Let’s raise the mi­grant in­take but man­age it

Herald Sun - - OPINION -

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.


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