Release type: Speech


Melbourne Employment Forum - Flemington Community Centre


The Hon Brendan O'Connor MP
Minister for Employment
Minister for Skills and Training


It’s a pleasure to be here today amongst a group of people dedicated to improving the lives of some of our most vulnerable - recent migrant and refugee job seekers.

I am pleased and honoured to have been sworn in this week as Minister for Employment, Skills and Training and I’m looking forward to hearing your views on these issues.

The Federal Labor Government recognises the importance of having a sustainable job. It’s not just about financial independence, it’s about providing a path for the social and physical well-being of individuals and their families to flourish.

The Government also recognises that migrants arriving in a new country, especially those arriving on humanitarian visas, face greater challenges getting themselves set up than other job seekers.

It is not just a foreign culture to navigate, it’s the long learning curve migrants face tackling government and community structures. This is often done on their own with little or no access to any local community or family networks, frequently while battling language difficulties.

I have a personal sense and experience of this. I arrived in 1968 as a migrant to these shore as a six year old boy, so it wasn’t hard for me because kids are pretty resilient. But for my parents who were in their late twenties with three children under the age of nine, more than forty years ago, I can assure you there was no infrastructure to look after migrants, whether they be refugees or migrants here by others means.

We lived in a Nissan Hut in Melbourne, in fact half a Nissan Hut - one bedroom, five of us. The ablutions, the community mess were in other areas. In all of that we felt blessed to be here because of the potential we had. My parents were both assigned factory jobs and worked in factories all of their lives. And I, I guess, feel I am a testament to not only their efforts but the inclusive nature of this country.

So it actually is a very personal thing when we ensure we welcome properly migrants to this country because as a migrant I fully understand how isolating it can be, strangely even for a friendly country that Australia is.

As a Minister in this I believe everyone should have the opportunity to contribute and we are committed to assisting unemployed and underemployed job seekers from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds to find and keep a job.

I want to congratulate you all on the direct role you are playing to help identify and address employment solutions for migrant communities in Melbourne.

I would like to acknowledge the work of Member for Melbourne Adam Bandt, and Minister Bill Shorten in both playing a role in the launch of the Melbourne Employment Forum and Minister Shorten for developing this fund.

I would also like to acknowledge and thank Cath Bowtell for her work advocating for newly arrived migrants.

No Government is going to solve the challenging and complex issues new migrants face getting a job on its own. We need community and business support to help pave the way for this transition which is why the role the Melbourne Employment Forum plays is so important.

This Forum brings a range of skills from service providers, local government and community organisations to help one of the most disadvantaged groups in society – migrants and refugee job seekers.

I thank you for your efforts, the time you dedicate and skills you are generous enough to share.

To find new and innovative ways of providing assistance to migrant and refugee job seekers the Government has launched this Migrant Communities Employment Fund.

I am pleased to announce today that applications are now open.

This initiative will invest $6.6 million to support the creation of innovative, sustainable employment projects for unemployed and underemployed migrant and refugee job seekers.

I encourage migrant community organisations, other community organisations, employment services providers, government agencies and employers to get online now at my Department’s website and apply for funding.

Each project can be funded up to a maximum of $200,000 and a maximum of two years duration.

Applications for the first round projects will close on 19 July 2013 and there will be further funding rounds over the next two years.

This is in response to evidence that we risk entrenched unemployment in migrants and refugees if we don’t do more to assist job seekers.

I’ll just briefly run you through some of this evidence.

About one quarter of Australia’s total population were born overseas and the most recent comprehensive survey of migrant labour force data shows that new migrants have significantly higher unemployment rates.

The ABS Characteristics of Recent Migrants Survey in November 2010 showed that the unemployment rate for recent migrants was 8.5 per cent, compared to 4.6 per cent for the Australian-born population.

While 65 per cent of all recent migrants had a non-school qualification before arrival, only half of these had used their highest non-school qualification in their first job in Australia.

We tend to focus on full-time employment but this statistic demands we broaden our vision to target under employment.

Difficulties with language are, of course, a major barrier for some migrants gaining work. The unemployment rate for recent migrants from countries other than English-speaking was higher, 10 per cent, than for those from an English speaking country, 5 per cent.

A key focus of the Migrant Communities Employment Fund will be to encourage effective engagement between employers and employment service providers to:

  • improve employment outcomes for refugee and migrant job seekers;
  • increase the capacity of employers to employ refugee and migrant workers;
  • improve understanding of how to best support migrant and refugee job seekers and their employers; and
  • provide best practice models that could be replicated to other locations and groups of migrants and refugees.

The Fund is designed to complement and enhance existing government programs that assist migrants and refugees, such as Humanitarian Settlement Services and the Adult Migrant English program.

It’s important we recognise just how difficult and strenuous a journey it can be for someone to leave their extended family, their home country, their job, to start their new life here in Australia.

All Australians deserve a chance for a better life and what’s more, it will bring us all a share in the economic and social benefits a productive person can generate. I’m proud we are helping recent migrants and refugees to find and keep a job so they can provide for their family and contribute to society.

The Migrant Communities Employment Fund is an important opportunity to help ensure that all new Australians who can work, get the opportunity to benefit from the dignity, security and independence that a job can deliver.

With a group like the Melbourne Employment Forum providing such a strong voice for migrants I know we are on the right track to making a difference.

Thank you.