Australia will target the world's "super talent" to boost the post-COVID-19 economic recovery, with Population Minister Alan Tudge pledging to take an active role in attracting the best and brightest through skilled migration.
As the coronavirus pandemic drives the nation's migration rate to near zero for the first time since World War I, the Coalition has committed to expanding special access visas, including headhunting entrepreneurs and business leaders to settle in Australia.
Addressing the National Press Club in Canberra on Friday, Mr Tudge said he was "particularly keen" on the government's global talent visa program, which offers streamlined and priority visa pathways to high-skilled and talented individuals to work and live permanently in Australia.
"We want to make sure we're attractive for that super talent, and it's some of that super talent that are real job creators," he said.
"They create the businesses, they invest and they're the types of people particularly that I'd like to be seeing come into the country as a priority."
Mr Tudge, the acting Immigration Minister, said the government was going after Hong Kong's entrepreneurs and corporate leaders to bring their businesses and families to Australia.
Business has been pushing for a speedy restart to global talent visa programs, as the government prepares for a massive hit to GDP from stalled population growth.
Mr Tudge said the scheme deliberately marketed to the world's top talent "instead of passively waiting for good people to apply".
He said the government would revive a push for a stronger focus on Australian values in the citizenship test, pushing back on the pandemic's potential to "tear apart our social fabric".
Greens leader Adam Bandt hit out at that plan, warning arbitrary tests would not make a more cohesive society.
"Scott Morrison locks up asylum seekers, and Peter Dutton attacks African Australians," he said.
"Instead of attacking multiculturalism and democracy, Scott Morrison should value them.
"Before Scott Morrison tries to enforce this test, he should have to pass it himself. I reckon he'd come undone on questions about the right to protest or freedom from arbitrary detention."
Labor's multicultural affairs spokesman, Andrew Giles, said the opposition would work constructively with the government on a plan to improve access to free and unlimited English language classes for migrants.
An estimated 1 million citizens and residents do not have a basic English proficiency, which Mr Tudge said added to social dislocation and risk from foreign influence.
"The circumstances of the pandemic provide an opportunity to rebuild our settlement services so that they continue to be fit for purpose as a key foundation of Australia's multicultural society," Mr Giles said.
Migrant and refugee settlement agency AMES Australia said improved flexibility was needed to help people living and working in the community improve their language skills.
"We know that a lack of English can be a major barrier to people find employment and achieving social participation," chief executive Cath Scarth said.
"The extra hours of English will be really valuable, as will the removal of the five-year limit. This will really benefit professionally qualified refugees who need more than 510 hours to get to the stage where they can prepare to requalify in their professions.
"Some migrants, however, would benefit from better access and flexibility. Someone who is working nine to five may not be able to attend traditional English classes."
Author: Tom McIlroy