Tuesday, 13 August 2019

Sydney Institute Address - Sydney

Subjects: Immigration, Humanitarian pathways, sovereign borders, skilled migration and population


Thank you Gerard.

I want to acknowledge the very serious events that have taken place here in Sydney this afternoon.

My thoughts are, of course, with the victims and all those caught up in this appalling event.

I would also echo the comments of the NSW Police and the Prime Minister in commending those who were first on the scene.

This incident will of course be fully investigated by the Police, and so I won’t be making any further comments on it this evening.

My thanks to the Sydney Institute for having me here tonight. The Sydney Institute has a long and distinguished history of advancing the national debate in Australia.

So often, at the centre of that debate is the question of the proper role of Government - what is it here to achieve?

For me, the overarching purpose of Government must be to build the foundations on which a nation can succeed.

And, over the course of our history, it’s fair to say that Australian governments have generally succeeded in achieving that goal.  After all, people the world over aspire to live here.  So what did we get right?  What made us strong?

It’s self-evident that our commitment to democracy trumps all other factors in our success.  Democracy gives voice to our best instincts, and restrains our worst ones.  And of course a close second is our economic freedom, which enables us to pursue the dreams that democracy enlivens.  We must always defend our democratic and economic freedoms.
But what comes next? 

If you look back at our history, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that immigration has been absolutely fundamental to our success.

Today, almost half of us were either born overseas or have a parent who was born overseas.  Since the Second World War, in particular, we’ve welcomed people from all corners of the globe.

Immigration has grown our economy, broadened our horizons, and reduced the impact of our geographic isolation. 

It’s created the platform on which millions of Australians have built their lives.  People who have worked hard, played by the rules, and helped to build a stronger Australia.  People who have made immense sacrifices, so that their kids can aspire to be anything.

But immigration is a complex policy area, and it must always be approached with clear eyes and clarity of thought. 

The Government’s approach to immigration can be summarised in three words:

Sovereign, focused, and fair.


Now, nobody would seriously suggest that Australia should not control its own economic policy.  And nobody would say that we shouldn’t control our own health or education policy.

The same principle must always apply to immigration.   As a nation, we must determine our policies, and then implement them.  It’s our job to do this – nobody else’s.

When sovereignty over our immigration programme is lost, public confidence is lost too.  Australians accept that there are different views within our nation on immigration.  And they accept that their personal view might not always be reflected by the Government of the day.  But what they cannot accept – and never should be asked to accept – is that someone other than the Government of Australia will decide the outcomes of Australia’s migration programme.

This fundamental principle underlines everything we do in immigration.  A sovereign system creates the framework in which we can make decisions in Australia’s national interest.  Without a sovereign system, our national interest is subverted by others.

If you look at Australia’s post-war public policy history, it’s hard to find a worse failure than the loss of control of our borders between 2007 and 2013.  It was a humanitarian catastrophe.

The numbers are staggering to recall:

  • 50,000 people arrived on more than 800 boats.
  • 8,000 children were forcibly placed in detention; and
  • 1,200 people tragically drowned at sea, including children.

And the arrival of people on boats directly disadvantaged people who would otherwise have found humanitarian support in Australia.

The Special Humanitarian Programme – a key part of our annual migration planning – was decimated during this period, with a 90% fall in numbers.  Instead of about 5,000 people per year being allowed into Australia under this programme, the number dropped to 500.  This occurred because the available places were taken by people who had arrived on boats.

Special Humanitarian entrants face some of the world’s most dire situations, and it is right that we seek to help them.  But when the previous Government lost control of our borders, they also lost control of the capacity to help this most vulnerable group.
Under the Prime Minister and Peter Dutton, sovereign borders were of course restored.  The 2,000 children in detention in July 2013 were all released.  19 detention centres were closed, saving taxpayers $500M.  The overall population in detention in Australia has fallen by close to 90% - from more than 10,000 in July 2013, to about 1,300 today.

You will recall that none of this was easy, and that our political opponents said that it couldn’t be done.

But it was done.  And it had to be done. 

Australians are big-hearted, and we want to help people fleeing awful situations.  But we know that, unless we control the manner in which that is done, the system falls apart.  That is not acceptable to Australians, and nor should it be.

An important part of asserting our sovereignty is ensuring that people who are guests in Australia respect the laws of Australia.

