Liberals, warning on big migration, seek to win back multicultural Australians

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Deputy opposition leader Sussan Ley has accused Labor of overlooking the economic prospects of migrant Australians as the government presides over a record migration intake the Coalition dubbed “big Australia by stealth”.

Ley will on Thursday launch a series of roundtables with culturally diverse groups in Australia’s capital cities to learn their social and economic concerns, a move the Coalition is pitching as more practical than what they describe as Labor’s cynical attempt over groups such as Chinese Australians through diplomacy.

Sussan Ley.Credit: Steven Siewert

Ley admitted her party, which is being drubbed by Labor in opinion polls, had lost the trust of many migrant voters and said reversing this was crucial to its electoral future. She will use forums in Melbourne’s outer south-east to tell newer Australians that Labor is not doing enough for them.

The housing market would only become tighter and infrastructure building more pressing as a result of the record 400,000 people set to arrive in Australia this year, Ley argues.

“If there’s no plan that links the migrant intake with infrastructure, housing, jobs, and skills … then it is set up to fail,” she said in an interview.

“Labor is talking about making it easier for migrant works to [come to Australia] for skilled jobs; what I’m saying is we should be skilling the multicultural groups that are already here.”

Victorian opposition leader John Pesutton and federal MPs Michael Sukkar and Keith Wolahan at a Chinese new year event.Credit: Paul Jeffers

Citing the loss of seats such as Bennelong in Sydney and Chisholm in Victoria, Ley said: “I think we have to take their communities seriously and listen to them closely and be there for them. Instinctively, they are strongly aspirational; they are the small business owners I meet in the suburbs of Sydney and Melbourne.”

The 61-year-old regional NSW MP, also the opposition’s spokeswoman on skills and training, claims Labor is failing to engage Australians whose first language is not English in its skills program.

She claims Minister for Skills and Training Brendan O’Connor has not launched a single initiative targeted at culturally diverse communities and these citizens should be listed as one of the priority groups for the government’s free TAFE degrees. The former Coalition government tried hard to attract migrants into its JobTrainer program, she said.

Jason Wood, stood to the left behind then prime minister Scott Morrison.Credit: James Brickwood

“Every time the prime minister has a question on training or skills he talks about fee-free tafe, he comes out like a mack truck, but where is the opportunity for [culturally diverse] communities to benefit from the skills and training opportunities.“

The government dismissed Ley’s claims by emphasising that 18 per cent of enrolments in fee-free TAFE courses were people who speak languages other than English at home and noting the Coalition had not proposed amendments related to cultural diversity to a jobs and skills being debated in parliament.

“The Albanese government has achieved more in 10 months than the previous government in 10 years,” Skills and Training Minister Brendan O’Connor said.“The shadow minister need only look at the success of fee-free TAFE in her own state and she would see that people from culturally and linguistically groups are encouraged equally to enrol.”

Ley will on Thursday take her message to the urban fringe Melbourne seat of La Trobe, where more than 7 per cent of residents has Indian heritage – double the national average.

The Liberal MP for the seat – Jason Wood, who recorded a positive swing at the last election while other Melbourne-based Liberals lost seats – was credited by Ley as proof Liberals could perform well in migrant areas.

Wood said in a written statement: “I implore the Albanese Government to reinstate the campaign to inform Culturally and Linguistically Diverse communities about skills and training opportunities in particular for their Fee-Free TAFE program.”

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