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Australia’s social harmony comes from its diversity

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?

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  1. diannaart

    But the system is being exploited by unscrupulous employers with insufficient oversight.

    In neo-capitalist speak “sufficient oversight” is known as red-tape and is believed to scare away investors… Apparently Australia needs to attract the “unscrupulous” yet not refugees.

  2. nexusxyz

    Wasting your time trying to revise what passes for immigration policy as the two biggest cities are now overpopulated and well beyond the carrying capacity of their infrastructure. Do you really think the dull ideologues that infest government are going to build hundreds of new hospitals and schools? They are certainly not going to extend transport infrastructure beyond the few projects that are really a waste of public money and will have little positive impact.

    This is a flippant comment…”This obviously contributes to wage stagnation, un/underemployment, the loss of part-time entry level jobs, and the undermining of workplace entitlements”… It is more than bloody obvious. People have gone to uni and studied, people have teens trying to get into the workforce, contracting rates have collapsed, etc. You wonder why people are getting pissed off. These people are not racists. They are seeing that their kids have no future, their amenity is being shredded, congestion is now a daily problem and our major cities are turning into ghettos.

    When I migrated to Australia in the early 90’s Australia had a sane and well managed immigration policy. The morons that are ruining the county think more people means economic growth. It does not. When an economic downturn arrives it will be f–king epic. This country will pay dearly for its stupidity.

  3. helvityni

    Our aim ought to be: good education to ALL, no divisions into public and private schools, girls or boys only schools, make sure all teachers have at least Master’s degree, more emphasis on maths and science….

    And no more need to import skilled people from other countries ; we’ll have our very own home-grown people with skills to fill the vacancies…

  4. Andreas

    In Third World countries, First World countries commonly appear to harvest these countries’ resources.
    In Australia, First World countries appear to harvest our resources AND GET PAID FOR IT !
    Wow, who is the idiot now?

  5. nexusxyz

    helvityni – of course that is what we should do but that is not what the ideologues as pushing. They are pushing low skill and low wage migrants to displace the locals. Australia is becoming a mini version of the US in more ways than one.

  6. Kaye Lee

    The Department of Jobs and Small Business (shit these guys must keep stationery suppliers happy) released a list of occupations to be added to the Short-Term Skilled Occupation List in January 2018.

    University Tutor
    Property Manager
    Real Estate Agent
    Real Estate Representative

    I find it very hard to believe that we can’t find locals to do these jobs.

    Health care is another area which employs many 457 visa workers. We really should be training people to fill those roles. The NDIS provides enormous job opportunities that are largely being filled by imported workers.


    Yes there was a significant boost in migration numbers this century.

    1991–92 99,000
    1992–93 68,000
    1993–94 62,800
    1994–95 76,500
    1995–96 82,500
    1996–97 73,860
    1997–98 67,090
    1998–99 67,930
    1999–00 70,180
    2000–01 80,610
    2001–02 93,080
    2002–03 108,070
    2003–04 114,360
    2004–05 120,060
    2005–06 142,930
    2006–07 148,200
    2007–08 158,630
    2008–09 171,330
    2009–10 168,700
    2010–11 168,700
    2011–12 185,000
    2012–13 190,000
    2013–14 190,000
    2015–16 190,000
    2014–15 190,000

  7. helvityni

    …what about training staff for the aged care, it might stop all the horror stories about how badly the untrained staff treat our oldies. Families are forced to put secret cameras in the rooms of their loved ones…..

    People are living longer these days, but why punish them for that by treating them badly…

  8. Terry2

    And yet we hear on this morning’s news that the incidence of Glue Ear (otitis media), among Australian Aboriginal children is the highest of any other people in the world including the most impoverished third world countries, according to the WHO.

    Yet we seem incapabale of eradicating this infection in the young despite the billions we pour into these communities and the relatively simple treatments that are available.

    This is a national disgrace !

  9. Bob Kledge

    As in most discussions about immigration the impact on the environment is completely ignored. The fact that our native bushland is still being cleared for suburban developments to house the newcomers is apparently not worthy of mention. While hundreds of thousands flock to our shores every year, our native wildlife and their bushland habitats suffer. Not important though, apparently.

  10. jimhaz

    Another thing new in our immigration mix is that immigrants from poor countries is now above 50%. This is as big or bigger a change then the gross stats.

    When immigration is high ordinary people start to suffer from affluence, a part of that effect is to not want those jobs heavily occupied immigrants from poor countries. They neither want the harder physical labour nor to actually work with these people. Employers also adjust real wages down and that adds to the loss of desire to do such jobs – so we need more and more immigration or temporary work visas for these jobs.

    As a now fat, slovenly country the type of immigrant we will need is cheap Carers and mental health specialists.

    457 “Real Estate Agents etc” – yep Asian ones to sell directly to overseas buyers. Talk about giving a big helping hand to sell off the country – just where is their true loyalty!!!

