7 July 2022 Herald Sun

THE census data released last month tells the story of modern Australia.

Over half of us were born overseas or have a migrant parent and more than one million immigrants have arrived since 2017.

But while we rightly celebrate our success as a multicultural nation, the census should also prompt us to examine our current migration system and ask if it is fit for-purpose for Australia in 2022.

Migration to Australia was severely disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic. Necessary action to limit travel in and out of our country crippled thousands of Australian businesses that were reliant on migrants and many are still struggling to find workers.

One of the Albanese government’s most important election commitments is to hold a jobs summit before our first budget in October that brings together business, unions, and civil society to tackle the labour shortage.

In December 2021, there were 85,000 fewer apprentices and trainees than when the Coalition won the 2013 election. The Albanese government is engaged in a significant amount of work to ensure Australians have the skills they need to work the jobs of the future. But these shortages cannot be fixed overnight, and skilled migration has a role to play.

As chair of the Senate Select Committee on Temporary Migration, I heard from many individuals and groups about how important migrants are for crucial parts of the Australian economy. Unfortunately, I also heard terrible examples of exploitation of temporary migrants in particular.

The lack of pathways to permanency inhibits the ability for temporary migrants to develop a sense of belonging to Australia, leaving them feeling “permanently temporary”. This has only been exacerbated by severe delays in the processing of visa applications under the previous government.

Immigration Minister Andrew Giles has already allocated additional resources to process visas and a national conversation about our migration system will be an integral part of our jobs summit.

Often the only motivation for an employer to engage migrant workers is their limited understanding of our workplace laws, making them less likely to push back on poor conditions and low pay. Addressing the permanency question offers a way to combat this.

We need to recognise the political and economic complexity of migration, but also understand that this complexity cannot get in the way of addressing urgent gaps in our labour market.