Xenophon: I am very proudly the child of migrant parents. My father, Theodore, came here from Cyprus in 1951. He came here just as my mother, Georgia, did in 1956 from Greece—wanting a better life and wanting a chance to contribute to this wonderful country of Australia that they adopted as their own. And can I emphasise that neither of my parents sought dual citizenship once they became Australian citizens. They are very proud of the fact that they are Australian citizens and that they have contributed to this nation.
We are a nation where migration has been such an integral and important part of this nation’s development. Almost one in two Australians were either born overseas or have at least one of their parents born overseas. That is testament to what a great success Australia has been as a multicultural nation. It reminds me of the words of former US President Jimmy Carter, who said this:
Different people, different beliefs, different yearnings, different hopes, different dreams. We become not a melting pot but a beautiful mosaic.
Migration has made Australia part of the beautiful mosaic we have today.
What Senator Hanson said about the economic impact of migration was fundamentally wrong. Study after study—whether an OECD study or a local study in South Australia—indicates that, with an orderly migration program, with a sensible, well-planned migration program, it clearly has direct and net economic benefits for Australia. It adds to the economic wealth of the nation. It deals with issues such as ageing populations, it deals with issues such as genuine skill shortages, particularly in regional communities, and it builds those communities.
To blame international students, as Senator Hanson did, for our increasing electricity prices is absurd. To blame international students for water rates going up is absurd. It has more to do with failed energy policies and bad administration than anything to do with international students. When you consider that international students play such a vital role to Australia’s economy—it’s one of our biggest export earners, it’s the third-biggest export earner behind iron ore and coal and it is, conservatively, worth $21.8 billion, which is the figure from last year and which does not include education consultancy services, royalties from intellectual property or income from correspondence courses—it is a huge earner for this country and it is something that, unambiguously, builds this country up.
Of course we need to have an orderly program. Of course there are issues of proper and appropriate border security so that we do not have an immigration policy in any way determined by people smugglers. But we must acknowledge the benefits of migration to this country. We must acknowledge what the OECD says in its position papers and the research that it’s done—that migration is good for the economy with a proper and orderly migration program and that migrant workers make important contributions to the labour market and to spur innovation and economic growth. They contribute more in taxes and social contributions than they receive in individual benefits, according to the OECD study. These are important issues that we cannot ignore.
We cannot have a debate on migration being dictated by irrationality and xenophobia. This is something that we must deal with, because it is wrong to say that migration is a drag on the economy. Indeed, in my home state of South Australia, we have a situation where our population growth has fallen behind the rest of the nation. We have an ageing population, we have a drag on economic growth, we have regional depopulation, and we have a disproportionate reliance on owner-managers who are, on average, older and cannot sell their businesses.
That is why the work of Migration Solutions, in conjunction with many other key stakeholders in South Australia—including the work done by the SA Centre for Economic Studies—indicates that a balanced migration program to encourage more people to come to South Australia, to encourage the economic growth that comes with it, to deal with population imbalances and to deal with the ageing demographic would be a clear net benefit. When you see Melbourne and Sydney bursting at the seams, I say to the federal government and to state governments that you need to go back to a regional program where you acknowledge the benefits of migration to low-population and low-economic-growth areas. Done properly and sensibly, it will deliver real economic benefits to a state such as South Australia. Mark Glazbrook, the CEO of Migration Solutions, says:
Unfortunately, the current migration system does not support South Australian businesses, particularly in regional areas.
There are skills gaps. There are gaps in terms of businesses being filled. As ageing owners of these businesses want to leave their communities, there’s no-one to replace them. That is why investment migrants and business migrants are very important to that.
Of course, if we have skills shortages in this country as a result of failures in our vocational training system, we need to deal with those. For instance, in the automotive sector, there is the shortage of 27,000 skilled employees that the Motor Trades Association has spoken about; I launched their report a few weeks ago. These are issues that point to policy failures, but they are not the fault of our migration policy. We can do both. We can fill our skills shortages primarily with young, Australian-born workers, but we also have other skill shortages which we need migration to fill.
I think it’s important to indicate that the UDIA in 2014, prior to the state election, released a policy document entitled Growing South Australia to economic and social prosperity. In it, the following observation was made about South Australia:
… if we do not grow then we are locked within our existing paradigm. Only population growth can deliver the changes we need to make to urban form, public infrastructure and service delivery.
Incredibly and inexcusably, since then the state’s rate of population growth has gone backwards. The population situation in SA has gone from bad to worse to critical. The data released at the end of last year shows that SA’s population growth has fallen to just 0.5 per cent, an increase of just 9,300 per annum, whereas seven years ago the state’s population growth was 1.3 per cent, with an annual increase of more than 21,000. ABS figures released last year show that Melbourne grew by 2.1 per cent in 2014-15, Sydney by 1.7 per cent, Brisbane by 1.6 per cent, and the ACT by 1.3 per cent. Adelaide’s growth was an anaemic 0.9 per cent, just above Hobart’s, which was 0.8 per cent. Victoria, like Melbourne, is racing ahead at 2.1 per cent population growth.
All I am saying is that a proper, well planned, well-reasoned migration policy is unambiguously a good thing for our nation; and it is particularly good for South Australia, which has been struggling with low population growth. I want to emphasise this so it’s not misrepresented by my political opponents: if we had a population growth strategy in areas of low population growth and low economic growth to encourage business migrants—a program designed to facilitate and boost economic growth, jobs and training opportunities—that would be a good thing for South Australia and a good thing for our country.
Looking at demand in regional areas, where there has been a dearth of positions that need to be filled and there is no other way to fill those positions, that needs to be looked at. We need to be able to attract prospective migrants willing and able to invest in designated areas such as South Australia for extended periods. This could involve a four-year provisional visa with a pathway to permanent residency over several more years. We also need to consider a class of visa for business start-ups in designated areas—again, binding visa holders to specific regions for a specified number of years so that they can establish themselves in those communities. This will revive regional areas and lift population growth. If Victoria and New South Wales get a little less population growth—which may be welcomed when you look at issues of congestion and services and the like—and these people go to areas of low population growth, that would be a win-win for those communities.
I repudiate what One Nation has said in relation to this. It is important that we have a reasoned and balanced population/migration policy that is good for our nation. We need to be very mindful of a debate that has more heat than light, that is devoid of facts, because the economic impact of a sensible migration policy is unambiguously good for a nation such as Australia. That is why I repudiate the premise of this motion and that is why we need to do much better to explain to all Australians that migration can deliver real benefits when done properly.
Chamber Senate on 19/10/2017 Item MOTIONS – Immigration Speaker: Xenophon, Sen Nick/ Parliment of Australia Transcript used for Reporting news