A government-commissioned report Thursday called for a thorough overhaul of Australia’s immigration system.
According to the Migration Review the system is “outdated” and does not meet the country’s current or future skills needs, and therefore requires a “long term and holistic” approach to find a solution. The report makes sweeping recommendations that will be considered by Australia’s left-leaning Labor government.
Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil, who commissioned the review, said Thursday that Australia has to “skill up or sink.”
She said critical labor shortages are forcing Australia to be more assertive in the “global race for talent” to recruit highly skilled overseas professionals and do more to retain the “brightest” international students.
The government considers the “complicated” and “outdated” migration system to be a barrier to prosperity. It wants the country to be less reliant on temporary workers, who would, if the report’s recommendations are accepted, be given more opportunities to stay permanently. The government is promising safeguards to guard against exploitation and underpayment.
The leader of the conservative opposition, Sussan Ley, responding to the report, told local media Thursday the government must address depopulation and the lack of health services in rural Australia as well as improving housing and other essential services.
O’Neil told the National Press Club in Canberra Thursday that major reform to immigration is desperately needed.
“I have spoken a lot about what is going wrong with Australia’s migration system today and there are many, many problems,” O’Neil said. “But what I am genuinely much more excited about is the big opportunity. We have every reason to be optimistic about our country’s future and every reason to believe that our migration system can help us deliver a more secure and prosperous Australia as it has done for us so many times in the past.”
The immigration review was carried out by Martin Parkinson, a former secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.
His report said it was important that Australians do not feel threatened by economic migrants.
Immigration has been the dominant theme in the story of modern Australia, which was colonized by the British in 1788.
Although more than a quarter of Australia’s population was born elsewhere, some Australians display hostility toward, or fear of, immigrants.
Voters have supported hardline policies that sent asylum seekers arriving by boat without authorization to offshore camps in the South Pacific.
Since 2013, the Australian navy has been towing or turning away migrant boats trying to reach Australian waters under the government’s Operation Sovereign Borders, which continues under the current left-leaning Labor government.
Australia’s unemployment rate is 3.5%.