    Everytime I see things like this, I curse the ALP whom should be saving us from the neocons excesses. If I was opposition leader, and I saw stuff like those 457 extensions, I’d soon have a press release indicating that the ALP would overturn whatever policy it was when elected. There would be 100’s of such press releases by now, including undoing Dutton’s Schutzstaffel department.

  11. Kaye Lee


    I agree that the urban sprawl is hurting the environment. But there are a lot of country towns who have vacant dwellings and businesses. High speed rail?

    Also, migration to Australia doesn’t add to the world’s population. It has the opposite effect. Women here breed later and less.

  12. Kaye Lee


    Lifting people out of poverty has positive repercussions for the whole world, as does education, especially for girls.

    If the 457 visa program was used as it is meant to be, we should not be importing people to do menial labour. It is meant to fill skills shortages, not laziness shortages.

    Surely we can hook people up with jobs and train people to fill potential gaps? There will always be some who don’t want to or can’t work, but there are so many who are desperately trying to find employment that I think we could do a lot better in connecting the employers who can’t find workers with the employees who want to be given a chance to work.

    And I had the same suspicions when I read about the need for imported real estate agents.

  13. Andrew Smith

    I understand the ‘immigration and/or population growth vs negative outcome’ nexus is obsessively popular in Australia, especially amongst our culturally specific media, MPs, political advisors, think tanks and lobbyists, but mostly red herrings (Laura Tingle of the AFR nowadays, always mentions something about immigrants and growth).

    The UK is actually mooting the idea of omitting international students from the data versus them being described as ‘immigrants’; in Australia this would drop the population by several percentage points.

    Statistics 101, you can only compare data collected with the same methods under the same definition and similar time frames, otherwise it’s apples and oranges or simply invalid analysis.

    The NOM net overseas migration (UN definition vs OECD preferred by most) is used to calculate the estimated resident population including “usual residents” (i.e. temporary residents) was inflated by a (suspiciously quiet) definition change in 2006, through conflating more temporaries caught under the 12/16+ month rule, especially international students in a significant industry, with the permanent population base. Hence, Australia’s population cannot be compared with any other nations’ except maybe UK or NZ, especially since 2006; didn’t stop Labour appointing a Minister for Sustainable Population.

    NOM is linguistically misleading, misunderstood and misrepresented; it’s about cross border movements irrespective of citizenship, visa status, residency etc. and only has an indirect +ve correlation with ‘population growth’ and the estimated resident population.

    Further, it ignores the driver becoming more significant every day, longevity and ageing leading to the cumulative effect in data without crossing borders i.e. we’re hanging round longer term in country while increased numbers of temps (supporting the tax base) do not as they are temporary ‘churn over’.

    Significantly, most of the western world has crashing permanent workforce demographics i.e. ratio of workers to pensioners or retirees is declining; massive impact on the tax base and benefits, solution is to use temps to support the base as net contributors.

    Late Prof. Hans Rosling statistician, medico and development expert was also able to represent the global data well in BBC documentary as a management issue ‘Don’t Panic, the Truth About Population Growth’ i.e. fertility rates have been in decline and globally population will peak mid-century ex sub-Saharan Africa).

    However, a local research physicist with data literacy had a stab at analysing and understanding the NOM and came out even more confused; he claims our population has been well over estimated.

    ‘The alternative story is that sometime in the mid-2000s the Australian Bureau of Statistics changed the definition of an official statistic called “Net Overseas Migration”. The arbitrary definition they had at the time was malfunctioning, and the next arbitrary one they changed to has been malfunctioning even worse. A blithely ignorant press didn’t even notice the change, let alone query the dysfunction that inspired it, so the entire country has been putting their faith soaring population figure that has the integrity of custard.’

    The Missing Million: Is Australia’s migration rate actually high?

    Meanwhile even some demographers, plus high profile influencers e.g. Dick Smith and those in media, especially politics, economics or finance, assuming they possess skills of data literacy, have constantly misrepresented the data in mainstream media, why (apart from helping the real estate industry promote idea of get in now or miss out)?

    Why do so few nations use the NOM, like Australia (UK, NZ and nobody else; in EU is impossible to use due to Schengen Zone mobility?), which then creates ‘frothy’ headline numbers.

    Former UK Business Secretary Vince Cable complained of a ‘torrid and emotional debate’ about immigrants; Ian Dunt of Politics UK describes it as the ‘nebulous’ NOM as nobody understands it and only Theresa May and swivel eyed loons support it.

    Confusion and inflation of headline data and xenophobic headlines was the intention. This becomes clear if you research the fossil fuel oligarch family who gifted Manhattan land to the UN post WWII.

    Later, one of their foundations co-opted the American Eugenics Society, then went on later to found not just Zero Population and Economic Growth (ZPG/ZEG), but some related constructs via the conservative Club of Rome to appear ‘liberal and environmental’ and ‘sustainable’ e.g. equally nebulous ‘limits to growth’ theories i.e. whatever data inputs are, you get inflated outputs….

    Of course, which arm of the UN did they seemingly colonise and influence? The UN Population Council which defines the NOM…… (plus they seem to have their fingerprints all over the ‘sustainability’ movement too).

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