Andrew Giles speech to CEDA's migration conference

Andrew Giles speech to CEDA's migration conference

Good morning, everyone. It's an absolute pleasure to be here with you.

It was a pleasure to be asked last year, but a particular pleasure always to be invited back to an event, particularly after a very quiet week in the immigration portfolio.

And I thank you and the whole team at CEDA for this kind invitation and the opportunity to engage with the people in the room and those watching and hopefully also participating online.

It was wonderful to be present for Michael’s typically thoughtful and generous Welcome to Country and I want to begin my remarks by acknowledging the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation as traditional custodians of the land upon which this conference is physically taking place today.

And I also acknowledge the custodians of the lands upon which all participants are watching the event online. I pay respects to elders, past, present and emerging and to any First Nations people participating.

When I think about immigration, I think about nation building and I think the strongest marker of that is the pathway to Australian citizenship.

And as of just over a week ago, more than six million people have chosen to become Australians since we first introduced citizenship to law in 1949.

It's important to reflect upon the dramatically different picture of what our country is and what it can be which has emerged over these decades, of a country in so many ways built by migration.

Today, well over half of Australian residents have either been born overseas or have a parent born overseas.

A wide range of languages are spoken in Australian homes and Australians practice an equally wide variety of faiths.

Recognising this is important, as is the way governments have supported the journey of settlement, the process of recent migrants becoming Australians rather than remaining as guest workers in this country.

Through this, through programmes like the AMEP and a focus on settlement and belonging, Australia has become one of the most culturally diverse nations in the world and I believe the most successful multicultural society, I'll return to this a bit later in my remarks.

Now much has happened in the 12 months since I last addressed this forum, something I felt I had a decent hunch about has been confirmed.

Good administration, by which I mean the ability to provide certainty in particular, is at the heart of a well-functioning and reform-minded immigration system.

Unfortunately, it is the case that our visa system was not well functioning for some time. The former Liberal government deprioritised and devalued the administration of immigration, and you simply can't reform your way out of a dysfunctional visa system.

Addressing the delays and uncertainty we inherited as a government were a condition to securing a migration system that is fit for purpose.

With this in mind, the Albanese government has added hundreds of additional staff to support our visa system.

This has reduced the number of visa applications waiting to be processed and it's slashed waiting times.

The number of temporary visa applications waiting to be assessed has been reduced by about 70 per cent.

Visa applications for nurses and teachers are being turned around in a matter of days instead of previously over seven weeks.

Overall, the medium processing time for a temporary skill shortage visa is 11 days, down from 50.

Under the current ministerial direction on visa processing applications in healthcare or teaching, and now given the highest priority in 2022-2023, this saw large increases in permanent skilled visas for sectors in critical shortage.

3572 places were delivered in teaching occupations, an increase from 548 the year before.

17,061 were delivered in healthcare an increase from 8195 the year before.

These are critical priorities of our government, the education of our children and securing a stronger health system for all of us.

Now I know there's much interest in the migration strategy, which I can exclusively reveal I won't be announcing today, Dr Howe, but I can talk about a number of steps the government has taken to change policy ahead of its release.

We've increased the TSMIT, or temporary skilled migration income threshold.

After almost a decade of deliberately holding down the wage threshold at under $54,000, the government has increased the TSMIT to 70,000 in July and I make no apology for doing this or doing everything I can to promote wage growth across the economy.

And last week I signed some new regulations which will be in effect later this week to end the restrictions on pathways to residency for temporary skilled visa workers,

Restricting access to residency for people who've been sponsored for the purpose of skilled work runs completely contrary to so much of what makes Australian society tick.

On that note, we've also progressed a substantial package of measures to address the exploitation of migrant workers.

Unfortunately, there is the structural exploitation of vulnerable workers in this country, and far too often it is the case that these are workers who hold temporary visas, and so we've provided more resources to enforcement, ensuring employers who do the wrong thing and mistreat workers in vulnerable positions are found and sanctioned too, because we cannot have a race to the bottom on wages and conditions in and of itself, and in terms of its impact on the social licence for the sort of migration policy that would and should, to coin a phrase, help us unlock our potential.

There is legislation currently in the Senate to create criminal penalties for exploitative behaviour and new enforcement tools to send a message to those employers who flout the law.

We've also sought to promote more broadly permanent residency and addressed the growing number of those permanently temporary in Australia.

