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

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