Well, thank you very, very much, Liana. And of course as a Minister - Assistant Minister for Multicultural Affairs, and of course at one stage I was also Parliamentary Secretary to the Immigration Minister, so in that space, I had some dealings with some of you.
But it’s a pleasure to be here today, particularly at a time when the title of your conference is Australia’s Changing Immigration Landscape, which is particularly relevant given the recent changes which were announced this week by the Prime Minister.
Sadly, over the last few years we have seen real and emerging threats to our nation, and, as a consequence of that, to the safety of our Australian community.
For this reason, we have consulted and are now undertaking the most significant reform to our national, international and border security arrangements in forty years.
We will be establishing a Home Affairs portfolio which will encompass Immigration, Border Protection and the security agencies to better meet these changing security needs.
Our new Home Affairs portfolio will be similar to the Home Office in the United Kingdom.
It will be a central department which will provide strategic planning, coordination and support a ‘federation’ of independent security and law enforcement agencies.
We will also, and have announced, some expansion of the Department of Defence’s role.
Now, as part of this change, we will also make some changes to the Attorney-General’s oversight of Australia’s intelligence role.
These reforms are significant, they are complex, and they will take some time to implement.
But notwithstanding these changes, some things will remain constant.
And a key part of our migration story is our multicultural society, drawn from the four corners of the globe.
We are one of the most culturally diverse, yet socially cohesive nations on earth.
We are a unique model in the international arena for respect, for inclusion, and for integration.
We are home to people from over 300 nationalities.
And, therefore, we speak hundreds of different languages, including Indigenous languages.
Indeed, the 2016 Census shows our diversity is actually increasing, with 22 per cent of Australians stating that they do not speak English at home, and this has been up from 20 per cent since 2011.
The figures also show that we have remained steady, with almost half of Australians having one or more parents born overseas.
And of course I am one of them – a child of Italian migrants.
We have welcomed people from across the globe, with about 190,000 people moving to Australia every year.
This is a very significant number of people for a population of 24 million people.
Since World War II, we have welcomed 7.5 million migrants to Australia, including about 865,000 under our humanitarian programme.
Amongst these, of course, has been people displaced in conflicts such as Syria and Iraq, and we recently, of course, settled the 12,000 additional places which had been announced by the Government in September 2015.
In 2015-16, 15,552 offshore visas were issued, and this is the largest offshore intake in over thirty years.
The number of Special Humanitarian Places, for family members in Australia sponsoring those in refugee-like situations, has risen 1,300 per cent from 503 places in 2012 to 7,268 places in 2015-16.
This has been the dividend of the success of our border security arrangements.
Humanitarian places now go to people assessed as the most vulnerable offshore with family in Australia, rather than those determined by people smugglers.
Our humanitarian programme is supported by comprehensive settlement services designed to assist entrants to establish themselves in the Australian community and pursue the many opportunities that this country offers.
Importantly, this includes full access to the Australian labour market which supports integration.
It’s really encouraging to see, according to the most recent Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) employment statistics, that the long term employment outlook for our humanitarian entrants is promising.
Based on 2011 data - and I note that the 2016 ABS comparative data will not be available until next year - those who arrived between January 2006 and August 2011, the percentage employed is 72 per cent.
However, for those who have been in Australia for a longer period of time, having arrived between 1 January 2000 and 2005, the percentage employed is 82 per cent.
Our annual intake of humanitarian and refugee visas has risen this financial year from 13,750 to 16,750, and in the next financial year, it will rise again to almost 19,000.
We remain consistently ranked in the top three countries for permanent resettlement of refugees referred by UNHCR.
This longstanding record is underpinned by the Australian core values of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.
We are known worldwide for our migration heritage.
We are a nation of immigrants, yet we are also a nation of citizens.
In fact, the OECD Indicators of Immigration Integration 2015 report shows that Australia has one of the highest rates of citizenship acquisition, with just over 80 per cent of eligible migrants becoming citizens.
Australian citizenship has meanings which flow deeper and are more subtle than the legal permission to live in the country.
Citizenship defines an individual’s relationship to Australia - their embodiment to national values, responsibilities, duty and rights.
In April 2017, the Government announced reforms to citizenship requirements that put Australian values at the heart of our migration policy.
These changes were informed following the Australian Citizenship: Your Rights, Your Responsibility – A National Consultation on Citizenship Report, which was provided by myself and the Honourable Philip Ruddock MP to Prime Minister Turnbull and Immigration Minister Dutton last year, as well as the 2016 Productivity Commission Report Migrant Intake into Australia.
Our consultation, undertaken by Philip and I, began in 2015, where we were commissioned by then-Prime Minister Abbott to undertake detailed and widespread consultation.
And I am pleased that thousands of views of people and organisations have been reflected in the changes that we have undertaken.
These reforms are critical to our future as a strong and successful multicultural nation.
Crucially, they include reforms to English language requirements that several reports, including our own, have found are essential for economic participation and social cohesion.
