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Source: Prime Minister of Australia

PRIME MINISTER: Well it’s great to be here, it’s great to see you again Rhys, great for us to catch up, thank you for stepping up and being here this evening.

Can I also acknowledge the Ngunnawal people tonight, their elders past and present, and future, can I acknowledge if there are any members of the Australian Defence Forces here tonight, any veterans who may be with us and simply say to you on behalf of a very grateful nation, thank you very very much for your service.

And our migration community over generations have made up those numbers certainly, those who’ve served in uniform to defend the very country that they’ve come to call home. And so particularly tonight, those members of our Defence Forces those who’ve served, as veterans, who’ve come from other places and called, not only this nation home. But then turned up to defend it as well in our uniform. Thank you so very very much.

To Innes, I thank you for your leadership of the council, Carla you have been doing a fabulous job, I remember many years ago when I was in opposition and I was working in these areas and was working with you when you were working in one of the Ministerial offices at the time, you’ve showed a, I think, commitment to this area of work in Australia’s nation-building which is outstanding. I reckon the OAM is a pretty good call.

To Peter Scanlon, Peter is an extraordinary Australian. I’ve known him for many years. He’s tried to convert me into a North Melbourne supporter in the past, with some success to the extent that it’s extracted a sympathy whenever North Melbourne is playing.

But it’s been the work that The Huddle has done down there in North Melbourne which is world-leading and nation-leading. And I remember one of the first times I visited, and I was so excited about what was being achieved there and we talked before about the [inaudible], and that’s true all around the country. So Peter, thank you for your tremendous philanthropic leadership in this important area.

David Coleman is here tonight as Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services, and Multicultural Affairs.

As are my Cabinet colleagues, Anne Ruston as Minister for Families and Social Services; and Stuart Robert who’s the Minister for Government Services and NDIS; Michael Sukkar is here, as Minister for Housing and Assistant Treasurer, Senator Kenneally is here as Shadow Minister for Immigration, a role I know well from times past.

And I know Anthony will be joining us in the near-future and I think it’s great that we can come here tonight as this event always has been, we’ve been coming here for many many years, a bipartisan affair as we really celebrate the things that make Australia so strong and Andrew Giles I understand is also here as the Shadow Minister for Multicultural Affairs.

Paris Aristotle is here, he’s a great mate, he’s been doing tremendous work in the settlement services area, over a long period of time; and Joseph Assaf. I suspect I’ll see many of you Monday night for the Ethnic Business awards which is Jenny’s favourite event of the year as we see the amazing work that is done by ethnic business leaders in our country, creating jobs and the stories are just sensational.

But tonight is a celebration of Australia’s migration program and Australia’s settlement.

And we are, and give yourselves a round of applause, we are the most successful immigration, and multicultural nation in the world.


Some may say that’s debatable, I don’t agree. It’s not debatable, it’s an established fact.

And tonight we acknowledge the work, and honour the work you do to make sure that remains the case, assisting new migrants to settle, and refugees to settle in our country successfully; to promote greater understanding within the community of the migration program; of fostering partnerships across government, corporate Australia and the community sector so services make a real difference.

All this means Australians are kept together, which is our goal. Our national unity.

Please, never lose sight of what an impact of what you do, does for our nation.

It builds a strong and cohesive Australia.  

Because when you organise an English language conversation club at your church, or local café, or host welcome barbeques for new arrivals in your community, or hold networking events at neighbourhood art and craft groups, or help migrants with job and rental applications or with the paperwork for school enrolments, what you’re doing and so much more than that has ripple effects far beyond the level of that one individual for whom you’re changing their life.

You’re knitting Australians together, you’re strengthening the bonds that actually bind us all as Australians, and that means we all benefit.

All Australians.

Regardless of our background.

And when our local streets and towns feel vibrant and welcome and comfortable; when we connect together because we recognise our similarities and what we have in common and our great passion for this wonderful country, with ease and mutual respect, this is why we can make that claim.

That’s harmony and that’s cohesion – quietly at work within our community.

And that’s why, as I said, we are the most successful multicultural and immigration society in the world today.

Now we’ve long understood that our nation is greater because of the ideas, and ambitions and energy and dedication and sacrifice of immigrants to our country.

And you know what, if you’re not a first Australian, you’re an immigrant. It’s just an issue of timing.

