Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said National Cabinet has recognised the need to clear the backlog of visas slowing the arrival of migrants to help fill skill shortages.
The visa backlog must be addressed to allow migration to be harnessed to combat skill shortages plaguing the country, according to Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.
Mr Albanese hosted his first National Cabinet meeting on Friday, where state and territory leaders directly raised the issue of fast-tracking targeted migration with him.
The migration program is still suffering from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic with visa backlogs placing immense pressure on the Department of Home Affairs.
Following the meeting, Mr Albanese said National Cabinet had recognised the need to do more to help businesses struggling to bring in workers to fill skill shortages.
“We need to work on clearing the backlog there from people who have visas that have been granted,” he told reporters.
“Short-term migration will need to be a part of the solution.”
The prime minister said some visa applicants had been waiting 12 to 18 months before they were able to take their place in workplaces. He added that people within the Department of Home Affairs had been directed from other areas to help address the backlog and prolonged visa wait times.
“We have put people from other duties into trying to clear the visa backlog,” he said.
“That clearly is something that’s required, is necessary and is the easiest way to make an immediate difference.”
Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan said attracting new workers was one of the biggest issues in securing the state’s ongoing economic growth.
“I appreciate what the prime minister has done to put more resources into dealing with the visa issues.”
South Australian Premier Peter Malinauskas also said ensuring skilled migration was a focus for the state.
“Clearly, there needs to be a reopening of skilled migration as a country,” he told reporters.
“To the extent we could see visas processed at a quicker pace that would be a good thing.”
Indigenous Voice to Parliament and climate change consensus
National Cabinet has also expressed its support for the Albanese government’s commitment to holding a referendum on an Indigenous Voice to Parliament. Mr Albanese said the support of states and territories would assist in securing the success of the proposal made in the Uluru Statement from the Heart.
“It is something that’s got to be progressed – this term,” he told reporters. “As one of my colleagues here said – if not now when.”
Premiers and chief ministers also voiced their shared commitment to Australia’s new emissions target, which has been submitted to the United Nations Framework
Convention on Climate Change
The federal government signed off on a new commitment on Thursday, to reduce Australian’s greenhouse gas emissions by 43 per cent to below 2004 levels by 2030.
“People want to end the climate wars – they want to move on and make sure that we get better outcomes going forward,” Mr Albanese said.
Health funding deal
The prime minister has also announced the Commonwealth had agreed to extend a 50-50 health funding deal with states and territories until 30 December. The decision is an extension from a previous September deadline agreed to by the Morrison government. Mr Albanese said the funding commitment is a recognition that the pandemic continues to impact the health system, with around 3,000 hospitalisations per day from COVID.
“It clearly isn’t over yet,” he told reporters.
Premiers and chief ministers had made the issue of health a central focus ahead of Friday’s National Cabinet meeting in Canberra. The leaders have been calling for reform in the health sector to combat pressures on the system, including an ongoing 50-50 split in funding from the Commonwealth. NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet said he was optimistic the Albanese government was committed to working with states and territory leaders on the issue.
“I think there is great opportunity for substantive reform,” he told reporters.
“As the prime minister has said, this is not about money, it’s about working together on substantial reform.”
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk also shared this sentiment. “We absolutely are united in this and we welcome the extra funding today,” she said. But Mr Albanese has warned the Commonwealth government must consider the reality of facing almost $1 trillion in debt before making any spending commitments.
“There are fiscal pressures on the Commonwealth which people understand,” he said.
Health funding was evenly split between the states and the federal government under the then prime minister Kevin Rudd, but his successor Tony Abbott cut the federal share to 40 per cent. Former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull increased the contribution to 45 per cent. National Cabinet has agreed to meet a minimum of four times this year, including a meeting ahead of the Albanese government’s first budget in October.