NATALIE BARR: The government is set to announce the biggest shake-up to the migration system when it unveils it’s soon-to-be-released review. Under the changes, businesses will be able to bring in foreign workers on potentially as little as $120,000 on a visa which will only take weeks to process instead of months. The major overhaul aims to make it easier for companies in high-demand industries to fill staff shortages.
Let’s bring in Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil and Shadow Finance Minister Jane Hume. Good morning to both of you. Clare, this will obviously help businesses fill the shortage of skilled workers in this country. I guess the big problem here is: where are they going to live?
CLARE O’NEIL: So, Nat, there was some reporting about this this morning, and the government hasn’t actually released its policy. But if I can just step back a little bit: when we arrived in office we found a migration system which was fundamentally broken, and I mean fundamentally. It was slow, expensive, impossible to use, not serving Australians and not serving our economy. And we commissioned a report when we first arrived in office which told us literally the system was broken. And the reforms that you’re talking about there are some policies the government will release later this year.
What I want Australians to understand this is actually not about how many people come to Australia. It’s not about how many people come through; it’s about who. It’s the first time that our government in a long time has really thought about the question of why we would bring people to Australia through the migration system, what are the big national challenges that we’re seeking to solve and design a system around those things.
So if I can just say one final thing on this: it’s important to note that the overall effect of these changes will not be to increase migration in Australia. In fact, the effect of the changing will be to reduce the size of the system a bit. But I say again, the point of this review and this policy change is not really about how many; it’s about who and making sure that we’re getting the best out of this system for the country.
NATALIE BARR: Right. So the system was broken. Jane, do you support fixing a broken migration system?
JANE HUME: Well, this is something that businesses have been calling on since Labor came to government. It’s taken 15 months for this review to be completed, and it’s already been leaked to the newspaper, Clare. So I haven’t read it yet so I find it a little bit difficult to comment on the details. What I would say is: where is the infrastructure that’s going to support this migration? We already know that around half a million migrants have come to Australia just in the last 12 months alone. We’re in the middle of a housing crisis. We’ve got crumbling infrastructure that needs upgrading. We know that Catherine King has put that on hold to do a review of infrastructure projects. So we need to be able to underpin that new migration.
NATALIE BARR: So, Jane –
JANE HUME: A good quality migration program has underpinned Australia’s economic growth and prosperity for decades. But the question is, the real issue is, a well-managed migration program. If this is a well-managed migration program, that’s terrific. That will add to productivity and economic growth. If it’s not, it will make it worse.
NATALIE BARR: It sounds like it was broken when you were in, though, Jane.
JANE HUME: Well, that’s a great talking point that Clare is using, and I understand exactly why she would.
NATALIE BARR: So did it just break in the last 15 months since Labor got in, did it?
JANE HUME: Well, no, I didn’t say it was broken. Clare said it was broken.
NATALIE BARR: Well, you said businesses have been calling for it to be fixed, so.
JANE HUME: I said a good-quality migration program – a quality migration program has underpinned our economic growth for decades and will continue to do so so long as it isn’t a free-for-all. We want to make sure that it is a well-managed migration program. I haven’t read the report. I’m hoping that’s what it says and that this is what business want and need and that the government is committed to underpinning it with the right level of infrastructure and housing in order to make sure that it is, in fact, well-managed.
NATALIE BARR: Clare, on Jane’s point, where is everyone going to live? That is a big issue in this country. What are you going to do about it?
CLARE O’NEIL: Yeah, completely agree. Completely agree. So let me make just a couple of points, Nat. So, firstly, our population today is actually lower than it would have been had we not shut the borders during Covid. So the population that was being championed by the opposition is actually higher than where we are at the moment. But that being said, I completely agree – we’ve got really serious problems with housing in our country. And I’d say with great respect to Jane and her colleagues, we are actually trying to do something about this problem and every time we try to do something about it, Jane and her colleagues team up with other people and try to stop us.
JANE HUME: Hang on, Clare – that was social housing. These migrants don’t want social housing. They want new housing.
