Skilled migration changes (doorstop interview, Canberra, 8 February 2010)
Tuesday 08 February 2010
Doorstop interview, Canberra
QUESTION: Can you just explain a bit more broadly about – you know, you want to quantify the level of the migrants that are coming to Australia and the skills that they have? So you want to reorder?
CHRIS EVANS: Well yes. Effectively, today, we've taken 20 000 applications and ended them. We're going to refund the application charges. But they had lower level English skills and lower level skills that we have determined are not really in the needs - meet Australia's needs. So we're looking for high skilled migrants that meet skills needs. The people that employers want, because they can't find skills locally. We want to give Australians the first opportunities at jobs. But where employers can't find those skills, the role of the migration program is to bring them in. And currently what we've got is a system where people choose to come in, whether they're going to get a good job or be able to operate in their skill or not. And so this is designed to make sure that we get the right people to meet the economy's needs, not have people, if you like, self-selecting.
QUESTION: What occupations will you be focusing on? Which ones are more likely to miss out?
CHRIS EVANS: Well what we've seen already is that, as a result of the temporary critical skills list report put in last year, we've already got a lot more doctors, nurses, mechanical engineers coming through the system than previously. Under the Howard government, we had a lot of cooks, a lot of hairdressers coming through, 40 000 accountants in the last five years, but we still had shortages of accountants. That's because they were bringing people who couldn't get jobs as accountants, I think because their skills weren't good enough or their English wasn't good enough. So they weren't meeting our skills needs. So what we've already seen, as a result of the temporary changes we made, more doctors, more nurses, more critical skills. And under these more permanent changes, we'll see us focusing on those skills that are in short supply.
QUESTION: What will this do to the proportion skilled migrants make up of the overall [indistinct]…
CHRIS EVANS: Look, I see Mr Morrison's been making some complaint about the family skill balance. First of all, I'd like to say, it's a nonsense. What we've got is a situation where Australians want to bring their husbands and wives they met overseas to Australia. I'm not sure if there's a Liberal Party policy to say to Australians you can't bring your husband or wife into the country. But spouse visas are largely uncapped. It's determined by the number of Australians who marry people from other countries. And I don't think Australians support a system where Australians aren't allowed to bring their husband or wife into the country. So it's a nonsense. The other thing to say is that many people who come in under the family program are high skilled people. If you're bringing in a doctor, generally their partner also has a high level skill. So the distinction is false. And quite frankly, it reflects the fact they don't have any real policy.
QUESTION: Will these laws make it harder, effectively, to migrate to Australia?
CHRIS EVANS: No, look, the size of the problem – sorry, the size of the program will be determined by the government. What we're doing is, if you like, improving the quality. We've had people who get in the queue and come in according to their place in the queue. What we're saying is we want to be able to choose those with the best skills, those with the best English language skills, so that they make good successful migrants and get skilled jobs in areas where we're in short supply. At the moment, people take a ticket, stay in the queue. I mean, when we came into government, we were taking hairdressers from overseas in front of doctors and nurses. It didn't make any sense. The system wasn't delivering the results we need. So the temporary measures we put in place made a difference. And this will make a permanent difference. So that Australia is able to choose who migrates to this country, based on whether they're going to make a contribution and whether they're going to be in employment.
QUESTION: Do you have a concern, though then, with the overseas student sector? This will have an impact on that sector. Do you have a concern that there will be a perception, in – among overseas students perhaps, that Australia is unfriendly towards them?
CHRIS EVANS: No, look, I don't think so. The first point I want to make very strongly is, if you get a student visa to Australia, it's a visa for study. It's not a visa to stay permanently. That decision is an education decision, not a migration decision. Australia will continue to recruit the best and brightest students, if we've got skills needs. But there's no direct link between getting a visa to study in Australia and getting permanent residency. And unfortunately people have promoted courses here, more for the purpose of getting permanent residency than their education attainment. And what we're trying to say is those changes made by the Howard government have failed us. They've actually distorted the migration program. And we've had people who are doing short courses, not necessarily having high skills, not necessarily having good English, in front – getting in front of the queue, if you like, of people who have high skills and needs. This is about fixing that problem.
