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September, 25

Coalition MPs call for coronavirus quarantine space to be reserved for skilled migrants in radical report

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Places in hotel quarantine should be reserved for incoming skilled migrant workers, according to a new report from Coalition MPs.

In a suite of radical proposals, the interim report also recommended temporary visa holders be given a clearer pathway to permanency, and visas for occupations once popular under the controversial 457 scheme, such as chefs and cafe managers, be prioritised.

The Joint Standing Committee on Migration has heard evidence that businesses are struggling to find workers after the pandemic closed borders.

Committee chair and Liberal MP Julian Leeser said Australians with compassionate reasons wanting to return home must still have priority in quarantine, but skilled migrants should be considered as the next group in line.

“In an environment where there is a debate now about whether there should be some reserved places for international students or tourists, I think it’s important to consider the contribution skilled migrants play,” he said.

Around 40,000 Australians are still waiting to get back home but are struggling to find a place.

A dissenting report from Labor rejected the proposal, saying “Labor members are disappointed that government members do not take seriously the heart-felt calls from Australian citizens to be reunited with their partners and their parents”.

Government looking at migration reform

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has indicated recently migration reform was on the agenda.

He said on Thursday visa arrangements were “a pretty open book”.

“I have been working on this issue for a very long time and we have tried any number of things to try and deal with those regional skill shortages and labour force shortages across the country.”

Two weeks ago, he said filling skills shortages is “a clear area where I think we are going to have to lean more forward on”.

Labor senator Raff Ciccone was one of the authors of a dissenting report also produced by the committee.

“I am very concerned about the shift that has occurred over the past eight years under the Coalition,” he said.

“From a migration programme that used to be based predominantly on highly-skilled, permanent migrants to one that is now overwhelmingly dominated by low-skilled temporary visa workers.”

The Coalition made major reforms to the migration program in 2017 that left many temporary migrants without a realistic chance of ever becoming permanent.

That makes the recommendation to re-open these pathways a significant about-face within the Coalition, but Mr Leeser said “these are extraordinary times”.

Labor’s dissenting report left open the possibility of support for this recommendation.

“But it is important that those who come to this country do not displace Australians from local workplaces and that upon their arrival they are treated with dignity and respect, not as guest workers to be exploited as is so often the case.”

Mr Leeser said the pandemic has caused Australia to lose hundreds of thousands of temporary visa holders and it was time to consider reform.

“In almost every industry, there are skills that are missing from our economy that need to be filled,” he said.

“This is a real live question on the ground in Australia today.”

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