Why the Coali­tion's half-baked plan to push mi­grants into the re­gions can­not work

The Guardian Australia - - Front Page - Greg Jericho

Alan Tudge, the min­is­ter for cities, ur­ban in­fras­truc­ture and pop­u­la­tion, on Tues­day re­peated a sug­ges­tion that mi­grants might be forced to live in re­gions or cities other than Mel­bourne and Syd­ney. His pro­posal was first mooted in Au­gust and the lack of any fur­ther de­tails or specifics in the lat­est it­er­a­tion sug­gest the pol­icy is more about talk­ing than act­ing. That is just as well, be­cause the driver of mi­gra­tion des­ti­na­tion re­mains not gov­ern­ment penal­ties or even in­cen­tives, but jobs.

I grew up in coun­try South Aus­tralia and, like most of my school friends, as soon as I fin­ished high school, I left. I fin­ished uni­ver­sity in the early 1990s at a time when the re­ces­sion was so deep that in South Aus­tralia there were 48 un­em­ployed for ev­ery job va­cancy (cur­rently there are four un­em­ployed per va­cancy). So, like many oth­ers of my age, I left the state. I lived in far north Queens­land for a decade and then moved to Can­berra af­ter get­ting a job there in the pub­lic ser­vice.

My story is not all that un­usual, and it goes to the prob­lems gov­ern­ments both fed­eral and state have with mi­gra­tion and pop­u­la­tion. I, like most peo­ple, moved to where there was work.

It wasn’t too much of a sur­prise that Tudge gave a speech this week that in­cluded a sug­ges­tion some­thing needed to be done about mi­gra­tion to Syd­ney and Mel­bourne. Sim­i­larly it was not sur­pris­ing that he sug­gested some vague mea­sures to en­cour­age or force mi­grants to move to re­gional ar­eas or, at the very least, not Syd­ney or Mel­bourne. It was re­ally just a re­peat of what he said a cou­ple months ago.

Politi­cians love to talk about the need to do some­thing on mi­gra­tion and they love even more to sug­gest vague so­lu­tions. They are less enamoured, how­ever, with act­ing or propos­ing spe­cific poli­cies.

Tudge’s sug­ges­tion for a geo­graphic visa re­quire­ment for cer­tain mi­grants was so mea­grely spelled out that to call it half-baked would be to greatly over­state things.

His speech at the Men­zies Re­search Cen­tre was mostly just a gee-up for the Lib­eral party faith­ful in at­ten­dance than any great con­tri­bu­tion to pol­icy de­bate. Near the end he sug­gested that the gov­ern­ment was “work­ing on mea­sures to have more new ar­rivals go to the smaller states and re­gions and re­quire them to be there for at least a few years”.

Just how these mea­sures would work was left un­said.

In an in­ter­view on ABC News Break­fast, he told Vir­ginia Tri­oli that “when some­body’s on a visa, then we can eas­ily place con­di­tions upon it. Now, we haven’t an­nounced all the de­tails ex­actly how we’re go­ing to do that yet but it’s rea­son­ably straight­for­ward to do that.”

And yet when Tri­oli pressed him on how would you com­pel some­one to stay in an area even if they were not able to get a job, Tudge replied that “we haven’t out­lined all the ex­act de­tails yet” and quickly moved on to talk­ing about in­cen­tives cur­rently in place that make it eas­ier for mi­grants to gain a visa if they move to cer­tain ar­eas.

And that is where it will mostly sit. The talk of forc­ing mi­grants to do things plays well with the con­ser­va­tive base but mostly re­mains talk be­cause not only is it quite dif­fi­cult to en­force such a visa re­quire­ment, it also would achieve lit­tle, be­cause peo­ple go where the de­mand for work is.

Con­sider in­ter­nal mi­gra­tion. Peo­ple move from state to state to chase work.

In 2012, Vic­to­ria barely had any net in­ter­state mi­gra­tion, and yet Western Aus­tralia was get­ting record num­bers of peo­ple mov­ing to the state.

Now the sit­u­a­tion is re­versed – in the past 12 months, Western Aus­tralia saw 12,040 more peo­ple leave the state than move to it, while Vic­to­ria had just over 15,000 more peo­ple ar­rive than leave:

Why has this oc­curred? Well con­sider that, in 2012, there were as few as 1.4 un­em­ployed per va­cancy in Western Aus­tralia. When the min­ing boom ended, this rose quickly to over five per va­cancy, and so the peo­ple left. Where did they go? Vic­to­ria was a big des­ti­na­tion. And why there? Be­cause in 2012 there was up to five un­em­ployed per va­cancy in Vic­to­ria but, as em­ploy­ment grew in the state, this has fallen to now be­ing around 2.3:

Vic­to­ria and New South Wales are the eas­i­est places to get work, so not sur­pris­ingly that is where Aus­tralians move.

NSW’s net in­ter­state mi­gra­tion fig­ures are al­ways neg­a­tive so it is best to look at the ar­rival fig­ures alone, and here you can see quite clearly that since 2012 both it and Vic­to­ria have ex­pe­ri­enced a surge in ar­rivals that has echoed their im­prov­ing economies:

And, not sur­pris­ingly, there has been a very sim­i­lar story for in­ter­na­tional mi­gra­tion:

The sup­ply of labour goes to where the de­mand for jobs is.

The greater cap­i­tal city ar­eas of Syd­ney and Mel­bourne are also where the high­est level of full-time em­ploy­ment ex­ists. Among the non-cap­i­tal city ar­eas, only WA with its high de­pen­dency on min­ing has a high per­cent­age of peo­ple aged 25-54 work­ing full-time:

And the prob­lem with push­ing peo­ple to the re­gions and non-Mel­bourne cap­i­tal cities is that it can ac­tu­ally lead to un­in­ten­tional con­se­quences.

De­mog­ra­pher Prof Peter McDon­ald of the Uni­ver­sity of Mel­bourne re­cently noted in a pa­per this very ques­tion of “what would hap­pen if in­ter­na­tional im­mi­grants were di­verted away from high-growth cities, as the gov­ern­ment is propos­ing?”

He con­cluded that “iron­i­cally, re­duc­ing in­ter­na­tional mi­gra­tion to large cities would make it harder for the re­gions, in­clud­ing Ade­laide and Ho­bart, to main­tain their pop­u­la­tions”. The rea­son be­ing that this shift of work­ers away from the ar­eas where there was high de­mand for labour to places where the fight for jobs was al­ready tough would mean the “young peo­ple” in places like Ade­laide and Ho­bart “would be drawn to Syd­ney and Mel­bourne, re­plac­ing the im­mi­grants”.

If you want mi­grants to set­tle in cer­tain places, jobs and in­fras­truc­ture need to be in place. With­out them, not only will in­ter­na­tional mi­grants be un­likely to move there, nei­ther will Aus­tralians.

Politi­cians love to talk about the need to do some­thing on mi­gra­tion and they love even more to sug­gest vague so­lu­tions.

Pho­to­graph: Mick Tsikas/AAP

Alan Tudge and the prime min­is­ter, Scott Mor­ri­son. Tudge said the Coali­tion hadn’t ‘out­lined all the ex­act de­tails yet’ when asked how to com­pel some­one to stay in a re­gional area with­out a job.

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