Let’s raise the migrant intake but manage it
AMAJOR reason for writing an opinion article is to challenge the prevailing narrative. In my first contribution in the new year, I begin with a controversial statement. We should double our immigration intake. Not halve it as proposed by the Right in the Liberal Party and Pauline Hanson’s One Nation — not even reduce it a bit as suggested by some within Labor to protect jobs and by the Greens to protect the environment.
No, we should double our intake. Why? Well let me take you on an alternative historical journey. Let’s posit that Australia had not gone down the road of mass migration which stretches back to the 1950s. Instead, we closed our doors and continued to live off the sheep’s back.
By now, we might have about 15 million people instead of 25 million. We would not be in the G20, our living standards would be lower, we could not afford halfdecent armed forces and we would be terrified of the people to our north that we had neither engaged with nor understood.
The populations of countries north of Australia are staggering and growing: India and China 1.3 billion each; Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia — all between 170 and 250 million.
It’s not just their numbers: their economies and their military capabilities are all growing, too.
It makes Australia with 25 million and such a large landmass look very vulnerable.
We need to increase our population and grow our economy. The two go hand-in-hand. Given our birthrates and ageing population, this can only be done by increasing our net migration.
Federal Treasury projections are that our population will be about 36 million by 2050 based on current migration policies, birthrates and population shifts — an increase of 11 million. Halving the migration intake would result in a population of about 29 million. Doubling it could push us closer to 45-50 million. At that level and with steady economic growth, Australia would be a very significant regional power and our standard of living would continue to be the envy of our region.
My second controversial proposal is that most of the increased migrant numbers should come from regions currently under-represented in our migrant intake, including Europe, North and South America and the UK.
Whoa — I hear you say. Our current migration policy is based on non-discriminatory principles. Everyone is graded on points and those with the highest scores get to come no matter what part of the world they are from.
The policy gives a lot of points for being young, English-speaking and educated. The trouble is that people from currently underrepresented regions who fit these criteria are generally doing nicely and don’t apply to come. However, there is a growing number of middle-class people in Asia, the Middle East and Africa who fit these criteria and who do apply.
I am sure that the criteria were originally set up to favour the English-speaking world, but they have backfired. Under the current system, an increase in migration would favour a small number of countries, principally India and China — and to a lesser extent Middle Eastern and African countries. Many Australians have concerns about current migration sources and how this might affect social cohesion and Australia’s liberal-democratic values.
This is the unspoken reason, rarely raised in debate, which drives many in the political classes.
Instead of addressing the real issue — managing the source of migration — we apply blanket selection criteria and have a narrow debate about cuts to migration.
THE arguments used to range from the respectable middle, which talks about pressure on infrastructure or protecting jobs, to the Right, which talks about African gangs. Australia should keep its points system but it should be applied in various regions with a quota for each region. More people would come from regions of the world that are under-represented, who have traditionally integrated well and who share our liberaldemocratic values.
Some of these migrants may not rate highly on the points system. But Australia needs people with lower skills to do jobs in the building, manufacturing and services industries — especially in regional centres where many migrants would be prepared to go as a condition of entry.
Although it is presented as nondiscriminatory, the existing system discriminates against all lowerskilled workers with limited English. Worse, it allows the nationalist Right to fuel resentment against those taking the “best” jobs and fear that we are being swamped by immigrants from a narrow band of countries that do not share our values.
Doubling migration while simultaneously controlling the sources of migration is the only way to obtain a consensus that would allow Australia to double its population, strengthen its economy, maintain its liberaldemocratic values and guarantee its long-term security.