Submission to inquiry into Migration, Pathway to Nation Building

10 April 2023

This submission (PDF) is to the Parliamentary Joint Standing Committee inquiry into Migration, Pathway to Nation Building.

Summary and Recommendations

If nation building is about a shared vision for the betterment of the community and a healthy environment, then the best choice for Australia is a low level of net migration which supports a stable population size. NOM around 60,000 per year would enable Australia’s population to stabilise below 30 million people.

The vast experiment of accelerating Australia’s population growth through high levels of immigration has solved none of the problems it was intended to fix, while exacerbating all of the issues of most concern to Australians, from job insecurity and falling real wages to housing unaffordability, inadequate infrastructure, environmental degradation and greenhouse gas emissions.

Migrants have also suffered as job opportunities failed to live up to promises and the vast number of temporary visas issued ensured long backlogs of applications for permanent residence.

What this experiment has delivered is large windfall gains to property developers, large employers, universities and migration agents, at the expense of ordinary Australians and our environment.

Economic arguments in favour of high population growth do not stand up to objective analysis. Costs of population growth far outweigh the benefits. In particular, concerns about demographic ageing causing worker shortages are ill-founded.

Lower immigration will deliver greater workforce participation, wage growth, productivity growth, and housing affordability. Fiscal costs associated with population ageing are more than off-set by lower infrastructure costs in a stable population. We will be better able to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and to ensure community resilience in the face of extreme weather events.

  1. Australia’s migration policy is its de facto population policy. A sustainable scale of migration, based on a vision for an ecologically sustainable population and economy, is fundamental to Australia’s project of nation building.
  2. To enable population stabilisation, the target for Net Overseas Migration (NOM) should be no greater than 60,000 per year, including a generous allowance for humanitarian refugees. Allowing for emigration, a permanent migrant intake around 80,000 per year might be sustainable.
  3. We should only import workers to fill actual job vacancies. All skilled migrants should be employer-sponsored and initially temporary. This is the normal practice in most developed countries. Permanent skill visas should only be offered to those who have demonstrated a period (at least three years) of appropriately skilled employment under a temporary visa, and should also be employer-sponsored.
  4. To ensure that the jobs migrants fill are actually skilled and needed, the Temporary Skilled Migration Income Threshold (TSMIT) should be at least 10% greater than the median full-time wage (which would currently set the TSMIT to around $90,000 per year, in contrast to the current $53,900).
  5. Caps should be placed on the proportion of international students enrolled in any course, perhaps no more than 25% except in courses specifically intended to prepare foreign students for further study.
  6. The family reunion system should be tightened to reduce its widespread abuse as a method for commercial chain migration. Only those who have gained Australian citizenship should be entitled to sponsor a newly-married spouse. At least five years on a permanent residence visa should be required before qualifying for citizenship.
  7. Low-skilled migrant workers should not be given pathways to permanence. This will only exacerbate exploitation by attracting greater numbers of temporary migrants, including poaching crucial workers, such as teachers and nurses, from sending countries.
  8. The Agricultural Worker visa should not be implemented. Australia should avoid creating an underclass of menial workers.
  9. All labour hire companies should be registered, and their responsible agents should be identified and held personally responsible for illegal practices, including criminal penalties.
  10. All migrants with work rights should have a tax file number. Employers should not be able to claim tax deduction for labour expenses unless they cite the tax file numbers of the workers, to dissuade employment of illegal migrants and to check payments to labour hire workers.
  11. The migration system (like all areas of government policy) should be less influenced by vested interests, including property developers, large employers, universities and migration agents. Their interests are not the national interest. More ongoing opportunities should be provided for broad community engagement in the formulation of migration and population policies.

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