Launch of ‘The Missing Workers’: Locally-led migration strategies to better meet rural labour needs

You're right, Jack (Archer, CEO Regional Australia Institute). There should be bipartisanship about this, because this is an important, very, very important issue. And even though I've got a lot of media here, I'm going to use a line that a former Regional Development Minister used to use a lot, and that was “connecting the dots”.

And Joel knows exactly who I'm talking about: Simon Crean. And it's a good line, because in regional communities, we do need to connect the dots.

I'm proud to say that our current Regional Development Minister, Dr John McVeigh, is doing just that: making sure that regional development gets looked after.

That's why—and I'll be a little bit partisan now, but I'm sure that in the spirit of things, you'll allow me to do that—in the recent Budget a lot of the record $75 billion worth of infrastructure is going to be spent in the regions, because when our regions are strong, so too is our nation. That's why we've extended that program Building Better Regions another round of $200 million to help boost the regions.

But it's great to boost the regions, it's great to put the infrastructure in place. It's great to make sure that our regions feel loved. But one of the best things we can do is by actually invest in the people in our regions, and we know that regions sometimes struggle to hold their people.

You've identified, Jack, the fact that some of our best exports are our young people. Joel knows that, I know that, we live in the regions, we understand that.

And what we want to make sure is that we have that workforce for those businesses and not just abattoirs. It really bugs me and it so annoys me that when we talk about migrants moving into the regions we think of meat processing plants. ‘Oh, they'll fill the processing lines that can't be filled or won't be filled by Australians.’

But migrants bring a lot more to the table than just working on an abattoir factory line. They bring so much more, and they're not just blue-collar workers either. There's many of them with great, great skills and we need those in our area.

I know that the Fusion Festival in Wagga—it hasn't been going that many years, about seven years. Now, when it started, it's a multicultural festival, it attracted a bit of attention, sure. I went to the last one that they held during the summer period where 10,000 people celebrated all that there is about multiculturalism, celebrating the fact that Wagga Wagga is a very multicultural town, and celebrating the fact that these people bring so much life and colour and movement to our town.

But migrants also bring a willingness to work. They also bring a dedication to their employer. They often start small businesses and they really contribute mightily, not just to regional capitals such as Wagga Wagga, but indeed to the smaller towns around it, and that's what I know this report is all about.

Those little towns connecting the dots, as Simon Crean would have once said, making sure that people are connected to jobs, migrants are connected to jobs.

And you only have to look at the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald today. I mean, I think Jack Archer probably planted this story: “Sydney's congestion at tipping point”. And yes, it is. And the statistics there in that story show that Sydney is bursting at the seams.

We all know that, and we all know that there are businesses, there are factories, there are places of work in regional Australia—particularly in smaller towns—which are crying out for more people. Crying out for more people not just to fill the jobs, but also to fill the schools, to make sure that the medical services that we're providing as a Parliament and as a Government keep the numbers up, keep that critical mass up to keep those towns going, to keep the economy strong.

And just recently, just prior to the Budget, there was a really interesting report which came out from the IMF, the International Monetary Fund, which told us that current Australian migration will add up to 1 percentage point to growth in our GDP, our gross domestic product, each year through to 2050. And that's a huge impact, that's a huge impact. One percentage point in growth to our GDP.

So that's filling jobs, growing our economy, making the regions evens stronger, and we know when our regions are strong, so too is our nation. And you know, the proof there is in the pudding.

And so what this report today does, what the Regional Australia Institute does, is a fantastic thing. It makes sure that we connect those migrants, those hardworking people, it connects them to jobs, not just in the regional capitals, but indeed in those smaller towns, because we need to make sure that they continue to grow, so that their sporting communities can continue to grow, so that their social networks can continue to grow. So that the little volunteering organisations in those towns which make those towns tick… and I'm not talking about the regional capitals, I'm talking about those little periphery towns on the outer edges. When they're strong, so too are the regional capitals, so too is our nation.

This is a wonderful report. I commend and congratulate Jack and his team, his hardworking people, for bringing it to the national attention, and I commend each and every one of you for making sure that we continue this focus on ensuring that we build the number of migrants filling those jobs.

I commend the report, and congratulations to each and every one of you for turning up and promoting it.

Thank you very much.