QUESTION: Can you explain a bit about the point system that you want to change?
CHRIS EVANS: Well, the second stage of the reforms will be a review of the points test. And that's because we think we're currently getting perverse results out of that. Again, qualifications gained overseas get a very low priority. People with high skills, with say, you know, a Rhodes scholarship from Cambridge University, get less points than perhaps someone who graduated in hospitality from an Australian college. That doesn't make sense to me, in terms of development of the country. So we've got to re-tweak the points test. The changes we made today will make a big difference and that'll be the second stage of making sure we continue to attract the best and brightest, to meet our needs, not to accept people on the self-selection basis. Effectively it's about moving from a supply driven system, where people choose and make the decision about who comes to this country and us having a demand driven system, where employers and state governments and the Commonwealth pick the people who we need.
QUESTION: Do you reckon a lot of education providers over here will suffer under this new provision?
CHRIS EVANS: Look, there's no doubt that there will be some impact on the education sector. But I think you'll find that the good providers, offering quality education outcomes, will continue to prosper. People value an Australian education, if it's a good quality education. And large parts of the sector provide that. But if people are providing poor quality courses in order to allow people to qualify for permanent residence and then not being able to be able to work in that area of skill, then that's not what we want. And so we're very determined that the migration program has integrity and, if people are getting poor quality training, then they're not going to qualify for permanent residency. So I actually think it'll improve the quality of the education sector. Because students will vote with their feet. We now have higher English standards. We have trade testing, a job readiness test that ensures they've got the skills. And they'll have to get sponsorship by an employer to get a permanent visa. All those things make it tougher, yes. But it also means that those persons will have the skills that they claim to have and will be able to get a job. And we don't want people coming in and adding to the unemployed queue. We want people who will have the skills to get a job in the skill area that we're looking for.
QUESTION: Senator, Christmas Island is near capacity and another boatload arrived, or is probably on its way to Christmas Island right now. Is there a concern that there's pressure being put on processing times to process the visa applications, perhaps then leading to undesirables maybe slipping through the cracks?
CHRIS EVANS: No look, I've seen some of those claims. They're a nonsense. If you want to look at the processing times, they've actually moved out a bit so they've actually slowed a bit, given the numbers we've been dealing with. But there's no change in the government's policy, which is mandatory detention until we've done health, identity and security checks. That's in place, that's working well. We are under pressures but there is still capacity on Christmas Island and we've expanded capacity and there'll be more coming online in the next week or so. So we still have got capacity there but there's no doubt we're under pressure. We're dealing with a surge of arrivals, as is Western Europe and Canada. There are a lot of people fleeing Afghanistan and Sri Lanka at the moment and, if you like, we're getting a share of that problem. So we're working hard with our neighbours to try and control the flow, to try and find durable solutions. But for the foreseeable future we're going to have pressure on from unauthorised arrivals. The question is to deal with it in a sensible and humane way and I think we've got that pretty right at the moment.
QUESTION: This latest arrival could have resulted in tragedy, though, with the rescue as it happens. Surely then, you must concede that your policy, your border protection policy, needs to maybe have some adjustments to deter more crossings like this.
CHRIS EVANS: Well, we're doing everything we can to deter arrivals. I mean, and we're telling people they shouldn't use people smugglers and take that dangerous journey. And we're working very hard with other governments to make that the case. But if they do make that journey, we've seen from past experience that it is dangerous and some do get into trouble. And that's why we do everything we can to discourage them, but the reality is, large numbers of people are fleeing, particularly Sri Lanka and Afghanistan at the moment, and they're prepared to take those risks. So we just need to keep working at trying to disrupt people smuggling activities, trying to find solutions for people that say there's a better alternative and, obviously, we hope that we don't have incidents where people are put at risk.
QUESTION: Minister, can you confirm that some asylum seekers, around 20, have been taken to Melbourne and Brisbane without having visas? Is this because Christmas Island is over capacity?