Indeed, I can say that in all the consultations that I attended, English - and the requirement for the English language - was the paramount point that was made in just about all of those consultations.
English, of course, is not just our national language; English proficiency is vitally important for economic participation and integration into the Australian community.
When my father came to Australia in the 1950s, Australia was basically a manufacturing-based economy.
He worked, like many, many migrants, at the steel works at Port Kembla, and everybody learnt English on the job.
We have now shifted from that manufacturing-based economy to a services-based economy where information technology is so vitally important.
And that is where to have proficiency in the English language not only makes good social and integration sense, but it makes good economic sense.
For people who want to become Australian citizens, it means that they will have to demonstrate competence in the English language, including competency in listening, speaking, reading and writing before they are able to sit a citizenship test.
There will be exemptions though, and exemptions will apply for applicants over a certain age, under a certain age and those, of course, who have an enduring or permanent mental or physical incapacity.
Unfortunately, there has been a campaign of misinformation about the English language test requirements.
Can I clarify this for you and for your clients: prospective citizens will not be required to complete an International English Language Testing System (IELTS) academic test.
The proposed changes seek to increase the IELTS general training test from basic level 5 to competent level 6.
This is not an academic test.
We support these changes and I am confident that they will continue to strengthen our cultural diversity.
In my current role of Minister for International Development and the Pacific, I have responsibility for our neighborhood, including labour mobility.
Australia and the Pacific Islands both benefit when Pacific workers earn Australian wages in sectors where Australia has labour shortages.
Business can employ Pacific workers in Australia for defined periods - normally between six and nine months - and welcome return visits if local Australian workers cannot be employed.
The workers’ understanding of the business and the relevant skills increases each visit, thereby improving their employability and entrepreneurship when they return home.
Australian employers gain access to a reliable, returning pool of workers.
They can then plan and grow their businesses, secure in the knowledge that workers will be available when needed.
Our approach, though, seeks to put Australian job seekers first.
The arrangements are consistent with recent Government changes to the skilled migration program.
In order to protect Australian jobs, participating employers must undertake local labour market testing.
The employer must offer vacant positions to any suitable local job seekers.
Our labour mobility schemes engage low-skilled and semi-skilled workers in the fields of agriculture, tourism and hospitality.
As such, the schemes are not affected by the recent changes to skilled worker visa classes.
Pacific workers’ access to the Australian labour market provides: additional employment opportunities for rapidly growing populations; incentives for education and skills development; higher income levels and increased remittances in our region; and stronger relations between Australians and our Pacific neighbours.
We have in place two labour mobility initiatives: we have a Seasonal Worker Programme and we have a Pacific Microstates-Northern Australia Worker Pilot program.
The Seasonal Worker Programme has been operating since July 2012.
This followed the success of another pilot, which began in 2008.
Since then, we have had more than 17,000 seasonal workers work in the agriculture and tourism sector that have been filled with workers from nine Pacific countries and Timor-Leste.
During a six-month placement in Australia, a World Bank report examining the Seasonal Worker Program pilot found that a typical seasonal worker earned between $12,000 and $13,000.
Typically each worker roughly takes home $5,000.
These remittances have changed the lives of workers and their families.
As Minister for the Pacific, I have seen just how much those changes... and what that has meant to these families.
Our second program is now a Pilot that we are undertaking.
It’s been led by my Department, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
And this brings workers to Australia from small Pacific states – Kiribati, Nauru and Tuvalu – to work in Northern Australia, in industries where the domestic labour supply is not sufficient to meet growing demand.
And while the Pilot is still in its infancy, participating workers and employers alike have reported very positive experiences.
Of course, Australia is a rich diverse nation that has prospered from generations of successful migration.
We welcome with open arms those who have sought to join our great nation and contributed positively towards a stronger nation.
We are a nation that is dependent upon immigration and upon trade.
Our Pacific neighbours look to us to supply the building blocks of their economies.
Through the reforms I have mentioned and our labour mobility initiatives, the Government is not only demonstrating our commitment to the safety and protection of all Australians, but our commitment to regional security, prosperity and safety.
Can I conclude that, as migration agents, may I ask you to look and follow these reforms across labour mobility programs, because they are critical to Australia’s changing immigration landscape.
You play an integral role in the evolving multicultural identity and fabric of the Australian community.
Our success as a multicultural society, coupled with a strong economy and a world-class education and health system, makes it a highly attractive destination for migrants.
As migration agents, you assist people to make one of the most important decisions of their lives.
And for that reason, certainly, and in concluding in my discussions with Liana, I really wanted to broaden, potentially, some of the focus of the work that you do.
I know that the work that you do as migration agents... but the changing landscape is one where labour and labour mobility influences are coming from different areas, and I think as migration agents, it’s really important that you are aware, that you follow, and that as a group, you are aware of potentially the contributions that you can make into these new and emerging areas.
So can I conclude by thanking you for your contribution to one of the most successful multicultural nations in the world.
Thank you for your kind attention.
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