A submission to the 2015 ALP Draft Platform

The ALP recently released a draft platform and asked for submissions. The platform will be debated at the upcoming 2015 Conference.

I kept my comments to the section on skilled migration. I tried to write this submission in terms similar to the platform itself, so there is are not many policy details but more high level statements and comments. I also attempted to make my contribution able to engage with and pragmatic, knowing this is a tricky area for the ALP and we should be finding places of agreement as well as defining disagreement.

My submission is below and was provided the 18th of May.

ALP Policy Platform submission

Thank you for the opportunity to provide feedback on the draft national platform.

I previously worked at the Department of Immigration and currently work for the Migration Council Australia. This submission is provided in a strict personal capacity.

Section 55: There are demonstrated benefits of circular migration to both origin and destination countries. I believe the term ‘brain drain’ is an overly negative stereotype and the emigration of Australians can have long-term benefits to the Australian economy from return migration. An estimated ~1 million Australians live overseas and as a party, I believe there is value in better engagement and capacity using the Australian diaspora. New Zealand has a defined policy around its diaspora that could be considered. This would help encourage return migration and to import knowledge and innovation in a global economy.

Recommendation: Remove the term ‘brain drain’ and commit to engagement with Australia’s diaspora.

Section 59-60: There are multiple references to the role of temporary and permanent migration. This is the single most important policy for Australia’s skilled migration framework. I believe there should be pathway to permanent residency based criteria around time spent in Australia. The worst possible outcome is a migrant who is ‘permanently temporary’, excluded from full engagement in Australian society. This also undermines working conditions for Australian citizens and permanent migrants.

Recommendation: A commitment that no migrant will be ‘permanently temporary’.

Section 61-62: An increasing number of permanent migrants are granted their visa in Australia. This has increased from 23 per cent in 1996 to 50 per cent in 2014. This trend will continue to increase in the coming years and the implications should be explored more fully.

For example:

  • 70 per cent of 457 visa holders who stay in Australia for 10 months intend to become permanent residents. The term ‘temporary’ in this circumstance is a misnomer and hurts policy development.
  • Instead of providing information on workplace rights and responsibilities and welcoming permanent migrants to Australia’s community (Section 61.4), this process should have occurred on entry to Australia.
  • ‘Short-term skill shortages’ (Section 62:1) is the objective of temporary migration yet permanent migration is predominantly targeted at medium- and long-term critical skill gaps. There is some contradiction here.
  • Temporary and permanent migration decisions are often driven by decisions of migrants. This is missing from consideration in Section 61 and 62. While there is a legislative difference between an employer sponsored temporary and permanent visa, there is very little different between the two people in the labour market.

These trends are recognised in Section 65. Yet given these examples, I believe there is justification to merge Section 61 and 62 to demonstrate a policy approach that is more reflective on what actually occurs in the labour market with regard to skilled migration. Section 65 should also be incorporated as a general statement of principles.

By creating such a clear delineation between temporary and permanent migration, policy options become restricted and fail to capture migrants who can fall through the gaps.

Recommendation: Combine Section 61 and 62, with reference to similarities and differences of temporary and permanent migration.

Section 63: I support the commitment to removing the possibility to engage in sham contracting.

This section also provides a logical place to reference a commitment to ‘whistle-blower’ provisions for migrants who are exploited, regardless of their visa status. This status would not penalise migrants and provide a unique bridging visa allowing full work rights without a sponsor for a defined period of time.

Recommendation: Include a commitment to ‘whistle-blower’ status for migrants who are exploited in the labour market.

Section 64: I support Ministerial Advice Council on Skilled Migration. I believe the Council should work in similar fashion to the Productivity Committee, providing reports via formal terms of reference from the Minister for Immigration. In addition, a biannual labour market report would be released on how migration policies are functioning.

The Council should also have a demonstrated commitment to publicly releasing all reports. There should be a process to engage externally as the Council deems fit.

Recommendation: Include provisions where the Minister for Immigration can formally request specific reviews. Reference a commitment to transparency for the Ministerial Council.

Section 65: As discussed previously, merge with sections 61-62 to better article policy to temporary and permanent migration pathways.

The reference to requiring labour market testing for permanent residency is poor policy. This would hurt migrant’s settlement prospects and be an unnecessary barrier to gaining permanent residency. The previous commitment to permanent residency, “Labour prefers permanent skilled migration to temporary skilled migration” (Section 60), is undermined by constructing new barriers to permanent migration. Labour market testing would also stymie encouraging employers to sponsor temporary migrants for permanent residency, as referenced in the third sentence of Section 65.

I also believe “any transition to permanent residency status should not be automatic” is too strict. There are currently migrants who fall through the gaps, as it is easier to access temporary migration than permanent migration. Over time, this will lead to a growing population of migrants who are ‘permanently temporary’.

By providing a pathway to permanent residency based on time-criteria, for example 10 years, this will limit exploitation in the labour market and better support working conditions for Australian citizens and permanent residents.

I believe it is morally unjustified to tell a person who has lived in Australia for 10 years on a temporary visa to ‘go home’ given Australia is now their home. Even in cases whereby the labour market conditions have shifted, this should not force those who have made Australia their home to be removed.

Recommendation: Remove references to labour market testing for permanent residency status. Reference a commitment to a pathway to time-based criteria for permanent migration.

Section 66: I support the commitment outlined in this section. I believe now is the time to initiate a full re-write of the Migration Act. The Act was written in 1958 and the Regulations in 1994. In this time, migration has completely transformed. The Act is not able to deal effectively with a range of issues, such as the migration zone, the intersection with the Fair Work Act or temporary and permanent visas. In addition, policy is so broad that there are multiple occasions where legislation is poorly interpreted. A commitment to re-write the Migration Act would create a critical opportunity to address Australia’s migration policy framework for the 21st century.

Recommendation: A commitment to introduce a new Migration Act.

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