Profile: new Australian Immigration Minister Chris Bowen

The Hon Chris Bowen.
Parliment of

Julia Gillard was sworn in as Prime Minister of Australia at Government House in Canberra yesterday, followed by her appointed ministry that includes Chris Bowen as the new Minister for Immigration and Citizenship.  

Gillard faces the enormous challenge of balancing a minority government that includes three fractious independents and a Green Party member, while also needing to address the problems and failings of the Rudd government.

Challenges as new immigration minister

Bowen, an ambitious right-leaning member of the Labor party, replaces Chris Evans who failed to control the often-divisive immigration debate as Australian immigration minister and is now Minister for Jobs, Skills and Workplace Relations and Tertiary Education. 

Both ministers can expect intense lobbying by universities in the coming months over the recent Australian Visa changes for international students that makes it more difficult to settle permanently after study – a move that threatens a million dollar education industry.

Described by the Sydney Morning Herald as smart and ambitious, Bowen has moved from a dry financial services portfolio into the difficult role as immigration minister.

His challenges will include depoliticising immigration intakes, catching up on a growing backlog of skilled visa applications, Australian immigration reforms for a number of different streams, as well as the difficult issue of asylum seekers.

Political career

Chris Bowen, 37, was educated at Smithfield Public School and St Johns Park High School in Sydney.

He graduated from the University of Sydney with a Bachelor of Economics and won the Australian Transport Officers Federation Prize for the best industrial relations student at the university.

He was elected to Fairfield Council in 1995, and was Mayor of Fairfield for 1998 and 1999. He became president of the Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils from 2000 to 2002.

Immediately before being elected to Parliament, Chris was chief-of-staff to Carl Scully, then NSW Minister for Roads, Housing and Leader of the House.

Chris Bowen was elected to the Federal Parliament as Member for Prospect in October 2004, and following an electoral redistribution he is now the Member for McMahon.

Since being in Parliament, Chris has been elected as Deputy Chair of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Economics, Finance and Public Administration. He was also a member of the Joint Committee on Corporations and Financial Services.

In December 2006, Bowen was appointed to the Federal Labor Party's frontbench as the Shadow Assistant Treasurer and Shadow Minister for Revenue and Competition Policy.

The following December, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd appointed him two portfolios, as Assistant Treasurer and Minister for Competition Policy and Consumer Affairs.

In June 2009, Chris was elevated to Cabinet as Minister for Human Services and Minister for Financial Services, Superannuation and Corporate Law before taking on the portfolio of Immigration and Citizenship.

- Stephanie Bradley is Content and Communications Editor for the Australian Visa Bureau.