Thursday, 28 September 2017

Address to the Policy Exchange, London, United Kingdom


In recent years, migration has regained prominence in our respective countries.  It was a major theme of the past three Australian elections, as it was in your referendum on Brexit and certainly as it was in the presidential election in the United States last year.

This has not been unique to the English speaking world either, as evidenced by the rise of populist anti-migration parties in Europe, most recently in Germany only last weekend. 

Even in South-East Asia, popular concern about migration has been a feature in national politics.

A key driver for this prominence is the very high level of irregular migration across the world today. 

The United Nations estimates some 65 million people are displaced worldwide, roughly a third of whom are fleeing persecution. 

The emergence of a lucrative, profit-oriented, people smuggling trade has boosted the scale of today’s irregular mass movements.

Countless individuals – most economic migrants – have intentionally circumvented immigration controls, moving between and through nations in an uncontrolled manner.

Between January 2014 and March this year, some 3.2 million people arrived irregularly into Europe alone, testing national border controls and public tolerance. 
Most tragically, on average 10 men, women and children have died every day since the emergency began in mid-2013 – some 15,000 people in total.

This mass irregular migration has coincided with broader public anxiety about legal migration, weak economic growth, disruption from transformative technology and global markets and security concerns sharpened by the graphic evil of ISIL.

It is worth noting that in the Australian context, support for migration actually remains relatively strong and indeed has strengthened over recent years. 

The Australian Scanlon Foundation’s 2016 survey demonstrated broad support for migration of 59 per cent and even higher for skilled and family reunion migration.

I think there are three basic explanations for Australia’s situation. 

The first is that migration is intrinsic to our national identity as much as it is to our economic fortune and is widely seen as such.

Secondly, that public support cannot be taken for granted.  Secure borders are fundamental to a well-managed and truly compassionate migration programme that is capable of securing public backing. 

And thirdly, migration policy cannot be set and forget; it must be constantly adjusted.  Australian Governments – if not of course all Governments – have a duty to ensure that migration works first and foremost for its citizens, not just the migrants themselves.

So let me begin with a few words about Australia’s migration programme.

It is arguable that Australia’s first effort at a managed migration programme began a little over 230 years ago when the First Fleet of eleven ships departed Portsmouth carrying some 1300 convicts, marines and crew to Australia.

For most of its first 100 years or so, Australia was a British-bred outpost, with the gold-rush induced Chinese migration of the mid-nineteenth century a notable exception.   

Indeed by Federation in 1901, 78 per cent of the young nation still hailed from these shores.

Even as the father of our Federation, Sir Henry Parkes, sought a nation ‘to master our own destinies and to win our own position in the world…’ he also wished ‘to remain side by side with that dear old England that we all love so well.’

And indeed, UK-born residents remained Australia’s largest such group until continental-born Europeans brought to Australia in the post-war period surpassed them around 1961.

Our post-war migration programme is lauded today as the start of a modern diverse society. 

In the past seven decades, around seven million people have migrated to Australia. Bearing in mind our total population today is just 24 million.

But we should remember that the programme was in fact a carefully targeted one, established against the backdrop of the Second World War when the relentless advance of Imperial Japan threatened our nation’s very existence. 

Post-war migration had a clear purpose – to build our population to give Australia strategic weight in a region beset by post-colonial instability and communist threat.
The programme was also discerning. 

Governments of the day deliberately sought out those who were young, skilled and physically strong.  Officials were even instructed to seek out the ‘attractive’. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions about the success of that policy.

By 1971, one in three Australians was a post-war migrant or the child of one and mostly European, but from 1966 Australia’s migration programme was already expanding its geographic scope.

Today, Australia is a truly migrant nation. One in four was born overseas and nearly one in two has a parent who was born overseas.

Our major source countries for permanent migration as you would expect are now India and China, which combined represent three times the number of UK citizens who migrated to Australia in 2016-17.

At the same time, centre-right Coalition Governments have moved to ensure that the migration programme focuses squarely on serving the national interest.

