MIGRATION LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (SPONSORSHIP MEASURES) BILL 2003: Second Reading
Mr CADMAN (Mitchell) (6.49 p.m.) —The Migration Legislation Amendment (Sponsorship Measures) Bill 2003 is about sponsorship and a change in the way in which sponsorship of migrants is carried out in Australia. It is a very sensible approach, because sponsorship seeks to spread the responsibility for the integrity and truth behind an application for entry into Australia.
For a long time, Australians have been used to the concept of sponsorship with families, fiancées and so on. A range of sponsorships have been in place and have been in common use. Some of the difficulties with sponsorship have been dealt with over the years, such as the need to verify the bona fides of both the sponsor and the person who is sponsored. Sometimes that is not easy, and governments have used mechanisms like placing bonds or restrictions, such as length of period in Australia, capacity to speak English, job entitlements and closeness of relationships. All of these mechanisms have been used by governments to narrow the capacity for sponsors to renege on their responsibilities. At one point there was a process of guarantors, where a guarantor had to guarantee support by assuring accommodation, and living capacity by income, food or other forms of sustenance. That assurance of support usually applied to close relatives.
Sponsorship has moved beyond that, and today we are looking at the important element of sponsorship as it relates to a wider range of non-citizens. It is an endeavour to protect the Australian community from the costs and risks that may be associated with a non-citizen overstaying or failing to take up their responsibilities on having gained entry and a visa. The sponsor can sign a statutory declaration and can provide a bond. The areas that are covered in this legislation proposed by the government are to ensure that, for people who sponsor people for short-term employment, those who gain a commercial advantage from sponsorship arrangements, the sponsorship process is capable of rigorous examination and execution.
The requirement for temporary entry now is, of course, to demonstrate that there is a particular skill shortage. That is done by a whole range of market-testing mechanisms, such as advertising in newspapers, going through trade organisations or demonstrating that those people who have already come to an employer are not adequately trained or qualified to fulfil the purpose for which the employer is seeking the entry of a further person to Australia. This is an additional process in that chain. This is a comprehensive and transparent framework of regulations which, as I have said, seeks to build rigour into the selection of people coming to Australia for short-term advantage.
There is no doubt that there are opportunities for people to play games with this visa category through the capacity to falsely represent those who are coming and the skills shortages that apply. As members of the House will be aware, in many instances small businesses seek to have a relative come to work for them. Such businesses may just be small retail or takeaway food outlets, where cash is handled on a regular basis. It may be difficult to get somebody to work in a trustworthy manner, handling cash all the time, for the long hours required. The business owner will say they want to sponsor somebody to come because of a shortage of labour. They usually want to sponsor a relative who is short on skills but who, they say, is the only individual who can fulfil the task they have described. If they have to start advertising in newspapers to demonstrate that there is a shortage of people with that skill, the case is sure to fail. It just will not hold up, despite their wishes to have somebody with past experience who is closely connected with them on a personal basis, somebody whom they consider to be trustworthy. It is lowly skilled jobs that fall within these categories where businesspeople are looking to bring people into Australia through sponsorship.
The fact of the matter is that all governments have adopted the policy that Australians deserve to get the jobs first. We will fill additional jobs from overseas as required. That is part of the temporary visa process, and sponsorship, when put in place, will give that process a further endorsement. The framework proposed by the bill provides for regulations to be made depending on the type of visa, for sponsorship to be a criterion for either the application or grant of a visa, for a process and criteria for the approval of sponsors and for undertakings to be made by sponsors. So there are a number of elements to the process. It is a selective process and one that I compliment the minister on.
The minister for immigration is a most careful administrator. The previous speaker from the Labor Party, the member for Lalor, pulled out three or four cases to demonstrate that things are in chaos. I remember Bob Hawke crying on television when Jana Wendt, on a bet, sought to make him react. He did, and that resulted in 42,000 people staying in Australia who were not planned for, categorised or in any way qualified for entry or residency. That was a very haphazard approach. I remember, too, the Australian Labor Party's policy under various ministers which was based on family reunion rather than on what contribution migrants could make to Australia. This minister changed that process, and he has the confidence of the Australian people. It does not matter how much the opposition endeavour to destroy his integrity. The Australian community have seen Philip Ruddock consistently arguing the case without change or variation and with careful and measured processes. They have seen him make decisions, with a great deal of integrity, about what is best for Australia.
Part of the flaw in the previous administration's process—and I have not seen a willingness to change it—is that it was driven more by migrants than by national interest. There has to be a balance between the wish of a multicultural society for friends and families to come and the ultimate wellbeing of the Australian community. The Australian Labor Party lost the trust. Senator Nick Bolkus from South Australia, who has been mentioned in the House today, lost the trust of the Australian community. It is very sad to see that happen to a minister. He lost the trust to the point where I remember the finance minister at the time, Peter Walsh, describing the immigration program administered by Nick Bolkus as one characterised by `cave-ins' and `blow-outs'. Those are the words of Peter Walsh, who was a very sensible and well-balanced senator.
The government and the minister are applying another measure of integrity and purpose to sponsorships. The actions in the regulations include the ability to cancel sponsorships and impose bars on sponsors. If you detect a person who is shonky and who is suspect in the way in which they are running a series of sponsorships, you can prevent that person from continuing to run sponsorships. I think that is a very sensible thing. If you see these roosters—that is probably the wrong term; let me say `these characters'—present themselves as honest businessmen coming up to gain approval after approval and you are suspicious of what lies behind their sponsorships, they can be barred from sponsoring under this proposal.