CHRIS EVANS: No, look, both under the previous government and this government we have on occasions brought people ashore prior to the completion of their processing but when they're very near to completion of the program – of their processing. What I've done is bring a group of children and families ashore and I make no apology for that because we have difficulties in caring for children appropriately and some of them have needed special attention and support, and they're very close to getting a visa. So it's not about capacity, it's about treating people humanely. We could adopt the Liberal Party policy, where they had 2000 children locked in detention for an average over a year. That's not Labor policy. We believe in treating people properly and when I have families and children who need to have an alternative support, if you like, than they were getting on Christmas Island I'll bring them ashore. But they are in – they remain in immigration facilities, they are being supported and those groups are pretty close to being issued their visa. But until they're issued a visa they will be in immigration facilities.
QUESTION: Is that not just – is that just not a, that's not an attempt just to keep within the capacity constraints at Christmas Island; you shift asylum seekers to the mainland to suit your capacity levels?
CHRIS EVANS: No, this was occurring under the previous government and under this Government. It's – there's a lot of…
QUESTION: [Inaudible question]
CHRIS EVANS: Well, the numbers vary but I know the previous government brought at least 70 people ashore in that sort of - around 70 people in that sort of situation. You bring people in to shore because they're having a baby, you bring people ashore because they've got mental health issues, you bring people ashore because they need more intensive medical treatment, and we brought people ashore who have children and families and we've had unaccompanied minors, who we think we can better deal with onshore. We've been doing that for some time. They were doing it under previous governments. Sure, there's pressure on capacity at Christmas Island but these people were not in the detention centre per se, so it doesn't relieve any pressure in the detention centre, if that's the argument. And basically it comes down to values. Do you treat kids appropriately or do you bang them up in high security detention? This government has a very different policy in the way that we treat children and I don't think there's any excuse in a civilised society to do otherwise. So I really am quite disturbed by the suggestion that it's inappropriate to treat people with children in this way.
QUESTION: Back to skilled migration, what are you doing to quell the anger of the 20 000 people that are now being told that they'll miss out on permanent residency in migration?
CHRIS EVANS: Well, no-one's been told that, and I don't know about anger, that's your claim, not something I necessarily accept. But I do hope we're not going to get sensational about this. What we've done is effectively grandfather those who are currently studying so they're still on a pathway to permanent residency. But what we're saying to them is you've got to have sufficient English language skills, higher than that was required before, and that came in on 1 January. If you say you're a cook you've got to be able to cook, you've got to be able to prove you can cook. That seems to me a perfectly reasonable thing to do, and there have been some concerns that some of the graduates out of some of the colleges are not able to show the skills that they claim to have. So we test their English, we test their skills. And the test really for them now is that when they graduate if they've got someone who's prepared to employment - employ them, they will be able to get sponsorship for a permanent visa. If there is there is no-one prepared to employ them, then they will not have a right to stay in Australia. Now, the migration program is a skilled migration program to meet our needs and fundamentally you've got to say, well, if they don't have English language skills, don't have the trade skills and can't get a job then really they should not be eligible for permanent residency. If they do have the English skills, if they can bring that skilled work to the - what they do, an employer says they're prepared to employment … employ them, then they've' got a pathway to permanent residency. That seems to me as it should be not as - not the current system whereby you just need to say you've got a cooking qualification and you're able to apply for permanent residency.
CONVENOR: Last question, please.
QUESTION: How have the changes changed the countries of origin around migrants?
CHRIS EVANS: Well, it's not controlled – we make no decision based on someone's country of origin. As you know the flow of students over the years has varied as different people have sought to come to Australia. We had a - we've had growth in the Indian market previously, but the Chinese market's still strong. The Malaysian market's still strong. I mean, what we're saying is if people want a quality education in Australia that's great; we'll give them a student visa. If they want to settle here permanently they've got to have the skills that we require; good English language and have a capacity to get a job that's in the national interest, and those are the rules that we're applying.
Last update: 23 September 2011 at 11:54 AEST