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March 17, 2023

I acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet and pay my respects to their elders, past and present.

Can I thank Valeria for her invitation to speak and offer my congratulations on the conference.

Can I start by thanking all of you for your contributions to your field of expertise.

Immigration law is a complicated and sometimes challenging area.

You are providing representation to people facing the toughest challenges to accessing our legal system.

The law is crucial to the integrity of our immigration system.

I want the Coalition to deliver an immigration program that keeps the borders secure, is operated with integrity and delivers an economic and humanitarian dividend.

These guiding principles are in the DNA of the Coalition.

Look at what is happening overseas.

Last month in the United States, a Gallup poll reported that satisfaction with the level of immigration into the US had fallen six percentage points, down to 28 per cent, following a crisis-level 5.4 million border protection encounters during Joe Biden’s first two years in office.

In January, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak made tackling illegal immigration one of his five key priorities after the number of migrants arriving on the English coast had more than doubled in the last two years, creating social unease and placing strains on government services.

The Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil likes to hammer the point that when in government, the Coalition was too focused on stopping people from coming here.

The reality is that the Coalition was focused on restoring order at our borders because the previous Labor Government had left such a mess.

  • 1,200 people, including children, dead at sea.
  • 8,000 children forcibly placed in detention.
  • 50,000 people arrived on more than 800 boats.
  • And a $10.3 billion blow out in costs to the taxpayers to deal with illegal boat arrivals.

By stopping the boats, the deaths at sea, and the illegal arrivals, the Coalition created the conditions today that allow us to have a national conversation about immigration that is not dominated by border protection.

And that is what we should be doing.

At the 2013 election, during the peak of Labor’s illegal boat arrivals crisis, 10 per cent of voters nominated refugees and asylum seekers as their most important issue, according to the ANU’s Australian Election Study.

At last year’s election, when voters were asked their most important issues, just one per cent said refugees and asylum seekers.

Australians welcome refugees, but they also want control over who comes to their country and in what numbers.

The Coalition has a proud legacy of supporting humanitarian arrivals.

We created additional places for Syrians, Afghanis and Ukrainians because it was the right thing to do.

Today the Labor Government is delivering an innovative humanitarian program that we designed and launched.

The Community Refugee Integration and Settlement Pilot, or CRISP, was announced in December 2021 to drive better settlement and integration outcomes for refugees and humanitarian arrivals by creating opportunities for more Australians to directly support successful settlement in Australia.

This is a bottom-up approach to refugee settlement where local communities work together to welcome and support new arrivals.

It’s beautiful in its simplicity: the best-placed people to help with many of life’s challenges are your friends, neighbours and community.

The CRISP community helps new arrivals do things like:

  • open a bank account,
  • get a job and a drivers licence,
  • enrol their children in school,
  • Find their way around their community.

More than 100 refugees have already arrived in Australia through the CRISP pilot that will run until June 2025, and will resettle up to 1,500 refugee visa holders.

CRISP communities have been created in almost every state, and 54% of refugees have been settled in regional Australia.

A similar program has been running in Canada since the 1970s with great success.

Canadian data suggests that refugees who are supported by a community sponsored group have better employment outcomes.

Getting refugees a job should be a key priority for our humanitarian support program while the early distribution across regional Australia is also encouraging.

The Coalition wants the Australian people to have trust in their government to keep the borders secure, to operate a system with integrity and to ensure that the economic dividends and costs of immigration are managed and shared.

Immigration delivers economic, societal and cultural benefits but there are also impacts on  local jobs, community cohesion, economic growth, infrastructure, and the environment.

We need a proper debate about immigration in this country but all we have from the Labor Government is smoke and mirrors.

In 2009, Kevin Rudd kicked off a debate about immigration when he welcomed a “big Australia” after immigration numbers had reached nearly 170,000 new permanent residents annually.

This Labor Government now avoids debate at every opportunity on Rudd’s approach.

