Aussie migration system set for shake-up

Australian Human Rights Commissioner Lorraine Finlay has appeared before a parliamentary inquiry into migration.
Australian Human Rights Commissioner Lorraine Finlay has appeared before a parliamentary inquiry into migration.

Australia should consider increasing its intake of asylum seekers to protect more people and get additional skilled workers into the country, Human Rights Commissioner Lorraine Finlay has said.

Ms Finlay made the remarks in evidence she presented to a new parliamentary inquiry, commissioned by Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil, which is examining the role of permanent migration in “nation building”.

Speaking at the public hearing on Tuesday, Ms Finlay said Australia had a moral obligation to protect people who needed it and should also consider the “enormous contribution” asylum seekers had made after arriving here.

“That’s one way of actually raising potentially the numbers of people that we’re able to support in this sense – by looking at alternative pathways to bring in people who do have skills that Australia needs, but who also need protection and safety,” Ms Finlay said on Tuesday.

For example, she said Australia could consider alternative entry programs outside of the refugee humanitarian program which provide opportunities for people with unique skills who were also seeking safety and protection.

“It ultimately allows us to create a better mix in terms of the numbers of people we’re able to support and the way we’re able to bring people into Australia,” she said.

“And that’s something definitely worth considering.”

Australia’s migration system is set for an overhaul. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Damian Shaw

Ms Finlay said Australia should look at its policies for refugees and asylum seekers with the aim of helping people build lives in Australia and make long-lasting contributions rather than just offering them immediate safety and protection.

This would help Australia avoid a situation in which it effectively creates a permanent class of temporary residents who “are simply unable to actually move forward with their lives with any sense of certainty”, she said.

Australia’s migration system is set for a broader shake-up following a recent review, with the federal government planning to deliver its final strategy later this year.

At the same time, Labor is proceeding with plans to increase the cap on the number of visas Australia gives to skilled migrants each year to 195,000 in an effort to solve dire workforce shortages affecting many industries.

Ms Finlay urged the government to consider improved protections for foreign workers among employers and migrant support services to stamp out exploitation.

“We need to strike the right balance because of course, these schemes are really important in addressing worker shortages,” she said.

Human Rights Commissioner Lorraine Finlay has appeared before the inquiry.
Human Rights Commissioner Lorraine Finlay has appeared before the inquiry.

“They’re really important in terms of the economic benefits they bring, both to Australia and to the workers who are engaged as part of those schemes, but it is a matter of ensuring the appropriate protections.”

The Albanese government has also promised to improve pathways to permanency for temporary skilled migrants and says about 70 per cent of places in the 2023–2024 permanent migration program will be allocated to the skill stream.

The decision was made at last year’s Jobs and Skills Summit and was supported by the Coalition.

Clubs Australia, which represents licenced venues such as RSLs, bowling and golf clubs across Australia, has backed calls to enhance opportunities and pathways for temporary migrants to become permanent residents.

The peak body has argued before the parliamentary inquiry into migration that there is no practical policy rationale for requiring businesses to demonstrate they have exhausted attempts to find an Australian worker before filling a job vacancy with a skilled worker on a visa.

“The prolonged time to fill a job vacancy with a skilled overseas worker is compounded by the onerous and costly requirement to complete labour market testing,” Clubs Australia said in its submission to the inquiry.