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Monday, 17 September 2018
Transcript

Interview with David Speers, Sky News

Subjects: Immigration to regional areas; Asylum seekers on Nauru; Immigration policy.

E&EO……………………

DAVID SPEERS:

Now, one of the policies that's divided Liberals this year, along with energy and climate change, is immigration. Tony Abbott has been calling for a cut of 80,000 to the annual intake. Conservatives wanted Peter Dutton to become leader in part to do more on this issue. It's not just conservatives, though, who feel immigration needs to be reduced to tackle congestion problems in Sydney and Melbourne particularly. As Treasurer, though, Scott Morrison led the charge against this. He warned of the economic hit Australia would suffer if we drastically cut the immigration intake. But under the Turnbull Government work was well advanced on plans to encourage or perhaps even require more migrants to settle in regional areas.

Joining me now, in his first major interview in the role, is the new Minister for Immigration, David Coleman. Minister, congratulations on your appointment, thank you for joining us today.

DAVID COLEMAN:

Good morning, David.

DAVID SPEERS:

Can I just ask you to explain where you're up to on this move to have more migrants settle in regional areas.

DAVID COLEMAN:

Well, look, David, I mean, I've already made comments about the fact that our immigration program should meet our regional needs. So if there are needs for more immigration in regional areas then we should seek to meet them. We've got numerous examples at the moment of regions saying we want more immigration. South Australia's Premier has called for immigration of about 15,000 people per year. We've got regions like the Goldfields in WA with 1,000 or more jobs going begging. Warrnambool has been out saying that it needs more immigration. And of course the National Farmers Federation has been quite outspoken in the need for a greater balancing of the immigration program towards agricultural needs. So it's just common sense, David, to say if the immigration system can be better matched to the regional needs then it should be. And that's something I'm looking at very closely.

DAVID SPEERS:

I want to come back to the idea of an agricultural visa. But just on how to get migrants to settle in regional areas - because very few of them do, I think it was only 7,000 last year or thereabouts that went to regional areas - is there the prospect of a new special class of visa that would require migrants to spend a certain amount of time in a regional area?

DAVID COLEMAN:

Well, I don't want to get into specifics about particular visas and so on, David, but what I would say is it's about creating the right structure. So, the right incentives, the right reasons for immigrants to choose those regional areas. And then it's also about ensuring that that's followed through upon. Because obviously if people come on a visa that is meant to be based in a regional area then the compliance needs to be there to make that happen. So it's two elements really, it's encouraging that demand in the first place and then it's seeking to ensure that it's followed through on.

DAVID SPEERS:

So when you talk about compliance there, because we do already have the Skilled Regional Visa, this is the one where a permanent visa is available for those who have lived for at least two years or worked fulltime for one year in a specified regional area. There's also the Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme for employers to sponsor a skilled worker in a regional area. So, you're talking about tougher compliance around those existing regional visas?

DAVID COLEMAN:

I think as a general principle, David, it makes sense to ensure wherever we can that regional means regional. So if somebody comes in on a regional visa, the more we can sensibly do to ensure that occurs, we should, and there are things that we're looking at in that area. So, as I say, it's about getting the people to the regions in the first place to meet that very significant unmet demand, and then seeking to ensure that compliance once it happens.

I mean, an example of where there's been improvements in regional visas and indeed visas generally in recent times is the abolition of 457s in favour of the Temporary Skills Shortage system, David. So basically, what's happened here is the total number of people on those short term visas has declined but the average salary has gone up very substantially, it's gone up to about $110,000 on average. So what that means is we're getting more skilled people, more highly skilled people into regions and into the cities as well, and that's a really good example of a practical way of using the visa system to achieve a policy goal. So about half as many people on those Temporary Skill Shortage visas as came in under Labor, under 457s, but they're more highly skilled, and that makes sense. Because the immigration system has been an important part of our economic growth. We should sensibly use the immigration system to grow our economy. The more highly skilled people are, the better, because it's the highly skilled people who create the most economic activity and also generate the most jobs. I mean, on that economic…

DAVID SPEERS:

But the question here is where are they going? I take your point there's been a reduction in the number of Temporary Skilled visas, they're earning more, that's great, but are they predominantly going to Sydney and Melbourne?

DAVID COLEMAN:

They are, that's right David. But the program has certainly improved the outcomes and on the regional theme, as I say, it's about getting more people into the regions and it's about ensuring that there's the compliance there to keep people in the regions once they come.

DAVID SPEERS:

To be clear on what you can and can't do, constitutionally or legally, can you actually compel someone to live in a regional area and not move to Sydney and Melbourne? Or is that something you can't do?

DAVID COLEMAN:

Well you can- look, there are a range of different things you can do under visa conditions, David, but as I say the issue is about balancing the needs of immigration to where they are in the community. And we do have a situation at the moment where about 87 per cent of skilled immigrants are moving to Sydney and Melbourne. We know there's unmet needs in those regional areas and I'm looking very closely at ways of meeting those unmet needs.

DAVID SPEERS:

So what are the things you can and can't do with visa conditions to try and do that?