For Labor, why have a debate when you can have a review and operate with no coherent plan.

Since last year’s federal election, Labor has ordered at least

  • 47 reviews,
  • 38 consultation papers, accords and strategies,
  • two summits,
  • 51 ministerial roundtables,
  • and an inquiry.

The Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil stood up at a migration conference last month and admitted that after eight months in the job she still did not know the objective of Labor’s immigration policy.

You could be forgiven for thinking that this is a Labor Government that spent nearly a decade in opposition and still entered government without a plan to do anything other than play politics.

My grave concern is that this Labor Government is pursuing Rudd’s agenda by stealth, and they are using the imprimatur of government paperwork to deliver it.

Labor is delivering a Big Australia without being up front with the Australian people. It’s Labor’s Big Australia policy with no plan.

The question every Australian should ask is: how does a bigger Australia serve me, my family, and my community?

I want to see a better Australia, not simply a bigger Australia.

Every expert that I have spoken to says there is no magic number when it comes to immigration.

But if Labor is going to let large numbers of people settle in Australia they need to bring the community with them and they need a plan that deals with the negative externalities of immigration.

One of the first acts of the Albanese Labor Government last year was to add an additional 35,000 permanent migrants to our annual intake, taking the number to 195,000.

Six months later they added another 19,000 temporary protection visa holders to that number and, as I will detail later, they are also adding further to this with New Zealanders and Pacific Islanders.

In doing this, there has been no discussion about the impacts on congestion, infrastructure, housing, government services, the environment or our regions.

The government needs to be upfront about pursuing their Big Australia policy.

What’s Labor’s plan to deal with housing and congestion and immigration’s impact on both?

Rents across the nation’s capital cities have soared by an extraordinary 17.6 per cent for units and 14.6 per cent for houses over the past year – the steepest annual rent rises ever recorded in Australia.

Rental vacancy rates reached record lows of 0.8 per cent in Melbourne, 0.9 per cent in Sydney and 0.6 per cent in Brisbane last month.

The Grattan Institute estimates that increasing the annual migrant intake by 40,000 a year will, over a decade, increase rents by up to five per cent.

And lower-income renters will be hit hardest.

Grattan observes that the main impact of migration is an increase in inequality among Australians via higher housing costs, and that up to 550 new dwellings are needed in Australia for every 1,000 new immigrants.

So for Labor’s current net migration estimate of 235,000 this financial year they need to find an additional 130,000 homes.

Labor’s plan is to invest $10 billion into a fund and use the dividends to build 30,000 social and affordable homes.

And remember that the Treasurer has admitted the 235,000 number is an underestimate.

If you’re lucky enough to have a roof over your head, the chances are you’re spending too much time stuck in traffic travelling to and from it.

We’re here today in Sydney, which has a huge infrastructure agenda, yet traffic remains an issue.

According to the sat nat provider Tom Tom, Sydney residents spend 203 hours a year in peak hour traffic, and it takes 21 minutes and 30 seconds to travel 10 kilometres.

It’s a similar story in Melbourne where residents spend 192 hours in peak traffic and it takes 20 minutes and 30 seconds to travel 10 kilometres.

Commuters are stuck in pre-COVID congestion levels on their daily commute, or they’ve bought a house that is woefully under served by infrastructure.

One immigrant mother, who bought a home in Donnybrook on Melbourne’s outer north, told the ABC that she allows 45 minutes to drop her daughter at school, which is just three kilometres from her home.

Labor’s lack of a plan on immigration will mean Australians can’t afford their rent and their kids will have no hope of ever owning a home.

Labor’s lack of a plan on immigration will mean Australians are missing out on dinner with their family because they’re stuck in traffic on the drive home from work.

We need a better Australia not Labor’s Big Australia. 

Any increase in migration levels must go hand in hand with real action on housing supply and congestion. It’s simple – if we want to increase the number of Australians, we need to increase the number of homes. Everyone needs somewhere to live.

