Topics: Jobs summit; migration cap; UN assessment of Uyghurs treatment in China; 






Laura Jayes:  Let’s go live to the Shadow Foreign Minister, Simon Birmingham for some reaction. Simon Birmingham, great to see you. We’ve just seen a figure finally put on that migration cap, 195,000. Is that about right, in your view?


Simon Birmingham: Well, Laura, it would be for the Government to defend what modelling they’ve done and what analysis underpins those numbers. But let’s be clear here. The type of changes that we’re seeing in this highly choreographed event of changes that of course could have been announced any time recently from the different discussions the Government’s having. But in terms of the policy substance these are also things that the Labor Party used to vilify and rail against when they were in Opposition. Had the previous Coalition Government, when we did propose changes to the boot test, Labor claimed it was going to undermine workers wages and conditions. If we ever talked about increasing skilled migration. Labor claimed it was going to take away Australian jobs. Now we have finally the Labor Party actually engaging more sensibly on some of these issues and that’s to be welcomed. We of course will want to see the detail, analyse the modelling, understand just how this is all going to work. And particularly on the migration front, it will be very important for business to be clear that Labor aren’t just giving with one hand and potentially taking more away with the other, that this increase in the permanent skilled migration category comes at a time when different Labor ministers and certainly the trade union movement are talking about potentially far greater restrictions being imposed on temporary skilled migration. So, it is possible that they can actually make a challenging situation worse and that this increase in the permanent intake is just masking reforms that could actually create greater pressure in terms of the employment scarcity market or the labour shortages market that we face at present.


Laura Jayes: It was pre-COVID, but I do remember that it was the Abbott government  which actually reduced this cap and there was a philosophical, if not ideological objection to having huge migration numbers. Is that still the view of your side of politics, or has that changed because you’re seeing this skills and labour shortage?


Simon Birmingham: Our view is one that the total migration numbers need to be taken into consideration against infrastructure pressures, housing pressures, all of those other factors that are really important to weigh in terms of how it is a country like Australia appropriately absorbs the migration flow that we have. But equally we have always recognised and sought to put priority on skilled migration. Indeed, in government coming out of COVID, we did change within the total migration cap, the allocation of those places to put more towards the skilled migration program. What we had done during COVID, when essentially much of that movement had been closed down, was we’d managed to clear some of the backlog of partner visas and family visas so that we could then coming out of COVID, increase the skilled migration cap, recognising that’s a very important economic driver for the country.


Laura Jayes: Indeed. We’ve seen Andrew Giles. Just tell us that there are 900,000. I keep on wanting to go and check this, but 900,000 visa applications still in the system. You left this government quite a hangover.


Simon Birmingham: Look, you’ve got to recall this is coming out of COVID still. And so the pent up backlog of demand in a whole range of different ways that has occurred as people for effectively two years weren’t moving, weren’t travelling. And as a result, you’ve now got this wave of movement and activity happening right around the globe. It’s why, although we’re frustrated in Australia with some of the pressures in our airlines, their global pressures, although you’re frustrated with some of the pressures in terms of visa processing or the like in Australia, they’re also global pressures. Go and look at similar countries. You’ll find similar problems right around the world as they move through that. But the good thing is that people are seeking to move again. Critically, we’ve got to make sure that they do get that opportunity to move. But you can see it’s not just the pressures on visa processing. It is all of those other parts of the journey as they relate to airlines and prices and availability and a whole gamut that do make some of that come back more challenging as we come out of COVID. But that, again, is why you’ve just got to work carefully through these issues.


Laura Jayes: Okay. Before I let you go, we saw a really disturbing report. The UN is finally really calling out China’s treatment of Uyghur’s and internment camps in China. What do you want to happen here? Should we here in Australia sanction China over this treatment?


Simon Birmingham: This long-awaited UN report for which China sought to hold it back and have it suppressed, does demonstrate very deep concerning aspects. The fact that there is such extensive, large scale, arbitrary detention identified targeting the Uyghur population and other Muslim populations. The role of re-education type activities as part of that all very, very troubling. Now, what China should do is accept the recommendations. They should open their doors to allow thorough, independent scrutiny of what is happening within the Xinjiang province. But certainly the Australian Government and with the Magnitsky sanction regime that was legislated early this year by the previous Coalition Government with bipartisan support, the Albanese Government should be looking at whether it is appropriate to apply targeted sanctions and we would certainly offer bipartisan support if they did so in relation to addressing these clear human rights concerns.


Laura Jayes: Simon Birmingham, always good to talk to you. Thank you.