CLARE O’NEIL: So the recent example is the Housing Australia Future Fund. So the really important thing is we are trying to do something about housing. We want to build more housing and Jane and her colleagues are trying to stop us from doing that –
JANE HUME: Front page of The Age today said that State governments are holding up $120,000 in Victoria alone - 120,000 new homes in Victoria alone.
CLARE O’NEIL: And that’s a consistent theme of the Opposition, Nat. This is a consistent theme of the opposition. What we see from the opposition is every time Labor tries to fix a problem that’s affecting people in our country, the Coalition or the No-alition, as the Prime Minister calls them, come out and say no. We saw it on housing. We saw it on energy prices where we’ve got Australians paying too high for energy prices. We try to do something about and the Coalition try to stop us.
JANE HUME: Oh, Clare, come on. Energy prices are getting worse under you. They went down under the Coalition.
CLARE O’NEIL: So I think Jane and I actually have some agreement about some national problems here. What I would say – what I would say to you, Jane, and to Nat, to everyone listening is we’ve got some big problems here. The government is trying to do something. Come with us. Come try help these – solve these problems with us and then we’ll actually move forward on some of these problems that you’ve identified there.
NATALIE BARR: Okay. Let’s move forward on another issue that’s happening today. Olympic legend Cathy Freeman has declared her support for an Indigenous Voice to Parliament in a new video published by the Yes campaign. Take a listen.
CATHY FREEMAN: We have the chance to be part of a moment that brings people together, to work hard for something that we can all believe in. And right now each of us can be part of something that really matters.
NATALIE BARR: So it comes as the Yes campaign urges young Aussies to help persuade family members to support the cause with the new hash tag #ringyourrelo. Clare, is this what the Yes campaign’s found – that younger supporters are mainly yes and they need to convince their older family members?
CLARE O’NEIL: Yeah, firstly, that Cathy Freeman video absolutely has given me chills. I just love Cathy Freeman so much and it’s thrilling that she’s put her voice behind the Voice. So, yeah, Nat, what we know about the Voice is that we’ve got a lot of young people around this country that are fiercely supportive of the Voice, and it’s no wonder, because these Indigenous disadvantage issues that we’re seeking to address through a Voice to Parliament, these problems are going to land in the lap of Australia’s young people if we don’t do something about them. And we’ve got a really important opportunity on the 14th of October to recognise First Nations people in our constitution, to agree to consult them on issues that affect them, and this will lead to better outcomes, close that life expectancy gap, address the fact that an Indigenous mum is three times more likely to die in childbirth. These are serious issues that young people in this country care about. And we’re asking them, ring your relo, go and talk to your grandma or your dad or someone in your life who you know cares about your views and explain to them why this matters so much.
NATALIE BARR: Jane, we’ve also had the PM and the Opposition Leader calling for mere respect in the Voice debate after abuse was hurled at No campaigners at their launch in Adelaide. Is that what we need here?
JANE HUME: Of course we need respect when discussing this very important issue that affects not just Indigenous Australians but all Australians. And, quite frankly, if you have a relative that rings you and decides to talk to you about the Voice, I think it’s important that you ask them some questions. Ask them how the Voice will be appointed. Will they be elected or will they be appointed? How they will be paid? Who will be represented? What powers will they have? What powers will they not have? And, most importantly, the most important question is exactly how is this Voice to Parliament going to close the gap, which is the most important thing that we can do. These are the questions that the Coalition has been asking the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister can’t answer them. So if a relative gives you a call and decides to talk you into voting yes for the voice, ask those questions yourself, because these are the fundamental questions that no-one seems to be able to answer. And if you don’t know how it’s going to work, it can’t be changed and you can’t reverse it and it risks what we have, the most successful multicultural, peaceful liberal democracy in the world, well, then, how can you vote for it?
NATALIE BARR: Okay. And just – thank you very much ladies. Just checking that everyone is okay? It got a bit heated last week. We’re all friends here?
JANE HUME: Clare and I have been texting over the weekend. In fact, I was outside the front of her electorate office. I took a big selfie with her, you know, big face on the window behind me. So, yes, of course.
NATALIE BARR: Okay. It’s good to have a respectful debate. We like that here. Thank you very much both of you. We’ll see you next week. Here’s Shirvo.