Population growth, migration and refugees: A political headache that’s split the nation

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Since the post-World War II catchcry of “populate or perish”, domestic resistance to increased migration has been a thorn in the side of successive governments.

In 1996, a then-unknown politician cashed in on that resistance, as she catapulted into Australian politics.

Pauline Hanson used her maiden speech in Parliament to call for a reduction in the number of immigrants — particularly Asians, who she claimed were “swamping” the country.

And two decades later, when she returned to politics after a long hiatus, a new maiden speech echoed the same views, with a different focus group: Muslims.

Those views secured the support of some Australians, and as Senator Hanson gained votes on the back of her immigration policy, the Government lost them.

In 2018, the Lowy Institute’s annual polling on migration showed that for the very first time in almost 15 years, a majority — 54 per cent — of Australians preferred a lower annual immigration intake, expressing concern that the current level was too high.

Complicating the issue even further for the major parties is population growth.

There are now 25 million people in Australia, with the population growing by about 400,000 a year for the past three years, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Concerns over transport infrastructure and property prices in Sydney and Melbourne have seen population growth become a political issue, leaving the Government desperately seeking a remedy for the political headache that has split the nation and its own party.

Like the general population, Government MPs have been divided on what the rate of migration should be.

Some wanted the cap lowered, but others were concerned about the economic impact that would have.

Increased skills-based migration raises the workforce participation rate, which in turn boosts GDP growth, and the government’s budget bottom line.

In March, the Prime Minister announced the Government’s new national population plan, which will encourage skilled migrants to live and work in country towns in a desperate attempt to ease congestion in major cities.

The plan cuts the permanent migration cap from 190,000 to 160,000 places per year.

But when you consider the fact only 163,000 visas were granted last year, it’s not much of a change.

Concerns over transport infrastructure and property prices in Sydney and Melbourne have seen population growth become a political issue, leaving the Government desperately seeking a remedy for the political headache that has split the nation and its own party.

Like the general population, Government MPs have been divided on what the rate of migration should be.

Some wanted the cap lowered, but others were concerned about the economic impact that would have.

Increased skills-based migration raises the workforce participation rate, which in turn boosts GDP growth, and the government’s budget bottom line.

In March, the Prime Minister announced the Government’s new national population plan, which will encourage skilled migrants to live and work in country towns in a desperate attempt to ease congestion in major cities.

The plan cuts the permanent migration cap from 190,000 to 160,000 places per year.

But when you consider the fact only 163,000 visas were granted last year, it’s not much of a change.

At its national conference in December, the party stated it would adopt a “long-term” approach to setting the migration rate, stating it would consider the positive and negative impacts on employment, the economy and demographic trends.

However, it said its skilled migration program would target job shortages that could not be filled locally, and encourage migrants to take up positions in rural and regional locations where gaps needed to be plugged.

In April, Mr Shorten also pledged changes to some foreign worker visas, promising a Labor government would lift the minimum pay rate for foreign workers on temporary skilled visas from $53,900 to $65,000 to prevent exploitation and lower the incentive for employers to hire foreign workers before Australians.

Both Labor and the Coalition have already struck a deal to pass legislation that would see migrants wait up to four years to access welfare payments such as Newstart or concession cards.

It was a controversial decision on Labor’s part, with their political allies, the Greens, describing it as a “Trump-esque” move.

However, Labor defended its support for the laws, saying it took the “rough edges” off the bill in order to stop it from falling into the hands of One Nation.

The final battle

With the Coalition’s national population policy failing to address the high numbers of temporary visas or tourists who use public transport, the political challenge for whomever wins government will be to try to share the burden more equitably among the states and territories, to ensure it does not change the standard of living.

It is a complex issue, often told through populist politics.

Australia’s economy relies, among other things, on strong skills-based migration, international students and tourism.

But the political focus is often distilled to local jobs, and whether migrants are properly “assimilating” with other Australians.

In the trade of election soundbites, that is likely to continue — and any complexities will be lost.

Looking for further assistance on skill select invitations works? Book a consultation today with our experts or drop your queries at Bansal Immigration Consultant.

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