Sensible discussion about immigration levels is hard to have without it degenerating into xenophobic rants from people looking for someone to blame for their own circumstances, inadequate government, or people who just don’t like others who look, speak, dress or worship differently.
But it is a discussion we should have.
In the year from 30 June 2016 to 30 June 2017, estimated resident population (ERP) of Australia increased by 388,100 people.
This figure is slightly misleading in that it includes “usual residents”. A person is regarded as a usual resident if they have been (or expect to be) residing in Australia for a period of 12 months or more. This 12-month period does not have to be continuous and is measured over a 16-month period.
But ignoring that for the moment, the ABS provides the following information.
Natural increase accounted for 142,700 people, 7.5% lower than the previous year. Births decreased by 8,700 and deaths increased by 2,900.
Net overseas migration (NOM) accounted for 245,400 people, 27.1% higher than the previous year.
According to the yet again rebadged Department of Home Affairs, the total permanent migration programme outcome for 2016–17 was 183,608 places. The breakdown was: 123,567 places in the Skill stream; 56,220 places in the Family stream; 421 places in the Special Eligibility stream; and 3,400 child visa places.
The major source countries in the migration programme were India (21.2 percent), China (15.4 percent) and the United Kingdom (9.3 percent). (They don’t count New Zealand)
Overall, our population growth rate of 1.6% was above that of the world at 1.1%. It is higher than our close neighbours and other major OECD countries, except for Papua New Guinea (2.1 %). The Philippines and Singapore were the next fastest growing countries at 1.5%, followed by Malaysia (1.4%) and South Africa (1.3%). The populations of Greece, Italy and Japan actually reduced.
According to figures from the United Nations, Department of Economics and Social Affairs, Australia’s population (24,598,900) ranked 53rd highest in the world in 2017 and is projected to rise to 38 million by 2050 ranking it 56th. By 2050, India is projected to have displaced China as the most populous country with 1.7 billion people compared with 1.4 billion in China.
So what do all these numbers mean for us?
Half of the population of Australia was either born overseas or had one or both parents born overseas. Far from creating social division, this has given us a special kind of harmony that comes from diversity.
When people speak of Australian values, they usually list the things that any free society aspires to. They might add ‘mateship’ and ‘a fair go’ though, with some of the racist rhetoric that has re-emerged with the rise of Hanson and Dutton, and the deliberate demonisation of welfare recipients, asylum seekers, environmentalists, unionists, same-sex parents, Muslims, Aboriginals, feminists, Asians, Africans (the list is long) – those attributes are not always apparent.
There is no question that immigration has been of economic benefit to the nation but there are legitimate discussions to be had about the level and composition of the programme. Not in the dog-whistling, ham-fisted way that some of our politicians approach it, but on how it can be most beneficial.
The 457 visa program is a good idea if it was used properly but it is not.
Bringing in skilled workers to fill shortages in specific areas sounds fine. You get the benefit of a skilled worker without the cost of educating and training them and it boosts the number of working age people to help support our aging population.
But the system is being exploited by unscrupulous employers with insufficient oversight. People are being brought in and then asked to do long hours in entirely different work for little pay. The requirement to first seek local employees is basically ignored.
We should also be doing some future planning, incentivising training for our own kids and unemployed to fill anticipated skills shortages.
Student visas provide income for universities, help strengthen ties with other countries and help to improve their standard of living. Backpackers bring tourist dollars and provide a temporary itinerant workforce.
But both groups are being taken advantage of, often working for very low wages, shutting out locals who expect a fair day’s pay.
This obviously contributes to wage stagnation, un/underemployment, the loss of part-time entry-level jobs, and the undermining of workplace entitlements.
There is also significant concern about the integrity of the Significant Investor Visa Scheme. Australia is one of the most sought-after destinations for corrupt Chinese officials.
Under the rules of SIV, applicants should first have the means to deposit $5 million into approved investments for a period of 4 years prior to submitting an application for permanent residency. Meanwhile, under the premium investor visa, with a minimum investment of $15 million, this is narrowed down to only one year.
Put $15 million into government bonds for 1 year – earn interest and residency.
In 2015–16, the Humanitarian Programme was set at 13,750 places. A total of 13,765 visas were granted under the annual Humanitarian Programme, of which 11,762 visas were granted under the offshore component and 2003 visas were granted under the onshore component.
In addition, 3790 humanitarian visas were granted in 2015–16 under the Government’s commitment to provide, an additional 12,000 visa places for people displaced by conflicts in Syria and Iraq. This brought the total number of Humanitarian visas granted in 2015–16 to 17,555 (15,552 offshore).
This program could, and should, be increased as it represents the area of greatest need. We could easily accommodate more refugees, if necessary, by reducing other areas of migration.
The key to doing this successfully is to assist with resettlement. Aside from government and NGO assistance, there is an increasing group of social entrepreneurs, refuges helping others in their situation to settle in and to find meaningful work commensurate with their expertise and experience.
One of the genuine concerns is the stress placed on inadequate infrastructure by the overcrowding of our cities and the ever-expanding urban sprawl. This is not a problem caused by migrants but rather a lack of planning and foresight.
It would be far more beneficial to build a high-speed passenger rail linking Melbourne to Brisbane than to build Barnaby’s inland freight rail. It would allow people to find affordable accommodation in regional areas but still commute to where the work is. It could reinvigorate the bush and help them provide/maintain essential services.
The conversation about immigration should be couched in terms of how we can do it more successfully rather than in who we want to keep out or who we want blame for crime, unemployment, housing prices and waiting times.
But what are the chances of that with Oberführer Dutton competing with Pauline Hanson to unleash the hounds?