I thought I got it. No change to the formal number of the annual permanent immigrant intake but a lot going on behind the scenes to ensure that the 190,000 figure won’t be met. Tell the department to do more checks, go slow, bring New Zealand residents living in Australia into the program and voila, the number could be as low as 170,000.
That sounds better. No formal announcement, just a lower number that might calm stressed residents of Melbourne and Sydney, in particular.
But then we have another drop by another senior politician. This time it’s the promotional immigration report we would expect from the Department of Immigration (now Home Affairs) and Treasury — yes, both those departments would say that.
Mind you, the net annual economic gain is very small: 0.1 per cent of gross domestic product — smaller than a rounding error. The report also contains the fallacy that immigration has a favourable effect on the age profile of the population even though the immigrants themselves age.
Only if the immigration numbers are ramped up — year in, year out — will there be any effect on ageing, that’s why it’s the equivalent of a Ponzi scheme, which is now being endorsed by Treasury.
No consideration is given in the report to the cost of congestion, the loss of urban amenity, overcrowded schools and hospitals, environmental pressures and the like associated with immigration. You might have thought the ridiculous and expensive expansion of Treasury into Sydney and Melbourne (there is even a Perth office) could have given some insights into the daily pressures people feel as those cities grow too rapidly.
But here’s the way the boosters weasel their way out of this dilemma: fix up infrastructure and Bob will be everyone’s uncle. How long have we been hearing that one? And, by the way, it’s been getting worse, not better.
And as for those silly figures about tax revenue gained from having immigrants — well, not refugees — there is no account of associated costs. And we know these costs are borne by the states and territories, so I guess the Treasurer doesn’t really care.
But here’s something to think about: if these immigrants add to our tax revenue when they come to Australia, are we depriving the less developed countries from which they came of tax revenue that could be very helpful in those countries? In other words, should we be considering the moral argument about bringing in immi- grants from countries that could well use their services so that they can pay taxes in Australia?
But let’s not get too worried about the skilled immigrants being very skilled, because Bob Birrell’s analysis clearly shows non-English-speaking, overseas-born graduates of Australian universities who remain here as skilled immigrants are half as likely to be in professional or managerial jobs as Australianborn graduates. Our skill program is actually very weak and easy to game, particularly the employer-sponsored component.
The real trouble for the government is it is proving itself utterly incapable of controlling the rate of growth of the population, now almost an extra 400,000 a year, mostly due to immigration. And if that’s not alarming enough, most new arrivals go to Melbourne and Sydney.
The temporary program is proving unmanageable. The surge in international students is partly because of streamlined visa processing by the Department of Home Affairs, which seems like a very strange outcome.
It’s time to consider ways of restricting temporary immigration. And let’s not forget that many immigrants come here on a temporary basis only because they expect to become permanent residents in due course.
The reality is the government has lost the confidence of great swaths of the population when it comes to immigration — and the government knows it. It is all over the shop. One minute there is a triumphal announcement that the permanent immigrant cap won’t be met, so we can all feel slightly relieved. The next we are told immigration is one of the biggest economic gains around.
Of course, what Treasury won’t admit is that the distribution of those gains are snaffled mainly by the immigrants themselves, and the businesses that can secure larger domestic markets — think property developers, in particular — and save on paying for training. It’s a great deal for them. Whether it’s a great deal for everyone else is an open question.
The government is proving to be utterly incapable of controlling the rate of growth of the population