In 1996, the Howard Government’s deliberate recalibration of the programme towards supporting both temporary and permanent skilled migration helped to fill skills gaps and enable our economy to grow faster than it might have otherwise.

Today, around two thirds of Australia’s annual planning ceiling of 190,000 permanent places is filled by skilled migrants.

Properly managed and well-targeted skilled migration expands opportunities, improves living standards, increases productivity and helps our country to reduce the budget deficit.

Skilled migration makes Australia more internationally competitive and has helped our nation achieve more than 20 years of uninterrupted economic growth.

The Migration Council of Australia estimates migration will add $1.6 trillion to Australia’s GDP and 16 per cent to workforce participation by 2050.

Temporary migration is also increasingly important: more than 560,000 foreign students have helped make education our third most important export, worth nearly $22 billion in 2016 alone.

There’s small wonder then that Australians continue to support migration that is well-managed.  But in recent years, their support has been tested by failed border security policies.

A strong border is vital for any country seeking to maintain national sovereignty and integrity in migration. Border control is the means by which we choose who and what enters our country, which in turn impacts our society, our security and our prosperity.

Although Australia does not share a land border with any nation, we face challenges in maintaining our sea borders, offshore jurisdictions and exclusive economic zones.

We are the largest nation in the world to be surrounded by water; our coastline – including our islands – measures just under 60,000 kilometres.

Our continent is immense, yet our relatively small population is concentrated in cities and towns on the East Coast.

Our nearest neighbour Papua New Guinea lies just a few kilometres north of Australian territory, yet most people smuggling ventures come from much further away, making them difficult to find, interdict and turn-back. 

Still, hard-learned lessons of our recent past have placed Australia well to deal with today’s tough international environment.

Prime Minister John Howard’s strong border protection measures had reduced the total number of illegal boats to 16 during his last five years in office.

Yet following his departure in 2007, a series of naïve policy errors by successive Labor Governments resulted in Australia being heavily targeted by people smuggling cartels.

The Rudd Government’s decision to dismantle Prime Minister Howard’s border protection measures was framed at the time as a compassionate one. There was nothing compassionate about the human misery that followed.

Indeed between 2008 and 2013, some 50,000 people arrived illegally into our country on more than 800 boats. 

In comparison, at the height of the Indo-China crisis of the 1970s, some 2000 people arrived on 56 boats over a similar period (1976-1981).

Between 2008 and 2013 – and this is the most tragic part – at least 1200 men, women and children tragically lost their lives attempting the journey. The horrific scenes playing out in the Mediterranean were occurring off the coast of northern Australia with Australian personnel regularly pulling bodies from the water.

The then Government opened 17 immigration detention centres to process the huge influx. More than 8000 children entered detention, peaking at almost 2000 at one time in July 2013.

The loss of sovereignty and the humanitarian disaster that flowed from mistakes at the border resulted in a collapse of public confidence in migration. It was also very much a major contributing factor to the change of government in 2013.

The Coalition was elected, at least in part, on a platform of taking back control of Australia’s migration programme from the people smugglers. It has now been more than three years since the last successful people smuggling venture. But most importantly, the deaths at sea have stopped and all children have been removed from detention and the 17 detention centres have closed.

This outcome was achieved through the resolute implementation of strong border protection measures and the stand-up of Operation Sovereign Borders.

Operation Sovereign Borders, also known as OSB, is a military-led border security operation supported and assisted by a wide range of federal government agencies.

A key component of OSB has been the turning back of people smuggling ventures where it is safe to do so. Since commencing this policy, we’ve safely returned 31 ventures carrying 771 people and not one person has died.

The policy of turn-backs as you are well aware is not without its critics, but it has saved lives. If we had allowed these boats through, many more would have followed and the deaths would have recommenced.

Turn-backs show why governments must approach border protection in a clear-eyed, rational way. But we can’t forget the terrible costs of misguided compassion.

