This inquiry was established to consider policies that would encourage migrants to settle and remain in regional Australia.
Regional Australia contributes around 30 per cent of Australia’s GDP. But with declining populations and an estimated 60,000 job vacancies when this inquiry was established, many of our smaller cities and regional areas were struggling to fill the jobs available.
This represented a serious challenge for Australia’s economy. If jobs cannot be filled the survival of industries in regional Australia is threatened, a point memorably illustrated by evidence from the South Australian wine industry which is worth more than $2 billion to the economy.
In the Clare Valley, just over two hours from Adelaide, the wine industry has not filled all its job vacancies for fruit pickers over the last couple of vintages. The industry also struggles to get people to staff their cellar doors and restaurants. Without workers, the industry cannot pick their harvest or market their wine. This impacts on their growth opportunities, fulfilment of exports, and over time risks the contraction of the industry.
We heard strong evidence that skilled migrants create jobs for Australians. In Mount Gambier we visited the Metro Bakery where the migration of two skilled pastry chefs from the Philippines (to do a job in a location where no Australian was willing or qualified) has resulted in those migrants training five apprentices, leading to the business expanding and employing 45 local people, including at-risk Australians.
Visiting regional Australia gave the Committee insight into some of the challenges towns and cities were facing in attracting and retaining migrants, as well as the social and cultural contribution migrants can make to a community.
In March this year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Committee became unable to travel to public hearings and the landscape of Australia’s economy shifted significantly. The Committee unanimously resolved to suspend the inquiry.
The economic impacts of the public health situation has changed the circumstances for regional communities for more than just the short term. Australia’s borders have been temporarily closed, and the situation will continue to evolve as the Government considers how and when to reopen Australia to migration. In light of this uncertainty the Committee has decided to draw the inquiry to a close.
As the inquiry has been curtailed the committee did not have the opportunity to fully interrogate issues or draw conclusions which could form agreed recommendations. However, in this short report the committee has decided to note some of the recurrent issues raised both in submissions and evidence to the committee.
On behalf of the Committee, I would like to thank everyone who has made submissions or appeared before the Committee to provide evidence.