Parliamentary speeches

Joint Standing Committee on Migration - Report

March 23, 2021

I'm very pleased to have the opportunity to make a few brief comments on this interim report of the Joint Standing Committee on Migration. My comments will highlight why it's significant that this is an interim report, because, frankly, the government members of this committee need to do better. I just want to take a bit of time to explain why this is so and why it matters so much to all of us but particularly to Australia's reconstruction, as my friend the member for Dunkley was just touching upon—an issue dear to all of us on this side of the House, an issue in which respect of which members opposite seem all too often to be oblivious.

I think our starting point should be this. Modern Australia is a nation that has been built on migration. The multiculturalism that has come through successive waves of migration is, I believe, our greatest achievement. It has brought us enormous economic benefit together with great social and cultural benefits. This is something has got to be at the heart of any Australian government worth its salt. Those of us who are in this place right now have an opportunity and an obligation to do something that hasn't been done for 70 years, and that is to restart a migration program. The work of this committee should shape that conversation, but frankly the majority recommendations would actually take us back. I urge government members to spend a bit of time looking at the work of my Labor colleagues and the recommendations that they have put as an alternative framework, because these set down some markers that the government should have regard to.

Before going to those recommendations, there are a couple of contextual remarks that need to be made. Firstly, when we're talking about temporary migration, we can't ignore the attitude of this government at the start of the pandemic, when it simply abandoned so many people in this country, at a great cost to them and a great cost to all of us. We remember the rhetoric about 'going home' and the harm that did—the harm to individuals, the harm to our community, the economic harm that will endure long after those words were spoken. What we see here is a failure to grapple with that. It's also a failure to grapple with this government's inability to do one of its most fundamental jobs, which is to look after Australian citizens, to honour the promise the government made to our people. Forty thousand remain overseas, shamefully, despite the promise of the Prime Minister last September that everyone would be home by Christmas. We wonder which Christmas he was referring to when we see the recommendation that places that should be set aside for them should instead be allocated otherwise. What an absurd remark. What an absurd recommendation, which should be reconsidered.

What also should be reconsidered is this lazy, reflexive attitude to policymaking. The member for Dunkley very effectively set out the skills challenge that should be part of any government. We shouldn't simply be relying on turning on and off taps in other areas of our policymaking arsenal to deal with the skills challenge—and the secure jobs challenge, which also should be at the heart of this government's work. There are so many elements of the majority report that I am concerned with. I urge government members to take great advantage of the fact that this is an interim report, to look at the work of my Labor colleagues on this, to engage with communities, with unions and with businesses and to think about the first principles that should inform a decent immigration policy that values immigration, as we do on this side of the House, and that recognises every dimension of our national interest.