02 December 2021 The West Australian
Australia’s temporary migration policies have needed reform for some time, and we should be taking the opportunity of our borders reopening to reimagine our failing system.
Unfortunately, the Morrison-Joyce Government is ignoring this opportunity for reform and expediting the return to a failing system.
As Chair of the Senate Select Committee on Temporary Migration, I heard from a diverse range of stakeholders on this important policy area. Government departments, business groups, unions, advocacy bodies, community associations and other organisations all presented their views.
Several key themes emerged in the submissions made to the committee.
Temporary migrants make an important contribution to Australia. They come here to work, study, and visit. They meet local labour market needs and become valued members of Australian communities.
But we sell temporary migrants and Australia short through our misapplication of temporary migration schemes and mistreatment of those who come to our country under these schemes.
Australia’s policies deny migrants and their families the opportunity to put down roots, to make meaningful contributions to local community life and to build strong social ties.
Temporary visa holders face a lack of clear, timely and transparent communication from the Department of Home Affairs. Visa application processing targets are not published, so applicants have a very vague idea of when they will hear back from the Department.
Our current visa processes and systems make it incredibly difficult for temporary migrants to seek permanent residency in Australia. This obviously frustrates the goals and aspirations of these migrants, but it also damages our country’s social cohesion.
Instead of seeking out migrants to address genuine skill shortages and allowing these skilled migrants to permanently settle in Australia, our systems encourage a constant rotation of overseas workers with little opportunity to settle here.
It is better for both migrants and our country if skilled overseas workers can settle here, rather than creating a constant rotation of temporary migrants that cannot integrate with our communities. It is difficult to develop a sense of belonging to Australia when you are ‘permanently temporary’.
Temporary migrants are also particularly vulnerable to exploitation in the workplace. The Committee heard multiple accounts of systemic exploitation of international students and other temporary visa holders.
While this is obviously a negative experience for the workers themselves, the widespread nature of this exploitation provides an incentive for employers to seek overseas labour rather than employing Australians. If it is easier to underpay temporary migrants than Australian workers, there are unfortunately some employers who will take advantage of this situation.
Temporary migrants get exploited and Australians miss out on jobs. Our country must do better than this.
In response to all the submissions presented to the Committee, we produced a comprehensive set of 40 recommendations to reform the temporary migration system.
Our policies must change to ensure temporary migration programs are only used for genuine skill shortages. The Australian Government should establish an independent body to define what constitutes a ‘skills shortage’ and determine where they exist. The Government must also conduct a review into our education system and how it is contributing to our current skills shortages.
Labor has committed to establishing Jobs and Skills Australia – incorporating the voices of government, industry and unions – to make sure we identify and address future skills shortages before they occur.
Temporary migrants should be provided with information and training on their workplace rights, and provided with the details of bodies such as industry groups and unions where they can seek further information and assistance.
These are some of the steps we can take to remove the ability and motivation of employers to exploit temporary migrants instead of offering jobs to Australians.
Where there is a genuine skills shortage, the Government should remove unnecessary barriers that prevent temporary migrants from permanently settling in Australia.
Transparency in the visa application process must be improved, and the Department of Home Affairs provided with enough resources to process applications in a timely fashion. This will improve the confidence of both Australians and aspiring migrants in our system.
A responsible Government would take these recommendations to reform temporary migration seriously and use the opportunity of reopening our borders to make important changes.
But the Morrison-Joyce Government is ignoring these reasonable calls for reform.
Instead, this Government is rushing to return to a ‘normal’ temporary migration system – a system that is failing Australians and migrants.