Our story has three chapters as a nation:

The chapter that we acknowledged at the commencement of tonight’s proceedings, of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples — including those who left us long long long ago, and whose stories are still unfolding, and the contributions of those who will emerge in the generations to come is truly exciting.

Then of course there was the chapter of the arrival, of the settlement period, of the British and the democratic institutions that were brought to Australia that we rely on to this day.

One of those arrivals, he wasn’t a £10 Pom, he didn’t pay for the privilege, it was compulsory, was my fifth great grandfather, William Roberts, who came here on the Scarborough in the first fleet, for stealing £5 and some yarn valued at nine shillings; and he married my fifth great grandmother Kezia Brown, who came here on the Neptune, the second fleet, for stealing clothing from her employer.

We’ve all come from somewhere else at some stage. It’s just a question of timing.

And the stories of immigrants whether those of my great-great, many long times, grandparents, who are married at St Phillips in Sydney and carved out a future for themselves and their family in what was a difficult environment in what is now western Sydney.

That story, although it is historical, is not different from the second chapter of immigration in this country.

Where people have come, from all corners of the earth – a chapter bursting with dreams, daring and ambition.

They too found difficulties and challenges, and felt a long long way away from what was familiar.

The Afghan cameleers who explored our brown outback, and the Japanese pearl divers who fanned across our blue oceans, and the Chinese who panned for gold.

The migrants who escaped horrors of Europe as Rhys was saying, to work on the Snowy Hydro. Seventy years ago, we celebrated just in these last few weeks.

The post-war new Australians whose hands built the West Gate Bridge and so many roads, railways and ports.

And are doing again today.

They broke new ground – literally and figuratively.

And new migrants continue to do so, until now, and beyond.

We have in Australia a lot to offer.

And in return, our migrants have had a lot to give, coming to make a contribution, not seeking to take one.

That’s why our migration program will always be valued. And why I always will value it.

It’s why we must ensure it continues to receive stewardship of the highest order.

Our approach to regional migration, I think is a good example, and something Minister Coleman has been taking a strong lead on.

Regional visas form a central element to our broader Population Plan – a plan geared to easing pressure on the big capitals while supporting the growth of those regions that want more people.

Like those from Shepparton who I was meeting with today.

Shep has been an extraordinary, I think example of what can be achieved in regional migration in this country.

As you know the Government, we have a permanent migration program of 160,000 places, and within that cap, now 23,000 places for regional visas up from the 18,000 places that we established before.

Because we put a priority on regional settlement.

We are seeing very positive results, with more than 6,350 regional visas granted already in the first quarter of this program – an increase of 124 per cent compared with the same period last year.

I think this is great!

And we are well on track to meet that 23,000 regional visas by the end of the program year.

But Ladies and Gentlemen, migration is only successful if we continue to build the community trust and support for it to really work, as everyone I think here tonight understands.

Public confidence in our migration program is one of the great achievements of modern Australia, and the surveys that Peter has been supporting for many many years, Peter Scanlon, demonstrate that.

It’s been upheld though by some important foundational pillars: a skills-based migration program, at its heart. And a strong border protection framework which gives Australians confidence, as Secretary Pezullo said, the rest of the world wants what we’re having. When it comes to our migration program.

They, I can tell you as I move around the world today, people understand the success of migration in Australia and the arrangements we put around it, and they want to know how we do it.

And on settlement services, as we were hearing before, not just world standard, it’s the best in the world. There is no one who does settlement services, in the world today, better than Australia.

And these things provide the assurance that the program is there to serve our national interest and to add value, but one point I think Innes would agree with me on, in addition to what I’ve said, a skills-based program, a strong border protection framework so people can know that the program is working in the national interest.

There’s another one we’ve got to do better at.

To support social cohesion, public interest, in supporting migration.

And I want to  spend a few minutes if you’ll indulge me to talk about that, and that is the capacity of our national training system. Our vocational education and training sector. To train Australians for the jobs of today and tomorrow.

See, people support our migration program, and they also want to see Australians go into those jobs. And they understand that when we’re training Australians for the jobs that we need, they understand that our opportunities are greater than that. And we need the migration program to continue to support it.

We don’t want people to think that we need a migration program because we’re not training Australians well enough. We want them to know both!

That we are training Australians to the best that we can to make sure that they’re having those opportunities, and indeed the second generation, the children of migrants and great grand children of migrants, but then others will come because so great is the opportunity here in Australia that we will continue to have that invitation to skills and migration throughout the world.