DAVID COLEMAN:

There's a range of things you can do, David, but I'm not going to speculate on that now. What I'm saying is that we're looking at that very closely and we'll have more to say about it in the future.

DAVID SPEERS:

But is it possible for you to take a visa away from someone who's been granted permanent residency if they don't stay in a regional area?

DAVID COLEMAN:

Again, David, I'm not going to speculate about what we might do about visa categories in the future. But what I'll say is we're looking at ways of encouraging more people into regions because there's unmet demand in those regions and we'll have more to say about that in the future. But certainly there are things that can be done to both increase the number of people in the regions and to improve compliance.

DAVID SPEERS:

The agricultural visa idea, let's just come to that. The Nationals leader and Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said, I think two weeks ago, he wanted to see a new agricultural visa sorted within weeks, not months. So where is that up to? Are we going to have a new agricultural visa?

DAVID COLEMAN:

Well again, lots of discussions about regional migration including agriculture, David. I'm not here to announce an agricultural visa on your show, but I am here to talk about the importance of regional migration and agriculture's a big part of that. The National Farmers Federation have expressed a number of concerns about the way the current system works. To boil it down, David, one of the most important things we can do is make the arrangements for regional visas as simple as possible. At the moment some of the criticisms are that it can be more complicated than some people argue it should be, to get people in on regional visas. There's a thing called the Designated Area Migration Agreement, which has been entered into by the Northern Territory. But we'd like to see more of those Designated Area Migration Agreements, and that may well be a way of addressing a number of these agricultural concerns.

DAVID SPEERS:

The key concern in this particular debate, as you would know, we have the Seasonal Worker Program where workers can come from the Pacific or East Timor for six months of mostly fruit picking work. We have the Pacific Labour Scheme, again, targeting Pacific workers, they can come for three years to work in a regional area. But if you go for an agricultural visa, are you opening that up beyond the Pacific and saying Indonesians, Vietnamese, Cambodians can all come and do this sort of work? And what would that mean for these tiny Pacific states that, as you know, rely very heavily on the work they can do in Australia?

DAVID COLEMAN:

Well, again, David, I'm not here to announce a particular policy this morning, but what I am saying is that those concerns of the National Farmers Federation are being carefully listened to. You mentioned those programs, there are other programs as well of course. There's the Working Holiday Maker program where about 34,000 people came in last year on that scheme as well. There's the Designated Area Agreement, there are individual labour agreements between agricultural employers and the departments as well…

DAVID SPEERS:

But I guess my question is: should Pacific states be worried that you're going to open what are programs targeted at just those small Pacific states to do fruit picking work in Australia, are you going to open that to everyone, in particular a lot of South East Asian countries, as well?

DAVID COLEMAN:

Well, again, David, I'm not announcing any policy this morning, but what I'm saying is there's a bunch of different visa classes that are relevant for agriculture and for agricultural workers at the moment. The industry has some feedback about ways that that could be improved. We are focused like a laser beam on improving outcomes for regional migration, and that's something I'll continue to be looking at. But I can't give you an answer today about specific outcomes for particular visa classes.

DAVID SPEERS:

Now, as you know, there are various views in your party on the overall immigration intake. Tony Abbott has been arguing for a cut of 80,000 places, Scott Morrison as Treasurer argued very strongly against that. Where do you stand on this?

DAVID COLEMAN:

Well, let's take a step back first, David, and note that the immigration program has been overwhelmingly positive for Australia. There are millions of immigration success stories in this country. We should be proud of our immigration history. We should be proud of our multicultural history. Immigration's been good for our economy and it's been good for so many other aspects of Australian life. Now, the issue is: does the program match the needs of the country at both a regional level and an economic level? And as I said earlier in the week: You've got to look at the immigration program as a range of programs within that one big program. So, for instance, if we can get somebody to come to Australia who wants to start a business and employ 10 or 20 Australians, we should be pursuing that person with all vigour. There's about 1.4 million Australians employed by businesses started by immigrants. That is a phenomenally positive aspect of immigration and any sensible government should be pursuing that, as I say, with vigour. So it's about the composition of the program, it's our program, it must reflect our choices. One of our choices must be for it to be as economically positive for the country as possible. Equally, it must be matched to our regional needs. Where there are regional gaps we should seek to fill them. Now, I'm not so focused on the overall number as on the matching of the needs to the particular categories, both at a regional level and an economic level. I think that's what's most important.

DAVID SPEERS:

Okay. Let me ask you about Nauru. There are about 100 refugee children on Nauru, most have been there about five years. There's one 12-year-old girl in particular that doctors are worried about. They say she's made repeated attempts to take her own life, she's suffering post-traumatic stress and a major depressive disorder. They're pleading for her to be taken off the island. Will you remove this young girl?

DAVID COLEMAN:

Well, David, we've got to look at Nauru in the context of what happened under the previous government, which was absolutely appalling. There were 8,000 people placed in detention by the previous government. When we came to government there were 2,000 children in detention and that was a shameful chapter in Australia's history and it was driven by an appalling program of a lack of secure borders, which basically meant that the people smugglers were running the show. And as a consequence of the actions of people smugglers, more than 1200 people drowned at sea. Now, since…

DAVID SPEERS:

Minister, we're aware of that history. I'm just wondering what would you say to this 12-year-old girl? Would you explain that to her and say: sorry, you've got to stay there?

