Skilled Migration Interim Report Speech

Federation Chamber 23/03/2021

Mr KHALIL (Wills) (17:34): The priority of any federal government, any Australian government, should always be the Australian people. We as parliamentarians are elected to serve the Australian people and are elected by the Australian people to do so. Every decision that this parliament makes should have the Australian people at its centre. That’s why I’m slightly embarrassed to be standing here speaking on the recommendations of the Joint Standing Committee on Migration’s interim report into Australia’s skilled migration program, which fail to put the Australian people first.

There are still two million Australians either unemployed and looking for work or underemployed and looking for more work, and this figure is only set to rise at the end of the month when the government ends JobKeeper. Despite this, we have this report which recommends a new migration plan that would prioritise foreign workers over Australians for jobs like hairdressers, carpenters, electricians, seafarers, cooks, motor mechanics and many more. These recommendations do not put Australians first. This will undermine the ability of Australians to get jobs by making it easier for businesses to bring in migrant workers. And the report recommends that the government weaken labour market testing and expand the number of occupations on the skills shortage list to include chefs, veterinarians, cafe managers, seafarers, motor mechanics, cooks, carpenters, electricians and many other hospitality roles, with no consideration of what this means for Australians looking for jobs now.

These recommendations also see the scarce quarantine spots and scarce spots on flights to Australia go to some of these migrant temporary workers. This is when there are still 40,000 Aussies stuck overseas trying to get home. In September, the Prime Minister promised stranded Australians that he would get them home by Christmas. That didn’t happen. It’s March and we’re still waiting. And now government MPs on this joint standing committee on migration think that it’s a great idea to start filling up those all-too-rare spots on flights and in quarantine with foreign temporary workers. It makes no sense. For the government to end JobKeeper and increase JobSeeker by a mere $3.57 per day and now place businesses and foreign temporary workers ahead of unemployed Australians and Australians stuck overseas—all in the same month—is really an insult.

The issue here is what we have as a vision for this country, with respect to our immigration program. As a son of migrants, the immigration debate does not offend me, and here’s why. I’m an Australian. I’m very proud to be an Australian. My parents came from Egypt 50 years ago to settle in this country. I think we have to have the debate about immigration and migration to ensure our best economic, social and cultural future. Prime Minister Morrison’s contribution to this debate is to make a virtue of reducing permanent migration. He stated back in 2019, before the pandemic:

… we brought the permanent migration rate down to its lowest level in a decade by focusing on the integrity of the visa system and prioritising Australians for Australian jobs.

That’s what the Prime Minister said in late 2019. I have a message for the Prime Minister: when I talk about Australian jobs, it’s about Australian citizens. I’m talking about people with Greek, Chinese, Vietnamese, African, Latin American, Lebanese, Italian, Irish and Indian backgrounds, and new Australians from every part of the world. That’s who we are as Australians. We’ve come from everywhere. That’s part of our permanent migration program. We’ve settled here, we’ve made a life here and we’ve contributed. When I talk about jobs for Australians, that’s what I’m talking about. Permanent migration has actually made us one of the most economically prosperous and successful multicultural nations in the world. The way the Prime Minister put it, he was proud to declare that he’d reduced permanent migration, as if this were a good thing. And here’s the rub: not only was he talking up the reduction in permanent migration as a virtue; while he was doing that, what was really actually happening under his watch, both as immigration minister and later as Prime Minister, was an increase to the numbers of temporary migrant workers into this country.

We, as a nation, have a history of welcoming migrants to this country, asking them to join us not just temporarily but as new Australian citizens. Like I said, immigrants like my parents from Egypt and millions of other Australians have been central to our cultural life, our social life and our economic prosperity. When our borders do reopen, I know, and my colleagues on my side of politics know, that we must repeat this success—the success that we saw, in particular, post World War II—and renew our commitment to increasing permanent migration post COVID-19. And this migration program must continue to reflect the principle that our acceptance of migrants is not based on their ethnicity, their faith, their place of birth or their gender. Of course, with that principle come proper stringent health checks, security vetting and so on that migrants need to meet to ensure that they can come into the country.

I want to make a point about the temporary migration that I touched on. It’s a stopgap. It’s there to fill skills shortages. It’s important to keep our economy ticking over—absolutely. When you’ve got shortages, you need those workers if you can’t fill them with Australians to do those jobs, but there are also a lot of problems, and we’ve seen this: wage theft, breaches of workplace rights and poor conditions for these temporary workers. That needs to be addressed. There was a 2019 report which suggested that as many as 50 per cent of temporary migrant workers may be underpaid in their employment. For eight long years, this coalition government has moved by stealth to what we would know in some parts of the world as a guest-worker model. The rise in the number of temporary work visas has been astounding. There are, I think, two million temporary work visas, mainly in Sydney and Melbourne. That puts a lie to the Prime Minister talking about congestion-busting when he reduces permanent migration. All the while, he’s increased the number of temporary migrants that have created some of the pressures in the housing market or in other parts of our economy. For eight years, this government has moved to this model while dropping the permanent migration numbers. This government is breaking the immigration model at the heart of our success as a nation post World War 2.

We are only going to succeed post COVID in our economic recovery if we get the migrant composition right. If we go back to the model where we are really serious about permanent migration, skilled migration, people will want to come to this country and give everything of themselves to their new country—to settle here, not to be here for a couple of years or send money away and then go again—and become Australians. That’s what we want to see. That’s what will help us succeed in the post-COVID-19 economic recovery phase. Our future as a nation depends on us getting this policy right.