3AW Radio Interview: Drive: Immigration, JobKeeper



SUBJECTS: Immigration, Jobkeeper 

TOM ELLIOT HOST: Okay, let’s go back to immigration. Now there’s been a strong debate about what role immigration could play post pandemic. The Greens have been silent on the issue. The government has said, well, we should put workers first. Interestingly and Kristina Keneally who is a Labor MP also said we should cut back on immigration and prioritise Australian workers. Our next guest thinks something different. He’s the Federal Labor member for Wills right here in Melbourne. Peter Khalil good afternoon.  

PETER KHALIL MP: G’day Tom, how are you going?  

HOST: Yeah. Good. Thank you. Now, I read your piece with great interest, but for those people who haven’t read it, just explain for us in a nutshell, what you think we should do with immigration post the pandemic when borders reopen.  

KHALIL: I think we have to have the debate about immigration, an open debate because it’s actually critical for the success of our economic recovery post the pandemic. It’s a debate that has to be had because it’s critical for our future as a nation. My argument in the op-ed in the Herald Sun was really to say that we should have a strong, permanent skilled migration program, because those migrants actually create jobs. When they come to the country, they set up businesses, they’re here for the long term, they spend their money in retail, they spend their money in other sectors in the economy, they’re actually good for the economy and I think they will be critical for economic recovery. Whereas temporary migrants, temporary workers are only really supposed to fill skill shortages, temporarily.  

However what’s happened, we’ve seen over the last seven years under the government where there’s been an increase in temporary visas and a reduction in permanent skilled migrants. Now, my parents came to this country as permanent migrants. They become new Australians as have millions of Australians, and they’ve set up and they’ve made an enormous contribution this country.  So my argument is that we should be calling this out. We should be increasing permanent, skilled migrants and reducing the temporary visas. They still have a role Tom, they can fill shortages, but there are so many unemployed Australians now because of COVID-19. They need to be upskilled, trained, education provided to fill jobs and whatever shortage is left over, you can use that with a temporary migration program. Unfortunately, that temporary visa number is way higher than the permanent number.  

HOST: Okay. But I mean we’ve got the situation of fruit picking, for example, where locals don’t want to go and do the hard work of picking fruit off trees up around Shepparton. So they bring in whole teams of people from villages in the South Pacific. So is that okay?  

KHALIL: Well, as I said, if there are skill shortages then fine, we need to use it.  

HOST: Well, that’s not a skill shortage. That’s an effort shortage, Australians just don’t want to do the job.  

KHALIL: Well, that’s a cultural question, isn’t it? Like our world’s going to be different. Are we going to become more resilient as a nation? I mean, I’d get lots of odd jobs, did any part-time job, on a on a building site, I was a cleaner, I did lots of different things, worked at a servo on night shift. You learn the value of a dollar. So, I mean, I think we’re entering a period of time in the future where, you know, I think a lot of unemployed Australians are going to have a different view about this. They’ll do whatever it takes to get a job. 

HOST: Well that’s a very interesting point because there’s a lot of people out there who are getting Jobkeeper, who’ve actually had a pay rise and refusing to go to work. Cause they’re saying, Oh, well, the federal government’s paying my wage, why should I actually bother to do anything? We have double the dole as well. I don’t know how long that’ll last for, but I mean, what you’re saying is that we’ll go back to a, sort of a depression era where people will absolutely chase work because they feel that they need it. But my concern is that since we’ve increased welfare so much that it might act actually is a disincentive for people to work.  

KHALIL: I kind of agree with you on that. I’ve been critical about elements of the Jobkeeper. For example where you’ve got a single mum, who’s a casual worker, trying to put food on the table for her kids and she, you know, she doesn’t qualify for Jobkeeper cause she’s only worked at the employer for 11 months and you need a 12 months and then you’ve got a uni student who’s a part time worker does a couple of hours a week and is suddenly getting paid 10, 15 times what they were getting paid previously. So there’s a lot of discrepancy there. On your point about Jobseeker, there’s a big question about when it cuts off and the reduction, the government’s talking about this being a six month program, but there’s a massive number of unemployed Australians. And the real question is whether we’re going to find employment for all these Australians post the pandemic.  

HOST: Well, it is a big point. Now can i just ask you about Kristina Keneally. I tried to interview her a couple of weeks ago, but she didn’t want to come on. Now she seems to be a little bit at odds with what you’re saying. She says we should prioritise Australian workers first and not bring in more skilled competitors. Is there, is there a debate about this going on in the Labor party right now?  

KHALIL: Well, I don’t think we’re at odds at all actually, because I talk about Australian jobs for Australians as well. And when I talk about Australian jobs for Australians, I’m talking about jobs for Greek Australians and Italian Australians and Vietnamese Australians, and so on. It’s not a race question; her piece got misinterpreted on that basis and distorted. She’s talking about prioritising training and skills and education for Australian so that they can actually fill the positions that are there, use the temporary migration program to fill whatever skill shortages are leftover. I’m also adding to the debate now saying we should really obviously be looking at increasing the permanent skilled migration because they don’t compete for jobs, they actually create jobs. When migrants come here, and they’re coming here to become a new Aussie, they set up businesses.  

And what do businesses do Tom? They hire people, right? So they’re actually creating jobs. They’re buying property, they’re spending in the economy and that actually creates jobs. And I think it’s actually critical for our economic recovery that we get the composition of our migration program, right in the coming years. My criticism of the coalition government is Scott Morrison is wanting to have it both ways. Both as Prime Minister and as Immigration Minister. He has increased temporary visas and temporary migrants and got the benefit out of economic growth that comes from those migrants. But at the same time, is telling everyone “Oh look at me, I’ve reduced permanent migration, I’m congestion busting”,  it’s a bit of a scam mate because he’s dropped it down by 10,000, you know what there is over two million people on temporary work visas and 87% of them are based in Sydney and Melbourne. So he hasn’t really touched congestion at all. 

HOST: Well, he sort of has, cause right now there’s not too many cars on the road and not really too many kids in school, but I take your point. Thank you for your time. Peter is the Federal Labor member for Will’s.