency pathway is not one of mutual respect – it is Australian mercantilism, based on extracting whatever we can from people before discarding them when we are done.
Ongoing, deliberate temporary residency undermines our egalitarian instincts. Equal rights and opportunities are impossible when temporary visas become so widespread as to harm the prospect of a fair go, whether in the workplace, at home, or in our community.
People on temporary visas and Australians alike are forced to confront an unfair playing field, as those who deliberately seek to exploit vulnerability are permitted to do so via the rules of the visa system itself.
Similar principles apply for our system of asylum.
There is little to no deterrent value in making people simply renew a visa every 3 to 5 years, especially when many have been here for over a decade.
Temporary protection visas do everything to undermine a fair go. They are a unique form of cruelty- creating endless limbo for people owed our protection, and who having been working, paying taxes, starting businesses, and building their lives in our communities for a decade.
I don’t think anyone – including the Coalition – would be expecting families who have been in Australia for a decade to return to rule under the Taliban – a situation unlikely to change any time soon.
And in many cases these people are filling jobs in regional areas, where there is a stark skills shortage.
The Albanese Government has made a commitment to transition those who have been found to be owed our protection on temporary protection visas to permanent protection.
We will keep this promise and meet our commitment as soon as possible.
We will ensure this process is effective, can be applied consistently, and is enduring.
MIGRANT WORKER EXPLOITATION
There is so much to do.
The former Government froze the Temporary Skilled Migration Income Threshold at $53,900. Today, over 80 per cent of all full-time jobs have a salary above this figure.
This wage is not indicative of the place for skilled migration in the modern labour market. It is too low and this government will increase it.
And next year we plan to bring forward a package of reforms to tackle the exploitation of migrant workers.
Too many workers are mistreated and exploited because of their visa status and for too long, governments have looked the other way.
Not this Government, and not me as the Immigration Minister. I will do everything I can do address this scourge.
At the moment, businesses who seek to the do the right thing – pay their workers the market rate and ensure they get their super – are competing on unfair terms if they don’t join in the widespread mistreatment.
We must not tolerate a race to the bottom when it comes to competition between businesses.
Unfortunately the former government put the Migrant Worker Taskforce Report, led by Professor Allan Fels, on the backburner. Their legislation was deficient. There was no recognition of the scale of the problem, nor an urgency to solve the problem.
I know the solution to these deep seated issues is not to cancel as many visas as possible but to address those flouting the law and removing rules which generate vulnerability.
I will work closely with my colleagues, like Minister Burke, to make sure what we put forward is fit for purpose and does not punish migrants.
We know accurate advice to potentially vulnerable migrants can mitigate exploitation. I know the people in this room can make a difference when it comes to the most egregious mistreatment that occurs.
One way we can do that is to examine the potential for industry sponsorship. It’s an idea put forward by people seeking to engage in good faith and it’s one we will explore properly.
And every Australian can rest assured that this Government’s migration agenda will complement our broader approach to skills and training. Instead of having these functions working against each other, which they often seem to do, we will make sure we can address widespread workforce shortages via every channel available.
That’s why Jobs and Skills Australia was one of the first pieces of legislation introduced in the Parliament. A statutory body to provide genuinely independent advice on labour market needs.
ROLE OF IMMIGRATION IN NATION BUILDING
Migration has been crucially important to building our modern nation.
Australia is one of the most successful multicultural societies in the world.
We have achieved this success by welcoming and including people from across the globe.
Today, more than half our population were either born overseas, or have at least one parent who was.
Our success as a cohesive and vibrant democracy is built on shared values, freedom to express ourselves and respect for one another.
Australians embrace the diversity in our communities and we support each other in times of need.
The Scanlon Foundation’s 2021 Mapping Social Cohesion Report indicates support for multiculturalism remains strong— at 86 per cent—and that a great majority of Australians—76 per cent— believe that accepting immigrants from many different countries makes Australia stronger.
Australia’s immigration history is who we are. And that means confronting our past, not ignoring it.
For Labor, the Curtin and Chifley Government’s decisions on migration are one of our proudest achievements. Coupled with the Whitlam Government’s push for non-discrimination, immigration is one of Australia’s greatest strengths.
But nation building is an incomplete, ongoing project and often a messy one.
We must look ahead to realising our potential as a reconciled nation that harnesses its diversity whilst also remembering our history, including the White Australia Policy, which caused so much harm to so many.
Today, we value transparent visa rules free from discrimination. Yet it remains fact there are some elements of our visa system that hinge on what passport you hold.
Our approach to humanitarian resettlement will once again be non-discriminatory. This Government will play its part and we will not shy away from the hard decisions when it comes to immigration.
The Albanese Government knows immigration will continue to be a part of Australia’s future success.
Along with my colleagues, first and foremost Minister O’Neil, I am committed to re-establishing immigration as a nation-building function of Government.
We want Australia to realise its full potential as a nation that makes the most of its diversity.
We are taking action now to make that happen, through clearing the visa backlog, increasing migration program numbers, and making broader changes to our migration rules.
A migration strategy that includes a review of our immigration system will help us understand the road ahead. Our migration system needs to serve our national interest above all else.
The migration advice industry has a key role to play in our immigration future, and I look forward to our dialogue continuing.
Finally, I take this opportunity to again congratulate the Migration Institute of Australia as you celebrate your 35th anniversary, and I extend my best wishes for a successful conference over the next two days.