Speech by Senator the Hon Concetta Fierravanti-Wells

Sustainable Migration for the Future – Costs, Benefits or Somewhere in Between

Location: Migration Update Conference, Adelaide Convention Centre

E & OE

Can I start by also adding my acknowledgement to the traditional owners. Can I also acknowledge the Honourable Zowie Bettison, Lynn Arnold, Bill Cossey, Grace Portolesi, academic contributors, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

I am delighted this morning to represent the Minister for Social Services, the Hon Kevin Andrews MP to address this important conference.

The Minister has asked me to pass on his apologies and extend his best wishes for a successful conference.

As Parliamentary Secretary with special responsibility for Multicultural Affairs and Settlement Services I welcome today’s initiative to explore the question of sustainable migration for the future.

I recognise and appreciate the highly valuable work that all of you in this room do.

For 25 years prior to becoming a Senator, I was actively involved in a wide range of community activities and since 2005 given my various portfolio activities, I have continued this involvement across the broader community. And I have seen that community organisations and the wider settlement and multicultural affairs sector are filled with dedicated, hard-working people who want to help others and make a real difference in this area.

The success of Australian Multiculturalism arises very much from the commitment to the common elements that unite us, combined with a respect and understanding of our social, cultural and religious differences.

The Australian Government is fully committed to this policy and that commitment was reiterated by the Prime Minister in his address to the National Press Club last night.

Sustainable migration is vital to our national interests and has been an important part of the Australian story since the end of World War Two.

Back then it was viewed that we needed to embark on one of the most ambitious nation building projects ever seen. We needed to “populate or perish”. And some 70 years later, we’ve succeeded in implementing decades of growth, change and the redefinition of ourselves as a modern nation.

Over these decades successive governments have made decisions about the migration programme, always keeping in mind that it needs to not only help build Australia, but be sustainable.

In that time some seven and a half million people have arrived here, including 800,000 humanitarian entrants.

Today, one in four of our 23 million people were born outside Australia and 45% of Australians, almost half of us, were born overseas or have at least one parent who was.

The post-war immigration programme has benefited our lives in many ways and these changes have enhanced our economic, social and culture fabric and have enriched us as a nation.

My own story and that of my family is part of this greater narrative. My parents were migrants from Italy who came here to forge a better life for themselves and for their children.

I understand the challenges facing new arrivals as they settle here and build new lives. I also know about the wealth and potential migrants represent in terms of Australia’s future.

To date, we’ve succeeded in one of the most ambitious nation building programmes the world has ever seen. We’ve reached this point largely through planned migration.

Now we are faced with the challenges of an ageing population and our future needs. We must ensure that we do all we can to meet the nation’s needs in a sustainable way.

Both temporary and permanent skilled migration programmes must be robust and must ensure that business is protected from labour and skills shortages and the economy continues to grow.

Employer sponsorship is a significant feature of our temporary and permanent skilled migration programmes and we must continue to ensure they focus on real vacancies in the labour market that cannot be filled locally.

In the permanent programme, employer sponsored migration, including regional sponsored skilled migration, will continue to be given the highest processing priority.

Our permanent programme also includes an independent stream that focuses on individuals with specialised skills who will help build Australia’s human capital for the future.

The Australian Government considers the permanent migration intake annually, making adjustments to the numbers and categories of migrants accepted by Australia.

These adjustments are informed by economic modelling, international research, net overseas migration, community consultations and the most up-to-date economic and labour force forecasts.

Under this programme, in 2014-15, 190,000 people will become permanent residents of Australia. Skilled migration will account for around two-thirds of the programme.

It is designed to meet our economic and social needs and the total programme places are broken down into planning levels for each stream of programme and visa category.

In 2013-14 the 190,000 places covered:

  • 128,550 places for skilled migrants
  • 60,885 places for family migrants
  • 565 places for special eligibility migrants.

The skill stream comprises around 68 per cent of the programme, while the family stream comprises 32 per cent.

In addition to the permanent programme, temporary migration is a significant feature of modern Australia. At any time there are more than a million temporary visa holders in Australia (excluding New Zealand citizens).

Like permanent migrants, these temporary visa holders make a significant contribution to our country: whether it is supporting major industries like tourism and international education, facilitating trade or filling skilled or seasonal vacancies in the labour market.

Some of these temporary arrivals, like international students and temporary workers, are likely to stay for longer and some will undoubtedly seek to become permanent citizens and residents in future years.

This all needs to take place in a balanced way.

Where demand for places in the Migration Programme exceeds the number of places available, there are a number of mechanisms available to ensure the number of visas granted is in line with the annual planning level.

One of the Government’s main goals for migrants, including humanitarian entrants, is to have new arrivals reach self-sufficiency and full community participation at the earliest point.

We have a focus on English language skills, education and employment and view these as necessary ingredients to ensure people can not only participate in, but to contribute to our society.

Many who come to Australia under the Migration Programme speak English, are job ready and keen to participate to further education.

However, where this is not so much the case, for example for our refugee and humanitarian entrants, the Department of Social Services offers a range of support to help equip eligible migrants with the requisite skills, knowledge and education as they strive to build new lives in Australia.

The transfer of settlement and multicultural programmes to the Department of Social Services gives an excellent opportunity to connect early settlement support with other mainstream programmes.

These include English tuition, and advice and assistance with many aspects of community life, such as employment, the law, healthcare and education.

It is vitally important that the Government maximises the benefit of every place in the migration program.

While I have given figures for the current migrant intake, immigration to Australia is not just about numbers. The composition of our intake matters in terms of meeting our challenges, building the future and achieving the best economic and labour force outcomes from each place.

Since World War Two, we have proven that balanced and sustainable migration can be used as a successful tool in building our nation and preparing for the future.

We have built one of the most cohesive societies on Earth.

And to ensure that Australia continues to reap the benefits of immigration, we must be alert to maintain the integrity and purpose of our migration programme. This programme cannot be successful without the support of the Australian people. Programme integrity is an essential part of earning that support.

This will ensure that migration delivers social and economic strength, prosperity and unity and continues to contribute to a thriving and cohesive economy.

I am very proud that Australia is a world leader in the provision of settlement services.

Our approach recognises the important support that settlement services provide to newly arrived migrants and refugees as they adjust to a new life in Australia and start making valuable contributions to our economic, social and cultural development.

Our settlement programmes are an important element of the Government’s vision of a society in which all Australians are valued and have the opportunity to fully participate.

Learning English, having a secure job and gaining a quality education are critical to migrant contribution to and participation in all aspects of Australian society. I have called this the 3 Es.

We need to recognise and capitalise on the productive diversity of Australia’s Multiculturalism. Our diversity brings economic and social benefits for all Australians and is a big part of what makes our nation strong and prosperous.

Recent research, linking the 2011 Census with the Department of Social Services’ Settlement Database, shows good employment outcomes for migrants in the labour force, with 91.7% almost 92%, employed.

This research also demonstrates the importance of the English language with higher unemployment rates for those not proficient in spoken English.

Findings from the Building a New Life in Australia longitudinal study indicate that newly arrived humanitarian migrants have high rates of engagement in English language classes and other types of study.

These trends are very encouraging.

We must continue along this path to ensure that the next 70 years ensure greater prosperity for all and security against the challenges our nation will face.

Migration has been a key part of our history and will continue to be an important part of our future.

Thank you.