In 2014 our Government strengthened the Character Test under the Migration Act, to cancel or deny visas to people convicted to a criminal sentence of 12 months or more.  This has led to more than 4700 people having their visas cancelled over the past 6 years – an increase of more than 7 times over the previous government.

Recently I introduced a Bill to Parliament which will further strengthen these character rules.  The crimes involved are serious – violent offences, sexual offences, firearms offences, and breaches of apprehended violence orders.  If non-citizens have been convicted of these serious crimes, then our Government’s view is clear: they should fail the character test.


With our sovereign position secure, we are free to make choices across our immigration programme.  Choices that reflect our priorities.

So, what are those decisions? 

We often talk about the immigration programme as if it is just one thing.  But it is actually a wide range of different programmes.  We need to make explicit choices in our national interest in all of them.

The first key point is that, in recent years, we have reduced our annual permanent migration intake.  Population pressure in Sydney and Melbourne in particular has been very substantial, with growth of 18 and 25 percent respectively between 2006 and 2016.  This has led to real and legitimate concerns about congestion in our major cities.

In March, we announced that the cap on the annual migration intake will be reduced from 190,000 to 160,000 for the 2019/20 year.   And we’ve announced a range of measures that will encourage migrants to settle in regional Australia, further reducing the population pressure on Sydney and Melbourne. 

Within our annual migration plan, skilled migration is the lynchpin of our approach, accounting for close to 70% of the intake.  Skilled migrants add value to Australian businesses, they generate significant tax revenue, they start their own companies.  They create the conditions that lead to more Australian job opportunities.

And it stands to reason that the more skilled a migrant is, the better.

When you strip out the ups and downs of the economic cycle, productivity is the thing that really matters.   When we get more out of our inputs – whatever they are – we create the wealth that leads to sustainable increases in living standards. 

When we talk about productivity growth, we usually talk about improving output in existing roles and industries.  There’s an implicit assumption in much of the productivity discussion that the key task is to be better at what we do today.  And that’s important of course – getting more out of the status quo is essential to making the status quo better.

But productivity growth isn’t just about getting more out of existing inputs, it’s also about shifting the mix of what we do to higher value activities.

When immigration helps us to increase our strength in high value sectors, it increases our overall productivity and national income.

I saw examples of this when I was chairman of ninemsn, the joint venture between Nine and Microsoft. 

We would often have Microsoft executives move to Australia from the US to work in our Sydney offices.  And those executives would frequently propose that we do new things in the business to help make it grow.  Their expertise led to the launch of new products and services, and the employment of more Australians – typically in software development - as a direct result.

Immigration, in that example, was acting as a direct catalyst for the creation of high wage, highly productive Australian jobs.

When the immigration system fills gaps in high value sectors, it helps to prod the economy in the direction of more productivity, and more wealth.   This is unquestionably a good thing.

Last week, I announced that the Government will be making permanent the new Global Talent employer sponsored programme.   Where Labour Market Testing establishes that no local employee is available, the Global Talent programme makes it easier for start-ups and established companies to access the highly skilled people they need.

The fact is that high tech jobs don’t always fit neatly into a bureaucratic analysis of the labour market, and that start-ups often have needs that no top-down template could have foreseen.

Since the trial began late last year, we’ve reached agreements with numerous start-ups and established companies, including Canva and Cochlear.  These agreements will make it easier for those companies to grow their business in a way that generates more employment for Australians.

This year we are also launching the Global Talent Independent programme, a key part of our immigration strategy. 

It has an ambitious goal.  That goal is to identify and pro-actively recruit up to 5,000 highly skilled migrants per year.  Under the Global Talent programme, we will seek out the very best people in high growth industries, and encourage them to come to Australia to help grow those industries.

Home Affairs staff will be placed on the ground in key overseas locations, with the task of recruiting very high value migrants.  Last month, an officer commenced work in Berlin, and next month we will be placing staff in Washington, Singapore, Shanghai, Santiago and Dubai.  This direct overseas recruitment effort is the first of its kind in our immigration programme.

Our overseas teams will work with the world’s top universities, professional associations and other institutions to market the Global Talent program to exceptional candidates. 

By attracting the very best, we will help to build enterprises that will employ large numbers of Australians in high skill, high wage jobs.