In the depths of a cost of living crisis, Labor is asking Australians doing it tough to do it tougher, just so they can have a bigger Australia by stealth.

It doesn’t have to be like this.

Australia is a migrant nation. More than 7.5 million people in Australia were born overseas.

No country has successfully integrated as many people from as many cultures as we have.

The Australian people don’t need convincing about the economic benefits of migration.

At the 2022 election, 65 per cent of voters told the ANU election survey they thought that immigrants were good for the economy, which was the highest level since 2004.

Treasury’s Fiscal Impact of New Australians model - the FIONA model - estimates that a highly-skilled migrant has a positive impact on government budgets of $198,000 over a lifetime. The average Australian has a negative impact of -$85,000.

Migrants from the Family stream have, on average, a slightly lower lifetime fiscal impact than the Australian population and humanitarian immigrants are the greatest fiscal impact on a budget (but that is a cost we are happy to pay because it is the right thing to do).

Immigrants are good for the economy when those immigrants are young and highly skilled.

Attracting these people must be the priority of our immigration program.

As Treasury’s 2021 Intergenerational Report says: A well-targeted, skills-focused Migration Program can better support our ageing population by supplementing the stock of working-age people, slowing the transition to an older population, and improving Australia’s fiscal outcomes.

It’s obvious but this wasn’t always the case.

It was John Howard who grasped the economic potential of an immigration policy that targeted highly-skilled workers.

Howard upended immigration by focussing on skilled migrants; overhauling the points system for new arrivals to get a visa and introducing new skilled worker and business-based visas.

Prior to Howard, immigration under Hawke-Keating, had been dominated by family reunions and ministerial intervention.

There was no clear rationale or plan.

The landmark FitzGerald report into immigration found that by 1988 the economic rationale for immigration had become “diffuse, unsupported, unresearched, and under some administrations almost unnoticed”.

Australians are open to immigration that our economy needs, but they want a system run with integrity.

Where there is division, it’s on the question of the size of the intake, with the country basically split three ways on whether immigration should be higher, lower or the same.

According to the ANU election survey:

  • 32 per cent of voters said increase immigration,
  • 30 per cent said reduce immigration,
  • and 38 per cent said keep immigration levels the same.

Australians understand the economic benefits of immigration, yet they are wary of the negative impacts as well.

The Productivity Commission chair, Michael Brennan, makes the point that the skilled migration tap “is not infinite or costless”.

This is why it is so important to bring the nation with you when it comes to immigration policy.

Labor is creating a Big Australia yet they are not doing the right thing in being transparent about it. Labor has a Big Australia policy with no plan.

They appear to be funnelling people towards a permanent residency pipeline without a plan.

We have no details about what skills the additional 35,000 permanent arrivals will bring, where they are coming from and where they are going to live.

Labor need to answer: how many migrants under their increased permanent intake will be young and highly skilled?

We have seen no detail on what visa classes – both onshore and offshore – are being prioritised for processing. This is causing concern amongst visa holders.

They are also undermining the Bob Hawke commitment to a non-discriminatory immigration policy.

The Labor Government wants to treat immigrants from New Zealand and the Pacific Island nations differently to everyone else in the world.

Let me be clear, the Coalition supports greater engagement with our Pacific neighbours.

It was the previous Coalition Government which delivered the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility scheme.

We support a Pacific Engagement Visa in principle but will not support Labor’s legislation that establishes a lottery scheme for running our immigration system and a fee mechanism to buy a ticket to enter.

Australian citizenship is too important to be decided by pulling a name out of a hat. Migrants to this nation should be incentivised to come for work not to access the full range of Social Security benefits and Medicare.

Anthony Albanese has also indicated he will simplify the pathway to citizenship for New Zealanders living in Australia, with an announcement expected by ANZAC Day.