The Migration Legislation Amendment (Sponsorship Measures) Bill 2003 and the regulations will give the government the capacity to create different approaches for sponsors in different types of categories. That flexibility must be there. Whether it is for a class, a subclass or a group, there must be capacity for the government to apply the sponsorship rules with care and with flexibility. That will allow us to create different approaches for different groups of sponsors. That is a sensible thing.
Let me give an example. In my area of Sydney, the building industry has been going gang busters for a long time. People have been buying homes and building homes. That has attracted suppliers. One of the suppliers was a retailer and wholesaler of ceramic wall and floor tiles. Andrew Ferguson of the CFMEU decided that one way of signing up all the subcontractors in this industry would be to make sure that the subcontractors working in the industry were branded as illegal immigrants, so he started informing the department of immigration that there were a lot of illegal immigrants working as wall and floor tilers. There were a couple, and they were caught. The supplier said, `We're going to make sure that all of these people are ridgy-didge. We are going to make sure that they are legitimately in Australia,' and they changed their practices to make sure that not even one slipped past. But that did not stop the union movement from picketing that establishment and from making extraordinary claims in the press about illegal immigrants and dishonest businessmen, none of which were proved. This was done because of a wish by the union movement to control the immigration program.
That is what is limiting much of the view of the Australian Labor Party. This is a union driven process. If you limit the number of people in a particular industry you can drive up the salaries and wages because people will be clamouring for employees from that particular industry. Martin Ferguson, the member for Batman, was a classic at this; he always did it. He did it time and again. He would complain about people only coming into Australia in order to limit the supply of tradesmen or tradeswomen, or about a particular class of migrant, so he could then go to the commission and drive up wages and salaries.
Those days are gone. Instead of the complaints that we have heard today coming from the Australian Labor Party about big business being the ogre in this, I would love to see a genuine approach from the Labor Party which looks at the needs of Australia and which makes sure those needs are met. They could do that by allowing this bill through. It is not necessary to send a bill with which the Australian Labor Party agrees off to a Senate committee. As I have said time and again, if there are flaws in it the Australian Labor Party will be able to brand us up and down the country as irresponsible and ineffective in administrating immigration. I am sure they will not be able to do that.
The care with which these decisions have been taken makes sure that Australian jobs come first. We do not want to bring people in from overseas at the expense of Australians—no-one wants to do that. Australians have to have first rights. That is why the process involves demonstrating the shortage of a skill, a class or a group before it is possible to claim a temporary entry visa for somebody in that business category.
It is very important that the sponsored business class of visa provides access to highly skilled labour. We are growing. The reports that the Treasurer mentioned today talked about the competitiveness of Australia and where we stand in the world. That competitiveness and that standing mean that we can set standards. We do not have to accept everything that comes along. We do not have to be soft-hearted and soft-headed. We can be careful in this area of business and jobs and make sure that we get people who are going to provide Australia with the opportunity to move ahead and to in fact come close to leading the way in competitiveness and in responsiveness in a global sense.
The professional development visa is also part of these changes. It will enforce sponsorship undertakings as a part of professional development. Australia is in high demand as a place for professional development of all sorts. Whether it is an organisation, an institution or an individual sponsoring someone for training in Australia, the sponsorship process will apply for those seeking to establish for themselves training in the niche market of Australia. They can come in, get the training and move out again. That will build rapport and links that will have both economic and political outcomes. We will be able to build on those links for trade and sales, as well as imports. They will also build the strength of political relationships between countries in and beyond our region.
Although to date the number of sponsors who have failed to comply with their undertakings has been relatively small, we need to have that protection there. That is what this legislation provides. The bill also includes associated merit review changes that will ensure that the integrity of Australia's migration and entry programs are not compromised in any way.
If people renege on their payments or if they fail as sponsors to fulfil their duties, the full force of the Commonwealth will come against them. This legislation will create different sponsorship undertakings for different categories of visa. Sponsors will be required to make undertakings which relate to financial obligations in relation to the visa holder, the sponsor's own behaviour and conduct—including compliance with Australian laws and regulations—and the visa holder's compliance with the conditions that attach to their visas.
I will conclude by saying that in regard to the exercise of ministerial discretion, which has been a matter of discussion in the House, the minister has to make a judgment on various classes of individuals. The Australian Labor Party had a preference to adopt a codified, formulised approach to immigration. There did not seem to be a capacity to make a decision based on an individual, so what came from the demise of the Australian Labor Party in 1996 was the demise of the computerised process of immigration—run the names, the qualifications and the countries through a computer, and automatically out comes the result of an immigration program. The minister's role in this process was removed. It appears that the Australian Labor Party wants to once more so categorise, formulise and computerise the process of immigration that there is no capacity for anybody to go to the minister and say, `This is a deserving case. You need to apply your mind to it.'
The result of the Labor Party policies was the one that was described by Peter Walsh: breakdown, break-out, shambolic, mismanaged and rorted. That is demonstrated time and again. In fact, the integrity process in place with the current immigration program is the only way to carefully manage with compassion and care the decisions Australia needs to make about who comes here. You can have an indiscriminate program, which I think is what the Australian Labor Party talks about some of the time, but we must be careful and we must choose. In that area where judgment is needed—and it is not a large area—the minister must be given the capacity to make judgments. You can criticise the minister if you wish, but I find the minister to be a man of integrity, sincerity, compassion and care in all that he does.
Author: Alan Cadman MP
Source: House Hansard - 24th June 2003
Release Date: 3 Jul 2003