Over time, the Global Talent initiative has the potential to have a transformational impact on the Australian economy. 

Another important part of our skilled immigration system is our investment-related visas.  There are several of these visas, and last year about 7,000 people came to Australia under these programmes.

These visas are premised on the idea that investment in the Australian economy is a positive thing, and that people who want to provide job-creating capital should be encouraged to do so.  It makes sense.  But as with all ideas, we need to sharply focus on the practical execution to ensure that we are fully delivering on the goal. 

To that end, I will be reviewing our business investment visas with a simple question in mind: can we get a better deal for Australia?  Immigration to Australia is highly attractive to this cohort, and we need to ensure that we maximise the returns to our economy from their investment.  

Focus is also about ensuring that our immigration processes are run as efficiently as possible.  In March I announced a significant expansion of the Accredited Sponsors programme.  Under the Accredited Sponsors programme, approved businesses are able to have skilled visa applications processed more quickly.  This programme is only available to well established businesses with an unblemished record in their involvement in immigration applications.

The expansion of the Accredited Sponsors programme has enabled many businesses to get their applications processed more quickly. 
When I announced the expansion of the programme in March, there were just over 1,400 businesses with accredited sponsorship.  Today, there are around 2,300 – an increase of more than 60%.

The expansion of the scheme, and other operational improvements, has led to a significant reduction in average business visa processing times for the vast majority of applicants. 

The comparison between processing times for Temporary Skills Shortage visas between the last quarter of calendar 2018 and the June quarter this year is striking. 

The time taken for a business to have its nomination processed has declined by about 76%, from 31 days to 7 days.  The number of processing days for an applicant’s substantive visa on the two-year skilled programme has declined from about 46 days to 33 days.  And the processing time for four year visa applications has declined from about 37 days to 28 days.

These are significant improvements which make a practical difference for Australian businesses.  Without compromising on probity or integrity measures, we have materially reduced processing times, to the benefit of the Australian economy.  Processing efficiency in business visas will remain a key focus.

We will also maintain a sharp focus on our international student programme, the largest driver of temporary migration to Australia.

Let’s be clear: international education is extremely good for Australia.  It’s a $35B export industry, which employs more than 200,000 Australians.  It is one of our largest export markets, behind only iron ore, coal and natural gas.  To put that $35B in perspective, last year our total wheat exports were worth $4B a year, our total beef exports were worth $8.5B.

It goes without saying that the integrity of our educational standards is fundamental to our success in this area, and Education Minister Dan Tehan is working to ensure that those high standards are always maintained.  

The education sector supports high skill, high wage jobs – the exact kind of jobs we want to develop.  International education must remain a key feature of our immigration system.

Now focus isn’t just about the people we seek to attract to Australia – it’s also about where they go once they get here.

It’s a notable fact that our immigration system has historically had a strong view on how many people should come to Australia in a given year, but very little view on where they should go.

We know that Sydney and Melbourne have experienced strong population growth in recent years, leading to pressure on infrastructure.  And we know that a disproportionate amount of migrants have tended to settle in those two major cities.

And we also know that, elsewhere in Australia, people are crying out for more skilled immigration.  South Australia is an example, as is Tasmania.  There are around 60,000 job opportunities in regional Australia, where locals are not available to fill the roles.  We want to attract migrants to the regions, to help those towns to grow.

So for the 2019/20 year, we are allocating 23,000 places for regional migration within two new visa categories focused on regional Australia. These visas require people to live and work in regional Australia for three years in order to obtain permanent residency.  By linking regional living to permanent residency, we will ensure that people commit to the areas outside of our main capitals.    And we will take population pressure off Sydney and Melbourne.

As part of our focused approach, we’ve also taken other steps to encourage people to migrate to regional Australia.

Over the past year, I closed seven Designated Area Migration Agreements, or DAMAs, with locations around Australia.  DAMAs are about identifying skills gaps in specific regions, and working with those regions to fill those gaps where Australian workers are not available.

We’ve signed DAMAs with:

  • Northern Territory
  • Great South Coast in Victoria
  • Cairns
  • Orana in Central West NSW; and
  • Kalgoorlie
  • Along with two in South Australia.

These regional deals will help to fill persistent skills shortages in the areas that need it most.  I expect that we will conclude more DAMAs with specific regions in the coming months.