DAVID COLEMAN:

Well, David, since we came to government there are 1,100 people less on Manus and Nauru than when we came to government. The circumstances of individuals are looked at on a case-by-case basis, but the broad principle of secure borders is so important, David, because we know that the history of the previous government was appalling. We have…

DAVID SPEERS:

That's the conundrum in this portfolio, I appreciate that. But I'm just wondering, on this case, this 12-year-old girl the doctors are saying needs to be removed, what are you going to do?

DAVID COLEMAN:

Well, David, each of these matters is assessed on a case-by-case basis, and as you know there have been a number of people…

DAVID SPEERS:

And what's the assessment here?

DAVID COLEMAN:

Well, I'm not going to go into a specific case, David. But there have been, as you know, a number of people with medical conditions on Nauru in the past where action has been taken.

DAVID SPEERS:

That's true.

DAVID COLEMAN:

I'm not going to go into specific cases. But, you know, it is so important to remember the facts here, David. The previous government policies led to human tragedy on an extraordinary scale. We're not going back there. We're going to have a sensible system of border security which allows us to maintain the confidence of the Australian people in what is a very generous humanitarian program. You know, David, the only country in the world with a more generous…

DAVID SPEERS:

Okay, just on that…

DAVID COLEMAN:

Can I finish this point, David? It's important. The only country in the world with a greater humanitarian intake relative to population is Canada. So we have a very generous humanitarian program. We should be proud of that. It's the right thing to do. But it needs to come with border security, and that's something this government has achieved and it's something the previous government failed miserably in.

DAVID SPEERS:

Roman Quaedvlieg, the former Border Force Commissioner - I won't ask you about all that's going on with he and Peter Dutton at the moment - he's Tweeted that we can resettle the folks on Nauru and Manus Island in New Zealand. He says, provided the trans-Tasman route to Australia is not an option, so they can't come from New Zealand to Australia in other words, he reckons that can be easily done, he says in a Tweet. What do you think?

DAVID COLEMAN:

Well, as you know, David, there are unique arrangements in the immigration system between Australia and New Zealand. New Zealand citizens enjoy the right to come to Australia. At any given time there's about 700,000 New Zealanders in Australia on various visa classes. So it's very important that people who have arrived unlawfully by boat do not come to Australia. Because as soon as that happens that goes up in flashing lights in the marketing materials of people smugglers, which will say yes, you can get to Australia. So, as the law stands today that is absolutely possible, that people go to New Zealand and then come to Australia. Now, as you know, we have the resettlement agreement with the United States. About 400 people have settled in the United States and those resettlement options are always being looked at. But a scenario where people come to Australia is not acceptable to the Government because that will provide…

DAVID SPEERS:

Could you have an agreement with New Zealand to stop them coming to Australia?

DAVID COLEMAN:

Well, as I say, we're always open to discussions about resettlement agreements and we have the resettlement agreement in place now with the United States, which has led to some…

DAVID SPEERS:

So, will you talk to New Zealand about such an agreement, is that something you're open to?

DAVID COLEMAN:

As I've said, David, the issue of resettlement is something the Government's always looking at. The US agreement is working well, but what we will not countenance is…

DAVID SPEERS:

Just to be clear on that, because everyone will be interested in this, you are open to talking to New Zealand about such an arrangement to take them to New Zealand and then stop them coming to Australia?

DAVID COLEMAN:

Well, as I said, David, more generally, the issue of resettlement is something that the Government has done a lot of work on. But the key point is that we will not have a situation where people can come to Australia because that would be a great piece of marketing material for people smugglers and that is not going to happen.

DAVID SPEERS:

All right, but we're right to assume you are open to looking at a way that this can be done?

DAVID COLEMAN:

Well, as I said, David, we've looked at resettlement options in the past. We've succeeded with the successful resettlement deal with the United States.

DAVID SPEERS:

All right. Just a quick one, finally, outside your portfolio. The Prime Minister's announcing the royal commission into aged care today. I know this isn't your area. But the Government resisted a royal commission into the banks for so long, why aged care?

DAVID COLEMAN:

Well, there are some really concerning examples coming out of the aged care sector. Obviously the Oakden situation in South Australia was appalling and the PM's been concerned about other examples coming forward. There's record funding going into this sector, $18 billion this year going up to $23.6 in five years. So what we want to do is ensure that there's a very thorough examination of the sector. There are a range of different models, as you know, in terms of out of home care, in terms of residential care, different kinds of providers, different setups in the sector. This is an issue that affects so many Australians. So many of us have a relative in aged care or are in aged care ourselves. So the PM's very much on the front foot on this. He wants to get to the bottom of the situation in the sector and I think that makes a lot of sense and I think that will be welcomed in the community.

DAVID SPEERS:

Immigration Minister David Coleman, thank you for joining us. Good to talk policy with you today. Look forward to discussing that further, appreciate it.

DAVID COLEMAN:

Thanks David.