Australia has also used policy to deprive people smugglers of a product to sell to vulnerable people. We made it firm policy that anyone who arrives illegally by boat will never settle permanently in our country.

Temporary Protection Visas and offshore processing send a clear message that there is no point risking your life on a dangerous journey to our country.

The reality is that it is working. At the height of the crisis, passengers were paying up to $20,000 to get to Australia. The success of OSB saw the price fall quickly to as little as $1000.  But even then, most – but not all – are unwilling to believe the people smugglers’ lies. 

For this reason, we maintain as part of our Operation Sovereign Borders strategy a strategic communications effort targeting potential clients in source and transit countries with facts about the perils of an illegal boat journey to Australia.

We provide significant financial support – indeed also $53 million this financial year – to the work of the International Organization for Migration in Indonesia and other non-government entities where some 14,000 potential illegal migrants are waiting for the first sign of a policy shift. 

More than anything, the Turnbull Government knows it cannot waiver on policy; we know that a strong border is vital – and not just for our security. A strong border has also positioned Australia to act as a compassionate, generous and responsible global citizen and remain one of the top three resettlement nations.

Strong borders delivered the public confidence necessary for a one-off additional refugee intake of 12,000 persecuted minorities displaced by conflict in Syria and Iraq. I doubt the public would have supported the Government had we continued to face daily boat arrivals.

The Government has just delivered the largest offshore humanitarian programme since 1983 at over 20,000 places.

And we have increased the 2017-18 humanitarian programme to 16,250 places and will further increase it to 18,750 places in 2018-19.

As a Government we are also introducing a new Community Support Programme to enable Australians to support genuine refugees and ease the burden on taxpayers.

By taking refugees from camps and conflict zones – but in a manner which is tightly controlled rather than incentivising dangerous sea journeys – Australia is acting in the most compassionate and fair manner possible.

In restoring the security and integrity of the border we have also restored integrity and confidence in our overall migration programme.

Which brings me to the third point I wish to make about Australia’s experience: that a well-managed migration programme is one that adjusts to ensure it continues to serve the interests of Australians.

Australia’s Productivity Commission expects migration to add another 13 million people to our population by 2060.

While the Commission sees a demographic and economic dividend, it advises the gains will depend on having a system that attracts younger migrants who are more skilled. And it advises that we need to get our social, economic, environmental – and I would argue at the top of that list, security – policy settings right. 

This is why the Australian Government is adjusting its migration and border policies to counter threats to Australia’s security; to meet the reasonable expectation of Australians that migrants share and uphold our values and laws; and to ensuring skilled migration serves our national interest.

Despite our relative geographic isolation, Australia is certainly not immune to threats from terrorism, organised crime and foreign espionage.

Australia has thankfully not suffered a mass casualty terror attack like those perpetrated here in this country, but we have experienced five attacks since the terror alert level was raised to ‘probable’ in September 2014.

Our agencies have thwarted a further 13 imminent attacks and more than 70 people have been arrested for terror offences.

This threat is foreign-influenced and we are alert to the opportunity of growing traveller and trade volume for terrorists and organised criminals.

In fact, last financial year Australia processed more than 40 million air and sea travellers and expects to do 20 per cent more by 2019–20. It is a similar story for cargo.

We are benefiting from an increasingly mobile and expanding middle class in our region, free trade agreements and advancements in technology and communication.

But we are also being exposed to threats we need to be able to interdict quickly, at greater distance and in a more complex border environment.

To do this we must modernise our systems through innovative migration products and delivery models, including the use of artificial intelligence, that align and underpin Australia’s economic, social and national security objectives.

While structural changes to Australia’s visa and migration arrangements are on the horizon, we are already putting in place technologies and big data analytics to help us streamline border flows for legitimate travellers and traders and focus enforcement on the small minority who seek to do us harm.

In 2016, the Government invested $100 million in a new Visa Risk Assessment capability that uses sophisticated analytical modelling of big data and recurring assessment of visa holders to identify and defeat potential threats.

