Interview with Lisa Millar, ABC TV News Breakfast

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: New Pacific Engagement Visa, Pacific Australia Labour Mobility Scheme, Operation Sovereign Borders.

Lisa Millar: Well, Australia will launch a visa lottery to bring 3000 foreign workers into the country every year under a new law to be proposed. To tell us more, Minister for International Development and the Pacific Pat Conroy joins us now from Parliament House. Good morning to you. How quickly are we going to get this done?

Minister Conroy: Well, the intention is to start the scheme after the 1st of July this year. And this is a revolutionary change in our permanent migration system to allocate 3000 permanent migration spots to families from the Pacific each year. It's a critical way of improving and building our people-to-people links with the Pacific family. It is truly revolutionary and it will deepen our ties to a region that's critical to our future.

Lisa Millar: And that diplomacy issue is at the heart of this?

Minister Conroy: Absolutely. This is part of the Albanese Labor Government using every lever of state-craft to increase our engagement in the region. We've increased our foreign aid to the Pacific, we've increased our military and security cooperation. We've got 35,000 Pacific workers filling labour shortages here and sending back half a billion dollars of income to their communities every year. We've got a range of policies to support and deepen our relationship with the Pacific, and this one is probably the most revolutionary in that spectrum.

Lisa Millar: All right, backpacker numbers haven't bounced back yet, so the demand for workers is just enormous. How much of a problem is it that people, especially in regional Australia, have been waiting for this increase in numbers to come through?

Minister Conroy: Well, there are labour shortages throughout our economy post the COVID pandemic. That's undoubtedly true, and that's what the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility scheme, the PALM scheme, is aimed at doing. That's a scheme that provides work placements between nine months and four years. And we've ramped up that scheme dramatically since coming to government. It was 24,000 when we won power in May, and we set a goal of 35,000 by the 1st of July this year. We hit 35,000 in December and that's filling labour shortages, skilling up Pacific workers for when they go home and sending $500 million of income back to their home countries. The Pacific Engagement Visa, which we're introducing into Parliament today, is a bit different. That's about permanent migration. This is allocating 3000 spots to Pacific families each year to make a new life in Australia, to deepen the Pacific diaspora in Australia and deepen our people-to-people links. Importantly, those people have to have jobs in this country, and they can bring their families. And so it's just a great way of deepening our really strong relationships with the region.

Lisa Millar: Minister, on another matter, the Defence Force has been asked to provide additional personnel and resources to the north of Australia to complement and help the Operation Sovereign Borders. Why is that?

Minister Conroy: Well, I'm not going to comment on operational matters. What I can say is this Government remains deeply committed to Operation Sovereign Borders, and under Operation Sovereign Borders, every single boat has been returned or turned back. And that's our policy and we're deeply committed to it. Our security is linked to our broader region. And that's why the Pacific Engagement Visa and our Pacific policies are so critical in improving our relationships with our region and improving our security outlook throughout the world.

Lisa Millar: Is the reason more resources are being put, and that the defence forces moving here, something of an admission of what the Opposition has been suggesting, that there is a worry that there will be a surge of people trying to enter illegally into Australia because of this decision to move people off the temporary protection visas into permanent residency?

Minister Conroy: I'm not going to comment on operational matters as I said Lisa.

Lisa Millar: Well that's not an operational matter.

Minister Conroy: Let me assure your viewers that under Operation Sovereign Borders, every single boat is turned back or returned. The important point here is that there is zero chance of resettlement for anyone coming to this country without a visa. The decision you're alluding to is legacy cases for people who entered this country before Operation Sovereign Borders began.

Our policy is the same as the last Government's policy when it comes to this operation, every single boat is turned back or returned. Let me repeat that there is zero chance of anyone coming to this country, settling in this country if they don't have a valid visa upon entry. This is really important, but we need to talk about our broader security aspects, to be frank, and that's why this specific policy is so critical, because our relationships in the region did suffer under the last government. Our security future is entwined with the region and that's why this Pacific Engagement Visa is so important and that's just one part of deepening our people-to-people links. Prime Minister Kalsakau from Vanuatu was in the country yesterday and today and he was hosted by Prime Minister Albanese last night. These are critical ways of improving our security.

Lisa Millar: Minister, you use the word zero chance. That's the words being used in a new advertisement that the Federal Government has put out, a new video sending out to different companies to try and send that to different countries to try and send that message to people that they will have zero chance of success. So the videos going out, the Defence Force has been asked to add resources. All of this surely would suggest that the Opposition then maybe had a point when they suggested there's a concern about what might happen because of this change in policy.

Minister Conroy: Again, let me just be very clear. We are committed to Operation Sovereign Borders. Nothing has changed on the policies of Operation Sovereign Borders. Every single boat will be turned back or returned. Nothing has changed there and we stand by our policy positions we took to the last election.

Lisa Millar: Pat Conroy, good to have you on the program. Thank you.

Minister Conroy: Thank you.

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