24 November 2021

SUBJECTS: Vaccines; immigration; skills crisis.
ADRIAN FRANKLIN, HOST: And for more on this division we're joined by Shadow Financial Services Minister and Labor MP Stephen Jones, as he does every single week. What do you make of this Stephen? Fact or fiction or friction or what do you call it?
STEPHEN JONES, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: A bit of both, I'd have to say. Good to be with you again.
FRANKLIN: So the division is interesting because we talk when it comes to politics worldwide, you know, the vaccine seems to have brought this division of politics. How do you see this in Australia at the moment? Because the numbers are higher when it comes to vaccine rates, but there are voices opposing, of course.
JONES: I think it really helps in this discussion to look at the underlying data. Over 90 percent of Australians double vaccinated in the area that I represent. New South Wales, very high. Pleased to see the other states around the country are catching up. And if you think of that, it means nine out of ten Australians accept the wisdom of not only protecting themselves and their family, but doing their bit to keep the community safe. So I think some of the naysayers have gotten an overweight voice in this debate. I think that they have enablers in Parliament, we saw that in just before Question Time today, where a certain member from Queensland and earlier senators from Queensland and elsewhere have been essentially giving credibility that some of the anti vax messages. Most Australians don't support them. Most Australians see the sense in getting themselves vaccinated. And if there is an argument, a public health argument, for ensuring the certain occupations are required to be vaccinated they see the sense in that as well.  The other thing I want to say about this is not everybody in that 10 percent is an anti-vaxxer. There's some people who are hesitant and maybe they've got a health condition. Maybe the bombarded by some misinformation. And I have some hope that we can turn those people around. There's always going to be a hardcore group of people who are refusing.
FRANKLIN: Moving on for now. There are fresh concerns, of course, among Australians regarding overseas arrivals during the pandemic. Do you think we should be welcoming overseas arrivals back now with open arms?
JONES: Look, there's a couple of things at play here. I think we need to shake out our migration program. I think the temporary migration program was abused and misused. If you bring somebody over here, you tell them they're only allowed to here to do a certain job in a certain place or only allowed to be here for a short period of time, they’ve got no long-term stake in the country and we become a nation of guest workers. We’ve seen the results of that in places in Europe and places in the Middle East. And I don't think we want to live in a society where so much of our workforce has got no permanent stake in the nation and don't feel like they're a part of our society. So in reviewing and changing the composition of our migration program, it should be better targeted at the skill shortages, but it should also be targeted and have a bias towards permanent migration, not short term and temporary migration. I mean, I come from a region where one in four people came from another part of the world. They've settled here. They've raised their family here. They make an enormous contribution and I think that will continue to be the case. And from a purely economic point of view in a normal year, migration is probably contributing about one percent of GDP growth. So I think we've got to get the balance right. We got to get the debate right. But there should be a role for migration into the future.
FRANKLIN: Just on that, how big is the challenge in terms of opening the country back up? And do you see a timeline at the moment where we should be bringing people back in? Are you looking at a timeline at this point, or do you think the debate needs to be worked through?
JONES: I think it needs to be staged and well-managed. Welcome the fact that we've seen overseas students coming back, or we're changing the arrangements to allow overseas students coming back. We’re never going to see them come back in the same numbers that they were immediately before the pandemic. Some pretty poor decisions were made which have essentially chased those students into other countries. So I think there are some problems there, but overwhelmingly as positive and we're going to see those international students back. They’re about our third-biggest exporter earner, a little-known fact. Education probably our third biggest export earner. So important contribution to the community and to the economy. And then there's some regional skills shortages. We've had a lot of discussion around the agricultural shortages. We've also got significant shortages in hospitality, right throughout the hospitality industry right around the country. So I think there's a need and a desire to look at some targeted programs in those areas. So, a staged approach and a managed approach is what’s needed here.