The Australian Greens thank everyone who made a public submission to this inquiry.
The Australian Greens broadly support the New Skilled Regional Visas (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2019 (the Bill) and its purpose.
Experience from across Australia shows that migrants are welcomed into regional areas, and become valued members of their communities, contributing to local economies, and bringing invaluable professional and personal skills and experiences to their areas.
However, any policy to encourage new migrants to settle in regional areas must be backed up with extra support to ensure migrants can be supported in their new homes. Regional and personal circumstances can change: employers or industries might shift or shut down, and medical people might need to move for medical reasons.
This Bill will make amendments to various legislation in the Social Services, Education, and Attorney-General’s portfolios, which will provide holders of new provisional skilled regional visas with access to social security payments and certain government services on the same terms as permanent visa holders. Providing these welfare safety nets for provisional visa holders will help support new migrants through unforeseen changes in circumstances by, as submitted by the Australian Local Government Association, helping:
…ensure adequate support to visa holders and thus take potential pressure off councils which often have to fill service gaps when these services are not otherwise available to members of their community…[and] will encourage visa holders to move to and remain in regional Australia, which will enhance the social and economic fabric of these communities.
While providing certain welfare safety nets for provisional skilled regional visa holders, this Bill will also take some of those same welfare safety nets – disability services – from ‘non-protected’ Special Category Visa (SCV) holders. These SCVs are for people who migrated to Australia from New Zealander after 26 February 2001. As these New Zealanders migrated to Australia with these benefits, the Australian Greens believe they should be retained.
That disability services referred to by schedule 1, item 7 of this Bill be grandfathered for all Special Category Visas issued prior to enactment of this Bill.
Welfare safety nets are just one of the many supports new migrants and their new local communities will require to ensure regional migrant settlements are successful. Government investment in schools, hospitals, and other infrastructure will be required to ensure appropriate education, health and other services are in place. As submitted by the Australian Multicultural Council, there is still a need for:
…a comprehensive regional policy to support the settlement of migrants in rural and regional communities, ensuring not only employment but the right employment, as well as strong futures for children of migrants in regional Australia.
This comprehensive regional policy would also include protection of worker rights. Worker rights must be managed to ensure skilled migrants are not exploited. As submitted by the National Tertiary Education Union, research shows temporary workers in Australia can be subjected to:
…underpayment of wages and superannuation, including being forced to pay back wages; abuse ranging from psychological to physical; threats of deportation if complaints are made or workers join unions; [and] being forced to live in sub-standard conditions.
That the Government develops a comprehensive regional policy to support the settlement of migrants in rural and regional communities, which considers, inter alia, the needs of employees, employers, industries, public services and infrastructure, and broader regional communities.
Senator Nick McKim
Greens Senator for Tasmania