As part of the 2011-12 Budget measures, the government announced new temporary skilled migration initiatives to help address the acute skill and labour shortages facing parts of regional Australia, to enable employers to sponsor workers from outside Australia in circumstances that are not otherwise permitted under the standard migration programs. The program is designed to increase capacity in regional labour markets that are experiencing these shortages.
The Regional Migration Agreement (RMA) initiative was designed to facilitate increased labour flows to regional areas experiencing acute labour shortages, in particular, regions that are isolated from large populations and do not have Australian skills and labour available. The RMA with the Northern Territory government was the first entered into in March 2012 to address the shortage of skilled labour to meet the demands of growth challenges in the Northern Territory.
Another version of the RMA was the Enterprise Migration Agreement (EMA), to facilitate entry of overseas workers to areas in order to fill jobs not otherwise taken up by Australians. In May 2012 an EMA was entered into between the Minister and Ms Gina Rinehart, Australia’s richest woman, for 1,700 workers to be allowed to enter Australia and work at the Roy Hill iron ore mining project in Western Australia.27 This particular agreement was said to have infuriated the Australian union movement and blindsided the Prime Minister, and was hastily retrofitted with a Labor caucus committee tasked with monitoring all enterprise migration agreements. Nevertheless, the project hit turbulent waters when the Labor Caucus raised concerns about jobs being lost to Australians. Eventually Ms Rinehart declared she no longer needed the 1,700 foreign workers, and the agreement was eventually stalled when the Labor Government lost office. Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said it seemed Roy Hill had simply “walked away”.
The Regional Migration Agreement was renamed the Designated Area Migration Agreement (DAMA) in August 2014. The agreement is targeted at areas of low unemployment, where local employers are unable to recruit suitably qualified workers locally, and it is claimed DAMA would work just as well with a single-employee business as it would with a large enterprise. So far the only DAMA in place is with the Northern Territory Government to cover areas where it has been difficult to recruit Australian workers. Under the DAMA scheme, concessions of up to 10% would be applied to the current TSMIT.