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  • Writer's pictureDessie

Bureaucratic visa system and the skills needed in aged care

After the speech by the Hon Clare O’Neil at the National Press Club in Canberra on 27 April a question-and-answer session was opened to the floor.

Sarah Ison from The Australian asked the minister:

The care industry has been a big focus of your speech today, which makes sense. Of course, there’s a lot of challenges particularly in aged care. Is there anything in the very near term that you will do, that you plan to do, to make it easier for migrants to work in aged care and ensure more migrants are coming, given that by the middle of this year we have that quite large goal to have the 24/7 nursing, a lot of centres are very concerned about? Are you going to do anything before then? Is anything going to change before then to really address those concerns?

Ms O’Neil replied:

Firstly, critically important problem for the country. We have the oldest of the baby boomer generation, this largest ever of Australian generations, just starting to access aged-care supports in our country and we are already struggling greatly to provide workers. A big part of the puzzle here, if I can just mention, is the low pay of aged-care workers, and that’s something the Fair Work Commission has acted on and our government is addressing. I think, even if we do everything around pay and conditions, we are still going to have a shortfall of workers in this sector, and that’s why your question is so important.

The short answer to what you have asked, “Are we doing anything about it before we do the big fix?”, the answer is yes and I’ll let Andrew Giles speak a little bit more about that in the coming weeks. But I think what is really important here is not just thinking about this as a short-term problem. We have a structural issue of workers in our care sector, and one of the reasons I’ve talked about restructuring our temporary skilled program is we need to provide a long-term solution to this, not just see people come in on ad hoc labour agreements and that sort of thing, which is not really going to address this ongoing problem for the country.

Michael Reid from the Australian Financial review asked:

Minister what kind of skills and experiences will be prioritised and what ones will be deprioritised in a more robust point system?

Ms O’Neil replied:

it shouldn’t be for the Minister to decide what skill shortages there are in the country. This is an evidence-based question that today we don’t have a lot of evidence behind, and part of the problem in the system is that because the Minister essentially does get to decide what a shortfall looks like, you end up with a system where, you know, one person’s got discretionary decision-making power and, in my view, too much control without having the information perhaps that Jobs and Skills Australia will provide.

So, in terms of prioritising and deprioritising, what I would say is that we would like to simplify the system so that would mean that we are going to try to move away from the strictures of occupation lists and have a broader description of skills needs that confront the country. I can share some of them off the top of my head which I think would be well known to you as an economic journalist. You know, care, which we’ve talked about a lot. We’ve got a significant issue getting tech sector skills in the country. We’ve got dramatic shortages of engineers. We’ve got dramatic shortages of people in construction.

So, I think the broader point is all of us in this room can have a stab at saying what these are. Let’s get someone actually to sit down and properly use a data-driven approach to define what they are and take it perhaps a little bit out of the realm of politics where I fiercely believe it doesn’t belong.

Sarah Basford Canales from The Canberra Times asked:

You touched on the bureaucratic nightmare that migrants have to face in order to get to Australia. It’s obviously one of the first things they see about Australia. The review heavily criticises the Home Affairs Department’s IT system, calling it cumbersome, overly complex

and the result of successive Governments trying to fix this problem with big bang approaches. So with that in mind, how will the Federal Government fix the years-long issue if big bang solutions haven’t worked in the past?

Ms O’Neil replied:

I really want people to understand how much the administration of this system is actually creating poorer outcomes for the country and the IT system is one of those. I have sat with visa processors in the Home Affairs Department and honestly, like, hats off to these people. They are working between four or five different computer programs, cutting and pasting things retyping things. You would not believe the state of this IT. It is a real issue.

Something that the report talked about is the fact that attempts have been made to deal with this IT problem before we have defined what the migration system should look like, and that’s not very smart. We need to deal with the reform exercise first. There will be an IT project that comes out of this; whether it’s small or large, I’m not sure about that yet. But i think the most important thing for us right now is: What do we want our migration system to achieve? How do we establish that in public policy? And then we think about the IT that we will ultimately need to back that up.

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