IMMIGRATION AND CITIZENSHIP PORTFOLIO
This chapter summarises areas of interest and concern raised during the
committee's consideration of the additional estimates for the Immigration and
Citizenship portfolio for the 2008-09 financial year.
Department of Immigration and Citizenship
The committee sought information on current staffing levels, and changes
in the Department's staffing profile due to redundancy. The Secretary informed
the committee that the financial 'health check' about which the committee heard
at its 2008 Additional Estimates hearing, had been completed. The committee was
told that 149 staff had accepted voluntary redundancy, all of whom worked in
the national office.
The committee continued its long standing interest in the subclass 457
visa program and skilled migration more generally. The committee was
particularly interested in how the Government would tailor the skilled visa
intake to the rapidly changing economic environment. The Minister submitted
...there is ongoing engagement between my department and DEEWR on
employment issues. We work very closely with them on a range of matters. We take
advice from them on things like skill vacancies. So they provide advice about
employment markets et cetera and we respond in our immigration role. But, as I
made clear yesterday when asked about this, we are in a situation where the
economic circumstances have changed quite dramatically. The immigration program
in the skills area is largely run to meet the skills needs of the economy and I
have been keen to change the focus of the program to a demand driven
economy—that we actually bring in the people whom we need to fill the skill
shortages that exist in the Australian economy...I see the overall [intake]
being lower. Clearly the priority is on creating jobs and job opportunities for
Australians, but, nevertheless, there will still be skills that we are looking
to bring into the country. Long term, we will continue to have to bring
migrants in to meet various labour and skills shortages.
The Minister also told the committee that the migration program size was
part of the budget process:
First of all, to be clear, the decision about the 2009-10
migration program size and composition is a decision for cabinet, as part of
the budget process, as has been the tradition for many years in Australia.
That decision has not been taken as yet.
The committee also raised the case of Dr Moeller, whose visa
application, together with those of his family, was rejected by the Department
on the basis of the costs to the health system for his disabled son. The
Minister informed the committee that he had asked the Parliamentary Joint
Committee on Migration to examine the current terms of the 'health waiver',
under which the Department had no choice but to decline Dr Moeller's
The committee was also informed that the trial of guest workers from the
Pacific was underway, with 50 Tongan workers due to arrive and work in
Australia between February and August 2009.
The committee took evidence on the circumstances surrounding the
decision by two temporary protection visa holders residing in Australia to
travel to Indonesia, and the forewarning to them of the implications of their
decision on their right of return. The committee also discussed the abolition
of Temporary Protection Visas and the incidence of 'safe haven' visas in the
previous reporting period.
As with previous hearings the committee questioned officers on the
citizenship test (the test). Further to the evidence taken at the last
Additional Estimates hearing, the committee heard that a review of the test had
been undertaken at a cost of $221 131.
In response to questions asked by committee members about the outcome of
the review, the Minister told the committee that:
... the committee recommended, and we endorsed, that the test
remain in English.
Officers subsequently outlined other outcomes of the review in relation
to the citizenship test:
The review committee recommended, and the government accepted,
that the resource book for becoming an Australian citizen could consist of two
components. The first is testable and the second is information that might be
of use and of interest to people becoming or wishing to become citizens. The
review committee formed the opinion that the words of the pledge of commitment
that new citizens are required to make—in fact, it is the final step in
becoming a citizen—and that the ideas encapsulated in the wording of the pledge
should form the basis of knowledge that people have in regard to
responsibilities and privileges and in regard to Australia’s democracy and
democratic beliefs, et cetera, and the fact that we require people to uphold law,
and that we have a rule of law. Those concepts will form the basis of the
testable section of the resource book and will become the basis for questions
in future tests.
Senator Trish Crossin
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