I spoke in parliament last night about a Greens private member’s motion that would effectively shut down Enterprise Migration Agreements (EMAs).
Private Member’s Bill – Enterprise Migration Agreements, 12 February 2013
The former New Zealand politician and head of the World Trade Organisation Michael Moore once had a terrific analogy to describe those who would argue for more foreign aid but also argue for less trade and less migration. He said that attitude was the like the attitude of someone who puts money in the collection plate on Sundays but then behaves badly to the disadvantaged for the rest of the week. It is with the same concern that I rise to speak on this bill today. The attitude that says that we ought to increase our foreign aid, that we ought to increase our refugee intake, but that when workers in our region want to come to Australia to improve their skills and send some remittances back we ought to slam the door in their face. That is not an attitude that is consistent with the values that I hold dear.
The member for Kennedy was right about one thing in his speech. He said that the old Labor Party would have supported this, and there is an era of my party’s history of which I am not particularly proud. In its early founding in the beginning part of the 20th century it was the party of white Australia and the party that railed against ‘Kanakas’. That Labor Party perhaps would have supported this motion, but that Labor Party is gone. Members in this place who said that ‘two Wongs don’t make a white’ have been replaced by members such as Senator Wong, of whom I am greatly proud. Ours is now a party of markets and multiculturalism, a party that recognises that if you do not bring in 1,700 workers to work on a resource project then 6,000 Australian jobs are gone. EMAs are fundamentally about improving the access to megaprojects for Australians. Workers can only come in under EMAs if they are essential to the project. There are key training requirements and this bill would render those EMAs unworkable. Where it does not contain statements that are consistent with what occurs already, it requires the tabling in parliament of commercially sensitive information that would then become publicly available. That would cause no company to go ahead with an EMA. As a result, we would have fewer Australian jobs and fewer overseas workers.
Those overseas workers benefit us and they benefit themselves. My colleague Senator Cameron came to Australia through a migration scheme, part of a great post-war migration, and has greatly enriched Australia. But those skills also benefit people in developing countries when they return. Work by Michael Clemens, Claudio Montenegro and Lant Pritchett have estimated that a Haitian who moves to the United States is six times as productive as that very same person was in Haiti. They learn new skills, send money back and often return to their countries to set up businesses.
If you are in favour of reducing global poverty, you should be in favour of EMAs. If you are in favour of boosting Australian jobs, you should be in favour of EMAs. This is a massive boom. We have seen commodity prices go up tenfold. House prices in Moranbah, Queensland, for example, have risen just in one year from $459,000 to $730,000. We have hundreds of Australians flying in and flying out every week, some of them even from Bali. This is a boom the likes of which we have not seen since the gold rushes. Yes, it is placing stresses on the Australian economy, but the right way to respond to those stresses is to make sure that we do not close ourselves off to the world, that we do not make the mistakes that past generations made under White Australia, that we have EMAs with training requirements and that require employers to test the labour market but recognise that guest workers can sometimes make the difference between a project succeeding and a project falling over. Opposition to EMAs can mean that projects will fall over. If you do not want the 1,700 overseas workers, you will not get the 6,000 Aussie jobs and, furthermore, you will not get the development that goes with EMAs.