As a marker of this, the time taken to assess citizenship applications is now halved and for the first time in over six years, there are less than 100,000 applications in the system, while the visa system is of course more efficient in delivering more certainty than it has in a long time.

We've also created a direct pathway to citizenship for New Zealand citizens, instead of leaving them in limbo.

Already over 20,000 New Zealanders have sought Australian citizenship since the 1st of July.

These are changes that matter. They matter in that they affect lives each and every day.

But beyond that, because they are shaping our society through these individual changes, having a cumulative impact.

Now I want to dwell a little bit on one specific change we have progressed and recognised too, Melinda, that CEDA have made a very significant contribution to public debate on aged care.

Now I should be clear, I don't agree with each and every recommendation which has been put forward, but I want to recognise the fact that CEDA has stumped up and thought through such a complex and critical policy area is welcome.

As some in this room may know, the Minister of Aged Care and I announced in May a new approach as for how aged care providers can sponsor overseas workers, this is through the Aged Care Labour Agreement, which is a tripartite approach with streamlined access provided for aged care providers who enter into a memorandum of understanding with the relevant union.

This is a process that's been carefully designed. The Labour Agreement ensures sponsored overseas workers are able to receive information from Union in the first seven days after they begin work.

There's also a formal consultation mechanism for providers and unionists to engage and after six months there are now 21 labour agreements in effect and a further four waiting on a decision from the department.

These are agreements which provide for up to 9000 visas over the next five years.

This is significant, but I don't suggest that it's a silver bullet. As the Minister for Immigration, I understand that higher wages are frankly the primary way to address shortages where demand for aged care services outstrips workforce supply.

That's why, of course, the government has invested $11 billion to support the recent Fair Work Commission decision to substantially increase wages in the sector.

Now I also understand that there are people who are concerned about the approach, who oppose a tripartite approach per se, will see it as clunky or perhaps unnecessary.

Well, I don't. I see this kind of approach as central as to how we can further address workforce needs in a considered and appropriate manner in sectors like this.

A tripartite approach may not always look exactly like this agreement, but the principle of business and unions and government working together ensures, I believe, that we're a much better place than any alternative arrangement.

Now building on some of the introductory remarks of Melinda, I think it is important that I say a few words about net overseas migration (NOM).

Simply put, NOM is, of course, a demographic measure – the difference between the gain (those arriving) and the loss (those leaving the population through immigration and emigration).

Now to be counted, you need to be in Australia for 12 of the previous 16 months, so tourists coming from a quick visit or Australians going overseas to a break don't impact the NOM.

And, of course, this does not just include people who hold a visa, but Australian citizens who come and go too.

The recent high net overseas migration figures reflect a rebound from the years of COVID related border restrictions.

At its lowest point, we had a net loss of 85,000, the first loss since World War II.

The rebound from these historically low numbers includes some migrants coming to Australia now who would otherwise come here to study or work when the border was closed.

For example, we had multiple groups of international students, that is, first, second and third year students arriving at the same time for the start of this academic year.

And of course, there will be an update to the net overseas migration forecasts, as is standard before the end of the year.

But with that in mind, I want to touch on a series of measures that we have put in place that will put downward pressure on the rate of net overseas migration, ending COVID concessions.

Recapping the number of hours international students can work and restricting and ceasing the pandemic event visa.

And we have also taken a series of actions on promoting integrity measures, key among the accepted recommendations of the Nixon Review was addressing the protection of visa framework, and we have begun to address the integrity of the asylum framework through supporting real time processing of claims.

Now during almost a decade of neglect combined with underinvestment and, indeed mismanagement by the former government, backlogs in this system grew exponentially.

This happened across the entire migration system. However, delays in processing reviewing onshore protection visa applications in particular have by now with very significant consequences.

Not least, it's absolutely crucial that our asylum framework functions effectively to provide certainty to those in need of our protection.

And with that in mind, we've recently invested over $160 million to improve protection visa assessments and also to increase capacity at the AAT and in the courts to hear these matters quickly.

We're also implementing reforms to strengthen the integrity of the international education sector from those who might attempt to gain that system or exploit students.

These changes include strengthening aspects of the relevant Education Act to collusive business activities, agent performance benchmarks and banning agent commission for onshore transfers.

Most students, of course, come to Australia for legitimate reasons to study.

And the national education sector is, as I'm sure everyone in this room knows and appreciates, incredibly important to Australia and for Australians.