We are also investing in a complementary high volume, multimodal biometric matching and analytical capability.

This capability dovetails with Australia’s investment in SmartGates which uses facial recognition technology to match biometric information stored in ePassports.

Last year, more than 16 million passengers, including children, used the SmartGates to depart the country – an average of more than 40,000 people each day.

Into the future, our goal is for biometric technology to process safely and accurately travellers through our airports without requiring them to produce a passport.

These measures will strengthen the integrity of our immigration programme, but we are also strengthening the system for those who have already arrived in Australia.

Australians by their very nature are a welcoming, tolerant and forgiving, but they rightly ask why they should welcome and tolerate a miscreant minority, even if the vast majority of migrants contribute to our nation.

The Government agrees and won Parliament’s approval to strengthen its powers to cancel the visas of serious criminals.

In the past three years alone, nearly 3000 serious criminals have had their visas cancelled, including convicted armed robbers, murderers, rapists and child sex offenders.

Two hundred and thirty years on, we have returned the favour in cancelling the visas of more than 300 UK criminals, enabling their removal back to the UK.

Similarly the Government is seeking to strengthen the institution of Australian citizenship. 

We have already revoked the citizenship of those who have obtained it by fraud or deception and enabled the revocation of the Australian citizenship of dual nationals engaged in terrorism.

We now want to strengthen the institution of citizenship by ensuring it is more than an administrative process. 

We want aspiring citizens to share in and uphold the same values that are held dear by all Australians. 

This has become increasingly important as the diversity of our country has grown and evidenced in cultural practices such as child marriage and female genital mutilation, which are completely contrary to our values.

We think it reasonable that migrants wishing to become Australian citizens have a competent level of English. 

As the Productivity Commission has itself found that English ability is a major determinant of a person’s ability to integrate successfully and prosper in what is an increasingly services-based economy.

The Government is also working to tailor our migration programme to our nation’s needs and the public’s expectations.

Earlier this year the Government announced changes to Australia’s temporary skilled migration programme. A programme intended as a complement to Australian workers, to address skills shortages or fill strategic skills needs, had ballooned under our predecessors.

Public confidence in the integrity of the programme fell as their concern about abuses in the programme rose.

So the Government has abolished the old programme and replaced it with one more sharply focused on the skills Australia needs with much tighter rules to match.

Foreign workers, including from the United Kingdom, are of course still welcome and able to be employed in Australia where there is a genuine need for their skills.

Indeed Australia’s remains committed to a migration programme that is biased towards skilled migration that meets the needs of Australia and its people.

As always, we will keep our settings under constant review, but with a ceiling of 190,000 permanent places per year. Australia’s current migration intake is high in historical terms.

Last year, a little over 183,000 permanent places were filled, with our refugee and humanitarian intake is additional to this.

Still the Government must remain flexible ensuring the ceiling fits within the expectations of the public, our capacity to deliver the infrastructure needed to support it and most importantly of all continues to provide real benefits for Australian citizens. They must be the tests.

Finally, I want to conclude with a few remarks about the bilateral relationship.

The United Kingdom remains for us an enduring partner. Both our societies have changed and evolved incredibly since that First Fleet departed for Australia in May of 1787.

But they remain underwritten by common truths – that our individual and shared interests are bettered by democracy, the rule of law, free speech and the reward of individual enterprise.

Our geography may be little closer for the passage of time, but our relationship continues to deepen.

Indeed I foresee even closer cooperation following Prime Minister Turnbull’s announcement of a new Home Affairs portfolio and as Minister-designate in that portfolio I am very proud that it will see a deepening of relationship between our two countries.

There is an incredible amount for us to learn from our respective experiences.

I want to acknowledge very much the friendship and good working relationship with Home Secretary Rudd and we met with Amber and her officials again today.

But in Australia, the United Kingdom will always find a reliable and pragmatic friend and ally, much as we find in the United Kingdom.

Long may it remain so.

Once again thank you for the invitation to speak this evening.