Monday, 19 September 2016

Statement at Roundtable 2 - Addressing drivers of migration, particularly large movements & highlighting the positive contributions of migrants - UN General Assembly, New York


Your Excellencies and distinguished delegates; thank you for the opportunity to speak at this roundtable and to deliver this statement on behalf of the Prime Minister.

We thank the Secretary-General for his leadership in bringing together UN Member States at this historic event.

Much has been said already about the overwhelming scale of forced displacement. Australia stands with the global community in recognising it is unacceptable, untenable, and well beyond the capacity of any one country to tackle.

We need a sustained and multifaceted effort to address the complex drivers of mass migration. We need to be strong to counter the failures of governance that drive irregular migration. We need to be compassionate in offering support and opportunity to those displaced by conflict and persecution, and to their host communities.

At a time of unprecedented challenge to the rules-based system of international migration, we must not forget the economic and cultural bounty brought by the movement of people between our countries.

Australia is a nation of 24 million people, built in part on migration from Afghan cameleers who established a transportation system across the Australian continent in the nineteenth century, to the Europeans who came to work on the farms and in the mines that enriched Australia, and to the Vietnamese refugees who transformed our suburban streetscapes, to our commitment to resettle thousands of Syrians and Iraqis – we have a long and successful history of managed migration and the promotion of lawful mobility – whether to bring needed skills to our workforce, enable families to reunite or to offer protection for those facing persecution.

Over the past seven decades, around seven million people have migrated to Australia. If immigration continues at this rate, it is projected to add another 13 million people to Australia's population by 2060.

We have first-hand experience that only orderly, safe and well-managed migration policies allow a nation to realise its full positive economic, social and cultural rewards of immigration.

Australia's recent history has seen extraordinary challenges to our sovereignty. The way in which we have responded to these challenges has been critical to maintaining the confidence of Australians in our migration policy and practices.

These policies and practices were not developed from a basis of fear – how could they be, when more than one in four Australian residents born overseas, and close to half of the population with at least one parent born elsewhere.  Immigrants and their descendants are foundational to Australia's human capital and social fabric.

The horrific images of people drowning trying to make it to our shores are etched in our national consciousness.  Perilous voyages arranged by people smugglers, criminal syndicates, motivated only by greed and trading in human misery. 

It had to stop. 

The fundamental reform of our border protection policies sent an unequivocal message that people smugglers do not offer a path to Australia. Life in Australia is not an illicit commodity to be sold to the desperate and vulnerable at a great profit.

Public confidence in migration and refugee intakes is strongest when the Australian Government provides safe pathways for those most in need, rather than unsafe pathways offered by people smugglers to those who can pay.

Australia is a world leader in investing in refugees by offering settlement services that are responsive to the needs of our culturally diverse communities and Australia's offshore humanitarian programme was the largest in 30 years last financial year and it is set to grow further.

We fulfil our promise of offering a new start in life to the persecuted who arrive under our resettlement programme, in the form of housing, language training and cultural awareness, as well as education, health and welfare.

Australia today shows the rich rewards that managed migration bestows not only on the migrant, but also on the economy and culture of the receiving community.

In spite of the ordeals they have endured, refugees arriving in Australia display strong entrepreneurial qualities compared with other migrant groups – with a higher than average proportion engaging in small and medium business enterprises. The facts also show that many humanitarian arrivals will struggle to find work and learn English, which are critical to their long term integration and welfare - hence Australia has invested heavily in world standard settlement services.

Your Excellencies, Australia's immigration policies have focused on finding a balance between population growth, nation building and economic needs, while sharing the responsibility for resettling the most vulnerable refugees.

The Australian story demonstrates how societies can benefit from safe, orderly and well managed migration.

Thank you.