At the same time it is the case that we can balance the promotion of this critical industry with the right process for visa applications and with that in mind, we have taken substantial steps to advance these objectives, including closing a loophole allowing education providers to use concurrent enrolment to shift some international students from genuine study to arrangements designed to facilitate access to work in Australia.

Increasing the amount of savings needed to get a visa reflecting the higher living expenses that everyone is experiencing, applying higher scrutiny to reduce fraud in visa applications and announcing the government will consider using powers under the education services for Overseas Students Act to prevent high risk education providers from being able to recruit international students.

After nearly a decade of neglect, these are measures that will help improve the integrity of our visa system, and in so doing, support our international education industry.

Now I touched on earlier my apprehension that many of you are keen to see the release of the governments migration strategy and it will be released shortly.

Reshaping our migration systems and how we compete in the global race for skilled workers is going to become increasingly critical to Australia's future prosperity.

The Parkinson review, and I acknowledge Dr Joanna Howe in the room, was the first comprehensive review of our migration system in a generation and the review in itself is a really good and very extensive piece of work. It points to a number of really important areas for reform.

For too long underpinning this, there has also been a lack of clarity in what we are in fact trying to achieve through any such reform.

As announced by Minister O'Neill earlier this year, five core objectives will underpin our recalibrated migration system.

We will be first building Australia's prosperity by lifting productivity, meeting workforce needs and supporting experts, enabling a fair labour market, including by complementing the jobs, wages and conditions of Australian workers.

Building a community of Australians, protecting Australia's interests in the world and providing a fast, efficient and fair system.

Now there will be much more to say when the strategy is released, but these objectives are and will continue to be central to everything we do as I hope is demonstrated by many of the changes we have made and which I have outlined today – higher wages and more expansive access to citizenship and an efficient visa system.

Now I want to finish my remarks by speaking about multiculturalism.

In my view, the greatest achievement of modern Australia. Indeed, too often, we fail to clearly state how important this is.

Our diversity is our greatest strength, socially, culturally and economically, too, but it can't be taken for granted. It must not.

We are part of the fastest growing region in human history and our diaspora communities carry strong connections everywhere across it.

This is an advantage that can't be squandered.

Now last week, though, the Scanlon Foundation set out a challenging set of circumstances regarding our social cohesion.

And each day that social cohesion is affected by the impacts of Australians of the Israel Hamas conflict and the daily images we see from Gaza.

Political leadership demands a response, standing against all the voices of hate and of division is the right thing to do because in challenging times, it's the Australian way to stick together to help one another get through and because racism, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia hurt us all.

Because there is no place for hate of any kind in our society, but also because our national interest demands this too, and this is why recent comments by the former Prime Minister, Mr Howard, were so appalling.

He says he has always had trouble with multiculturalism.

Now I was unsurprised to hear these comments, because of course he called for a slowdown in Asian migration as opposition leader.

His own colleague, later Migration Minister Philip Ruddock, crossed the floor of the Parliament to vote with the Hawke government to reaffirm a non-discriminatory approach to migration.

Mr Howard then deprioritised institutional frameworks to support our multicultural society.

The Howard government’s first budget systematically eliminated funding to anything related to multiculturalism.

And last week, the opposition leader weaponised anti-Semitism for his own political interests over the national interest. Mr Dutton has a history of seeking division and promoting discord.

Malcolm Turnbull knew this when he became Prime Minister and chose not to appoint him to his National Security committee.

The opposition leader has singled out communities using incendiary remarks on multiple occasions.

For years he supported the abolition of section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

He failed to support anti-vilification provisions in the proposed bill to address religious discrimination.

There is a history up to and including last week of damaging and destructive contributions to public debate and to our shared sense of social cohesion.

An inability too to say or do anything positive in this respect.

Our conversation about social cohesion and Australian multiculturalism needs to be better than this, and this is why I look forward to receiving the multicultural framework review early next year.

I commissioned this review earlier this year to explore what more we can do working together.

And for the first time this was a review process in respect of which submissions were invited in any language, over 800 received more than 120 of them in languages other than English, often received in formats including oral and video rather than written.

This demonstrates, as I said a moment ago, that we can do better and I say beyond this, that we will, through respectful engagement, careful listening and valuing what everyone brings to our multicultural society, recognising the strengths of Australia's unrivalled diversity.

And the next step is of course to link this to an efficient, well designed migration programme that connects Australia and Australians to the world.

In our national interest, well into the future, unlocking our potential.

Thank you very much for having me. I really look forward to engaging in dialogue today and into that future.

Thank you.