As part of our regional focus, we also want to attract more international students to choose areas outside of the capital cities.  To this end, we are offering an additional year on the post graduate study visa to students who live and work in regional Australia. 

And finally, we’ve created incentives for Working Holiday Makers to work in regional Australia by providing an additional year on their visa if they commit to an area outside of the big cities. 

We’ve also increased the number of places in the Working Holiday Maker programme, so that more young people on a path to tertiary qualifications can experience Australia – and experience Australia for longer if they work in the regions.

Our immigration system is sovereign, and it is highly focused.  But we must also ensure that we always have a system that is fair.


Now “fair” in this context should not be confused with the faux “fairness” narrative that sometimes gets imposed on Australian political debate.  “Fair” doesn’t mean spending more money, or empowering people who seek to abuse the immigration system.  Fair means that our system is consistent, and respectful of both people who play by the rules, and our nation’s values.

There are millions of Australians who have migrated to our nation through the legislated migration programme, and we need to be fair to them by upholding high standards in our system.

I’ve spent most of my life living in multicultural areas.  For me, “multiculturalism” isn’t some abstract public policy idea – it’s just who we are.

It’s the story of the countless Australians who have committed to this nation and made it stronger.  People who have made great sacrifices, and created more opportunities for the next generation of their families.

Multicultural Australia has never waited around for Government to come up with all the answers – it has just got on with it.  Our multicultural communities are characterised by a culture of growth, not of grievance.  Growth in freedom, growth in choices, growth in opportunity.

Our multicultural society has made us immeasurably stronger.  Amidst all that diversity, we’ve found a way to forge a common and unique Australian identity.  Governments can claim credit for some of that.  But at a deeper level, we’ve all found a way to get along, and to acknowledge certain things as self-evident.

We back people who do the right thing by Australia, regardless of their cultural background, race or religion.

We want to support people who are doing the right thing and striving to overcome hardship.

What matters in Australia is your conduct, not where you come from.

Our humanitarian programme is one of the most generous in the world, and it reflects those values.

We are one of only a few countries in the world that specifically supports the resettlement of women at risk of victimisation, harassment or serious abuse because of their gender.

The awful truth is that although women are rarely the perpetrators of ethnic or religious violence, they are almost always its victims. 
Our Women at Risk programme provides a haven in Australia for women who are fleeing some of the world’s most unspeakable crimes. 

This year, I am increasing the Women at Risk programme to 20% of our humanitarian intake, its highest ever level.  And I have set a target for 60% of our overall humanitarian programme to be filled by women, who in many cases will also be caring for children. 

In recent years, we’ve also been able to resettle more than 4,000 Yazidis, mostly women, children and families who have faced significant trauma, including sexual slavery and physical abuse by ISIS.

Because we once again control our humanitarian programme, we are able to make more choices about its operation.  This year, I will be placing a new focus on evolving humanitarian issues around the world, such as those we are seeing in parts of Central and South America.  

It’s also fair that we give Australian families the ability to reunite with parents overseas.  But we have to do it in a way which is equally fair to Australian taxpayers. 

On July 1, we introduced a new visa, which will enable parents to come to Australia for a period of up to five years, with the possibility of renewal for a further five years. 

We’ve already seen visas issued to parents from South Africa, Venezuela, India and several other countries under this important new programme.  Families are required to underwrite the health care and other costs of the parent, ensuring a fair deal not only for the families themselves but also for the community more generally.

Australia is the best country in the world.  We know it in our hearts, and it just so happens that the facts support our belief.  People want to come here because of what we, together, have built.

Our commitment to democratic and economic freedom is unquestionably the anchor of our success.  But it’s also true that, inspired by those freedoms, migrants have added enormously to our strength. 

Immigration and modern Australia are indivisible – except for indigenous Australians, we are all immigrants.  All that varies is the time frame. 

Under the Morrison Government, we will run an immigration policy that is sovereign, focused, and fair. 

Sovereign, to ensure that Australia controls its own destiny.  Focused, to ensure that we make intelligent, mature policy decisions based on our national interest.  And fair, so that we honour our values, and the Australians who live by them - now and in the future.

It’s an immense privilege to be Australia’s Immigration Minister.

Thank you again Gerard, and thank you to the Sydney Institute for inviting me along tonight.