This will impact the 670,000 New Zealand citizens living in Australia and have implications for the National Disability Insurance Scheme, the Higher Education Loan Program, and social security.

Yet there has been no transparency with the Australian people about what Labor is planning.

This Labor Government is considering giving New Zealanders who are not citizens a vote in Australian elections.

This will undermine Australia’s non-discriminatory immigration policy by giving preferential treatment to one group of people over another, it would also introduce significant constitutional and legal risk to election results.

This is another fundamental change to our country that Labor did not seek a mandate to change at the election.

The Government has also announced it will take a “common sense” approach when considering deportation cases of non-citizens who have failed Section 501 of the Migration Act, but who have also lived in Australia for a substantial time.

We are yet to see how this new directive will operate because it only came into effect at the start of the month.

The Coalition refused or cancelled 10,206 visas under the character provision of the Migration Act, including 335 who were Outlaw Motorcycle Gang members, associates, or organised crime figures.

We make no apologies for taking tough decisions. Will Labor make similar tough decisions in similar tough circumstances? Or have they gifted themselves a literal ‘Get out of jail free’ card to avoid making the tough decisions to keep Australians safe?

The lack of a plan is impacting other areas as well.

Before the election, Anthony Albanese was forced to admit that a Labor government would need to recruit nurses from overseas to meet its promise to mandate 24/7 registered nurses in aged care from July 2023.

Internal Health Department documents published this month under freedom of information laws, reveal the government’s election promise will require more than 14,600 new workers in 2023-24 and 25,000 the year after.

Yet we have heard nothing about Labor’s plans to identify, recruit and expedite the arrival of aged care professionals to meet the demand created by its own deadline.

The pool of countries from which we can recruit registered nurses and get them to Australia quickly is relatively small, because of the rigorous requirements to register an overseas nurse in Australia,

There are serious concerns this will force aged care facilities to close because they just can’t access the required staff, which means residents will be forced to leave their homes and older Australians from rural and regional Australia will be forced to travel miles away from their community to receive support.

We have seen this government demonise temporary migrants, calling Australia a “guest worker economy”.

Home Affairs Minister Claire O’Neil says, “we need to redesign the fundamental structure of the migration system, and rebalance the temporary and permanent programs”.

What does “rebalancing” mean?

How many of the temporary migrants in Australia will be rebalanced into permanent citizens?

How will this help fill crucial workforce shortages in areas like aged care?

Labor is yet to explain how they can run an uncapped temporary migration program and a capped permanent program, while dangling the carrot of permanent residency to temporary visa-holders.

Hopefully we will get some answers when Labor releases its much hyped review into the immigration system.

But again, where the government could have engaged with the public, the report is still a secret and none of the submissions have been published.

All we know about the review’s contents come from a leak to a newspaper that says the review recommends abolishing labour market testing when recruiting highly-skilled international workers.

This recommendation is in direct conflict with Labor’s national platform that commits the government to renegotiating all of Australia’s existing free trade agreements to insert labour market testing requirements.

Perhaps the silence on the review is the sound of the government trying to square a circle.

Good policy outcomes are not delivered as a surprise.

That’s why I’ve developed three simple rules for dealing with the Albanese Labor Government:

  • If they say, trust us on the details, double check the details.
  • If they say, we’ve commissioned a review, it is code for them saying they don’t have a plan.
  • And, anything Labor said they wouldn’t do before the election, it seems is going to get done by stealth.

And that’s why If Labor wants a Big Australia with no plan, they are going to get called out on it.

In contrast, the Coalition is determined to deliver a better Australia. We want to use immigration to build our nation. To focus on bringing young, skilled workers to our country to address workforce shortages using both temporary and permanent migration. To ensure our immigration program is part of a plan.

Providing the housing, infrastructure, schools, medical and other services we need to grow sustainably. It is one of our biggest challenges as a nation and we must get it right.

Media contact | Sandie Gustus 0408 564 232