Federal election 2019: Immigration is hot again but changed Shepparton’s cultural fabric long ago

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The You Ask, We Answer election project has received dozens of voter questions about immigration, with many concerned about how Australia can care for the hundreds of thousands of new migrants entering the country each year.

Key points:

  • The Coalition’s national population plan cuts the permanent migration cap from 190,000 to 160,000 over the next four years
  • Labor is yet to announce anything specific around population growth
  • Shepparton hosts families where 60 languages other than English are spoken in the home among its thriving population of 60,000

Issues around overcrowding have been on the minds of many respondents, including this question from the Riverina’s John Moran:

They also announced the introduction of two new regional visas, which would require skilled workers to live outside major cities for three years before they can apply for permanent residency.

Meanwhile, Labor is yet to announce anything specific with regards to dealing with issues of population growth.

Last month, the party pledged to lift the minimum pay rate for foreign workers on temporary skilled visas from $53,900 to $65,000 to prevent exploitation and encourage labour hire providers to hire Australians over foreign workers.

Temporary and long-stay visas the real issue

To date, neither major party has highlighted how it will address the high numbers of temporary visas.

Research professor in the Faculty of Arts at Monash University, Professor Andrew Markus, said people on temporary visas, such as overseas students, were the largest contributor to population growth — not those seeking permanent residency.

There are currently about 1.5 million people living in Australia on temporary visas.

“This notion of reducing [permanent migration] from 190,000 to 160,000 doesn’t really address the big issue that people are concerned about, which is a perceived over-crowding,” he said.

What could the major parties learn from Shepparton?

When it comes to immigration, the major parties’ focus is often on whether migrants are properly ‘assimilating’ to Australian culture and whether they are taking jobs away from ‘hard-working Australians’.

“The traditional view of assimilation is that migrants have to be more like us,” Cr Hazelman said.

He argued this was not a productive way to measure how migrants contribute to the community.

“It is sometimes not well recognised how significant a success factor in settlement is,” he said.

Historically, regional Australia has struggled to attract people with the necessary skills that a region requires, and Australia’s economy largely relies on migrants being able to fill that gap in the workforce.

“People are prepared to work hard, and they work hard in industries that have struggled for labour. That’s a great benefit for regional industry,” Cr Hazelman said.

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