Thursday, 20 June 2019

Press conference, Wagga Wagga

Subjects: Refugee week, Regional settlement, Medevac legislation, Labor’s plan to increase the refugee intake by 71 per cent


DAVID COLEMAN:  Well good afternoon. It's terrific to be here in Wagga today - very chilly Wagga - and it's been great to visit the Wagga TAFE this morning, to sit with some students in the Adult Migrant English Program and also to come here to the Red Cross to talk with volunteers, to talk with staff and to talk importantly with people who have settled in Wagga in recent years as part of Australia's Humanitarian Program. The settlement services part of the Government's immigration area is very important. It's about the assistance that we provide to people once they come to Australia to help them settle in our country.

From the 1st of July, I'll be taking on responsibility for settlement services and also for the Adult Migrant English Program. Wagga is a tremendous example of a successful settlement in Australia of communities through our Humanitarian Program.

Communities like the Yazidi community, the Congolese community, the Myanmarese community have been very successful here in Wagga, have been embraced by the Wagga community. I'd heard so much about the success of settlement services here in Wagga that I wanted to come along and see some of that success firsthand. When communities settle successfully in Australia that is great for those people and it's also a great thing for our broader community. As part of Refugee Week I was keen to come here to Wagga to see the success of our settlement services in the Yazidi communities and in other communities.

There are a number of regional areas in Australia that have been great success stories in our Humanitarian Program, none more so than Wagga. It has been a great success and I'm really pleased to have had the opportunity to come here, to learn some more about the success of our regional settlement program here in Wagga and I look forward to coming back here again in the future.

Happy to take questions.

QUESTION: Amnesty International says Wagga is leading the country in terms of refugee resettlement and should be a model for other towns, but they need more federal support in terms of services and programs and sponsorship and that sort of thing. What are you going to be providing in that space?

DAVID COLEMAN: Look, I've been very impressed with what I've seen here in Wagga today - just some terrific stories of people who have overcome extraordinary hardship in their home countries, who have come here to Wagga, have been embraced by the Wagga community and have had learned English very successfully.

I was chatting with some students this morning who have been in Australia for less than two years but who had a very strong level of English - so really good to see that the course there at Wagga TAFE is obviously having great success. Then here also at the Red Cross, talking to people about the experience they've had in working with the different program providers and getting that one-on-one support that people do need when they first come to Australia.

This area of settlement services is new to my portfolio and so it's something I'm looking at very closely at the moment but I'll certainly be looking at the Wagga example and seeing what lessons can be learned and any opportunities to apply those lessons more broadly across the country.

QUESTION: Just a couple on other issues. What effect do you expect this week's Federal Court decision regarding the medevac legislation is going to have on asylum seeker arrivals?

DAVID COLEMAN: Well look, we have had for some years a very orderly process in relation to the provision of medical care in offshore processing centres in Manus and in Nauru. So much so that, in Nauru for instance, there's approximately one medical professional for every seven people who are in Nauru as asylum seekers or refugees.

We've also had a system over a number of years where, where a person needs to be transferred from those centres to a third country for medical attention, that occurs. It's been occurring for a number of years. That system has, as I say, has been successful over a number of years.

Labor's legislation, which was passed through the Parliament back in February, fundamentally alters that situation because under Labor's legislation the Government does not have the final decision on who comes to Australia except in very limited circumstances. That's the reality of Labor's legislation.

Under the Government's system, medical decisions are made on the basis of advice from doctors who are physically present in the same country as the individual. Under Labor's law, that was not required, it was only thought to be required that they have a telephone conversation. Now under Labor's law it's not even necessary that the recommending doctors even have a telephone conversation with the individual involved. That is a very, very big contrast to the Government's successful management of medical issues over a number of years.

As Minister Dutton has said, that has huge implications and the Government's considering all of its options at the moment. It does just once again underscore that the rushed and politically cynical move of the Labor Party to push that legislation through Parliament was very short-sighted and absolutely the wrong thing to do and damaging to Australia's successful system of both medical transfers and border security.

QUESTION: Why should doctors be allowed to make medical recommendations based on medical files for average patients but not refugees on Nauru?

DAVID COLEMAN: Well look, we've had a successful system in relation to medical transfers for a number of years and it's not something that, you know, a major announcement is made about all the time, in terms of medical transfers and so on. But the reality is, for a number of years the Government, in an orderly and professional fashion, has made medical transfers in cases where it was appropriate to do so.

This law upends that orderly system and puts in place a system under Labor's law where not only do the recommending doctors not need to see the patient, they don't even need to speak to the patient. That is an extraordinary system. It's completely inappropriate. It is no way to manage this very important issue of offshore processing and border security and it just goes to show again that the Labor Party are not to be trusted on these matters.

QUESTION: Why is it such a problem, this High Court ruling, when it only affects a small number of asylum seekers already on Manus and Nauru?

