Big business wants a “boost” of permanent migration, with at least two-thirds of the jobs going to skilled workers.
In proposals for next month’s jobs and skills summit, Business Council of Australia chief executive Jennifer Westacott has also highlighted the need to immediately address “the backlog of visa approvals across all categories because we simply don’t have enough people to do things”.
Migration, labor market reform and skills shortages will be key issues at the summit. After a weekend report the government wanted to raise the number of immigrants to between 180,000 and 200,000, Skills and Training Minister Brendan O’Connor told reporters the government had not yet settled on a number.
Under the Morrison government, the 2022-2023 migration program planning level was 160,000, 109,900 of them in the skilled stream.
Immigration is always a sensitive debate, both in terms of numbers and the balance between imported skills and native training.
Westacott said: “We need to move from a short-term, ad hoc system to long-term planned migration with a focus on four-year visas, pathways to permanent migration and future planning for our population growth in order to get housing, transport and the right to health services”.
As for workplace relations, she said the summit should agree on the need “to restore the role of collective bargaining as the central element” of the system “because it delivers better results for both workers and employers”.
It had to “be accessible to different types of employers. It should also be much simpler and easier to navigate.”
“It is by reviving the ability for enterprise agreements to be genuine price substitutes that we once again attract innovation and investment to drive productivity growth and real wages.
“To succeed, we need to remove the red tape and roadblocks that prevent businesses, unions and workers from negotiating new deals in a simple and effective way that is easy to use.”
Westacott said, in relation to upskilling, the tertiary education system needed redesign “so it looks and feels different to learners and employers. It should be more interactive between VET and higher education and centered around learners and their employers.”
Last week the ACTU released the first of its papers ahead of the summit, in which it called for labor markets to be adjusted “so that real wages rise alongside labor productivity”.
He also called for an excess profits tax on companies that had windfalls as a result of current inflation, and a repeal of the statutory third-stage tax cuts “which only benefit higher-income households and will worsen inflationary pressures”.
The government has ruled out a profits tax and rejected tax cuts, and Treasurer Jim Chalmers quickly distanced himself from these calls from the unions.
The summit has seen the federal opposition at six and seven, with Opposition Leader Peter Dutton declining an invitation to attend, but Nationals leader David Littleproud said he wants to go to represent regional communities.
Chalmers will publish a discussion paper on the summit this week.