So the quality of our skills training is vital to maintaining public confidence in our migration program.

There are around 4 million VET students in Australia.  Some 20 per cent of those students come from homes with English as a second language.

These are Australia’s future plumbers, builders, nurses, computer technicians. They deserve the same first-class education as students at our best universities.

And we need to fix our skills system.

There’s an obvious thread connecting the skills Australia is producing and the skills that we seek from overseas.

And that’s what I hear from business leaders, from small business, and others who are looking to get people into a job, and to get Australians into a job.

The VET sector is complex, it’s difficult to navigate, and it is not producing enough people with the right skills that businesses, industry and the economy need.

There are many excellent VET providers, don’t get me wrong. TAFE amongst them. But the overall system is not keeping pace with the needs of these individuals and businesses that employ them and a changing economy.

We’re too slow at identifying the skills Australia needs now, and what we’ll need in the future.  And too many Australians are locked out of the labour force due to a lack of relevant skills.

And that leads to the skills shortages which are holding businesses in Australia back from employing so many more.

And it means we’re at risk of not preserving the hard-won public confidence in our migration program – which relies on skilling our workforce at home, even as we seek skilled people from around the world.

So we’ve got to honour that compact. Too much is at stake.

We need a system that simply focuses on getting people the skills that are needed today that employers are wanting to employ people with.

We need a system focused on those who are the beneficiaries of the program, not the providers of it.

I’m not that fussed, through which chain of delivery the training comes. Public sector, private sector, there are great operators in all of these sectors.

But I don’t want them to be focused on them, I want them to be focused on the skills we need and the businesses that are going to employ those people.

That’s why we commissioned Steven Joyce prior to the last election to undertake a root-and-branch review of our vocational education and training system.

The background to the Joyce recommendations is a new era of technological change transforming the nature of jobs.

We know the labour market is continuing to shift towards higher skilled jobs. Emerging technologies, the internet of things, AI, automation are driving a shift from routine to non-routine, cognitive jobs.

Yet what’s not been fully appreciated is the central conclusion of his report.

It’s a misconception, he argues, that university education is the only or even the most suitable stream for learning the skills Australians need to succeed.

“If anything,” he says- and I quote, “it’s likely that vocational and work-based training will be more important in the future as technology-driven changes to jobs and tasks need to be quickly transmitted across industries and around workplaces.”

So these are real opportunities for Australians of all ages, of all backgrounds, if we get this right.

And I want to thank particularly the state and territory Premiers and Ministers, who have engaged with the Commonwealth on this task. Putting politics aside. Understanding the real weaknesses in the system. And joining up together in a real federal effort, to have a good go at ensuring we get the changes we need to make.

We know that among the areas of most acute skills shortage are technicians and trades workers, ranging across construction trades, electricians and automation trades workers.

We are also facing higher workforce demands across the disability, aged care and child care sectors.

According to Deloitte, growth in demand for good VET qualifications – advanced diploma, diploma and certificate III and IV qualifications, is expected to outpace growth in supply over the next five to ten years, leading to a tightening skills market. 

So in the Budget this year, we made significant investments to improve the architecture of the VET system and to position it as a modern, agile alternative to classroom-based education.

We’re working as I said with the states to achieve all of that, moving people into great jobs. And we must all pull together and do the hard work to deliver better training.

So that’s how we keep our promise to the Australian community – by making all of these pillars, you might say well why has he come here tonight to talk about VET? We’re all sort of involved in settlement services, and we’re all here involved in assisting migrants to come to Australia. And that’s great! But what I need to be focused on as a Prime Minister, with my Ministers. Is not only ensuring that we continue to support those important services, as David is doing such an excellent job of doing, but it’s not just about saying we believe and know that Australia is the best immigration country in the world today, it’s about doing the things that make sure that Australia stays that way.

So maintaining that discipline, and that targeted focus on skills based education and training, maintaining that focus on ensuring that the skills migration is the heart of the program, and ensuring that we run a border protection regime that gives Australians confidence about the whole scheme, so it can continue to perform is very important.

So tonight, we are paying tribute to all those who are making such a tremendous contribution to our multicultural nation.

And again thank you to the Migration Council of Australia for your continued guardianship of Australia’s extraordinary multicultural and migration success.

And I want to congratulate all of tonight’s nominees and all recipients for bringing strength, and character and unity to our nation.

Thank you.