DAVID COLEMAN: Labor's law has completely changed the existing system for offshore processing and medical transfers and that system has been successful over a number of years. Medical care is provided; where medical transfers have been required in the past, that has occurred.

Under Labor's law the doctors don't have to see the patient, they don't have to Skype with the patient, they don't even have to talk to the patient in order to make those recommendations that people come to Australia. That's not a sensible way of managing this issue. Also under Labor's law, the final decision on who comes to Australia is not in the hands of the Government except in very limited circumstances. That is not how you run an orderly system of managing Australia's offshore processing system and that's why the Government was so strongly opposed to this legislation. This most recent development, once again, shows how incredibly short-sighted Labor's legislation is and why it needs to be repealed.

QUESTION: Earlier this year the Government announced that 23,000 additional visas for skilled workers are going to be granted for the regions. What is the government doing to help communities like Wagga prepare for a possible influx?

DAVID COLEMAN: Yes, in the Migration Plan we did allocate 23,000 places for regional areas for skilled migration. We did that because there are a lot of opportunities for skilled migration in regional Australia and there are a lot of parts of regional Australia that are really calling out for more skilled migration to help grow their economy, to help build businesses.

South Australia, for instance, is absolutely very enthusiastic about getting more migrants. That's the case in Tasmania, in many parts of New South Wales, in the Orana region in central western New South Wales. We've recently done a designated area migration agreement to help skilled migrants, to encourage them to go there. What this will do, is it will provide an incentive for migrants to settle in regional Australia and to stay in regional Australia. Under this plan migrants who take one of those visas need to stay in regional Australia for at least three years in order to get permanent residency – and people want permanent residency. So what that will mean is that people will settle in places like Wagga, will stay for at least three years and, of course, once someone settles in a town for a number of years they form community links and friendships and so on and are very likely to stay in the medium term. We think that's a really positive development.

We've got very strong population growth in Sydney and Melbourne. A very large proportion of our Migration Program historically has gone into Sydney and Melbourne and this is about saying, we know that there are many great skilled employment opportunities in the regions. We want to encourage people to take up those opportunities and we want to give people an incentive to settle in regional Australia because we want to back regional Australia. We want to back economic growth in regional Australia. There are occasions in which there are jobs that can't be filled locally and when that's the case it does make sense to encourage people with skills that can come to regional Australia. Many of those people even start businesses. One in three small businesses in Australia was started by a migrant and those businesses then employ lots of Australians. So we think this is a sensible policy. The fact that people need to settle for three years will mean that people will stay in the regions and we think it'll be a really good thing for regional economies.

QUESTION: So there's other places where you've already seen this. What's the feedback that you're getting, that these communities might need to make it a success?

DAVID COLEMAN: I think the issue is that this new policy - by specifically setting this number of 23,000 spots - what it means is that if people want to settle in Australia they know that if they are one of those 23,000 people and they stay for the three years they're on a path to permanent residency. As a consequence of that we think that more people will take that opportunity. There are many opportunities in skilled industries in Australia - in South Australia for instance there are many opportunities in terms of industries, in terms of maritime and others, that are looking for skilled people and we see similar situations right across regional Australia.

This is about giving regional Australia the policy settings to help attract those skilled migrants. It's very clear that there are opportunities in regional Australia and this policy structure is going to encourage those skilled migrants to settle in regions where there are job opportunities and where there is a genuine gap in terms of the employment market.

QUESTION: What's the Government doing to crack down on the increasing number of asylum seekers arriving by plane on tourist visas and not leaving?

DAVID COLEMAN: The issue in relation to the Refugee and Humanitarian Program is, what's the number of people that Australia accepts per year?

We accept, under our Government, 18,750 people and that's our choice; that's our policy; that's a good thing. We are proud of having an orderly immigration program and an orderly humanitarian program that supports people in genuine need, like the people that we see here in Wagga who come to Australia, who work hard and who contribute to our communities.

That's our policy and that policy is clear.

The Labor Party says they want to increase that by 71 per cent. Labor wants 71 per cent more people to come under the Humanitarian Program. That would cost taxpayers about $6 billion, that additional 71 per cent. The issue about people applying for humanitarian protection is one thing but what matters at the end of the day is how many people do we accept in the country. Of the people who have come to Australia on temporary visas, less than 0.25 per cent apply for those protection visas and of that group, last year, 95 per cent didn't get the protection visa and are required to go home.

The bottom line is, how many people do we actually accept in the humanitarian program? Under this Government it's 18,750; under the Labor Party's policy it would be 32,000, which is 71 per cent more. For the Labor Party to be seeking to focus on this issue is quite extraordinary, given that its policy is a 71 per cent increase. We've got an orderly program, it's capped at the current level and that is an orderly and mature way to run the humanitarian program and that's what this Government will continue to do.