‘Ministers line up to slam Abbott’s immigration call’, read the headline in Friday’s The Age.
From all the teeth gnashing, you might think former Prime Minister Tony Abbott had suggested ending all immigration to Australia.
Abbott instead proposes reducing the migration intake from 180,000 per year to 110,000. A 39% reduction.
Reducing the migrant intake would slow Australia’s rapid population growth, currently at 1.4%. That’s faster than Canada’s 1.2%. And it’s double the US growth rate of 0.7%, according to data from the World Bank.
Since 1990, Australia’s population has already increased by 40%.
If Australia continues on its current path, the population is expected to grow by 11.8 million people by 2046. That would bring the population to 36.7 million people — up from the current 24.9 million.
Migration rate putting a strain on infrastructure in Australia
According to Infrastructure Australia, three-quarters of this growth is expected to occur in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth.
That would see 2.6 million more people crowding into Sydney alone. It would also mean 2.5 million more daily journeys on Sydney’s major roads, doubling the average time spent on the road during morning peak time.
And don’t think you can just hop on the train to escape the crowds. 950,000 more journeys are expected on Sydney’s public transport each day by 2046.
This kind of mammoth growth will also see a 70% increase in the demand for local schools. The demand for hospitals, police, and other taxpayer funded services will also ramp up.
At some point Australian pollies need to decide when enough is enough.
Is 36 million people the right target? Or 72 million? Or should Australia begin pursuing a stable population policy today?
The ministers currently lining up to bash Abbott’s call to reduce the migrant intake don’t appear ready for an open debate. They are either deliberately blowing smoke, or alarmingly misinformed.
And none have stepped forward to explain why 180,000 is the ideal annual migrant intake number. And not, say, 300,000.
Instead, Federal Treasurer Scott Morrison said cutting the permanent migration level from 180,000 to 110,000 a year would could cost the economy ‘as much as’ $5 billion over four years.
Yet he made no mention of the additional government spending required to maintain the current intake.
He also omitted that decades of high migration levels have seen Australia’s population swell, while wages have remained flat.
Adding 180,000 new migrants each year does boost GDP (gross domestic product). And this does appear to help the government address its perpetual deficits. But growing the economy simply by growing the number of people is the ultimate Ponzi scheme. Only those at the top of the pyramid benefit…until the whole scheme collapses.
Morrison also added:
‘If you did what Tony Abbott suggests, then you would only reduce the proportion that was skilled migration, and you’d have a bigger proportion which was family migration, which ultimately gets more dependent on welfare.’
It’s unclear why Abbott’s plan would see more families migrate than skilled workers. Surely this is something the government can address as it considers reducing intake numbers.
And Morrison shoots his own argument of economic prosperity in the foot by mentioning family migrants ultimately get ‘more dependent on welfare’.
Mathias Cormann also sounded off:
‘To criticise the experts and say that someone who is not an expert knows better is not the right approach.’
This is the height of hubris.
We need a growth plan… and quickly
When talking about 30-year plans to add 11.9 million people to Australia, no one can claim expertise. And questioning the so-called experts is every Australian’s right. Certainly every former prime minister’s too…
Then there was Steve Ciobo’s effort at distraction:
‘I think it’s a great shame that we often see immigration, and in particular immigrants having the finger pointed at them on issues, like, for example, escalating house prices or depressed wage growth.’
Clearly house prices are high. And clearly the current high immigration intake isn’t adding to wage growth. There are many other factors at play here besides immigration. Record low interest rates and increasing automation are two.
But the real issue here is the lack of any longer-term growth plan.
Yes, Australia is a nation built on immigration. As Cormann, who was born in Belgium, also remarked, ‘What a great migrant nation we are.’
This is true. And Abbott is not pointing the finger at recent immigrants. He is sounding the alarm about the negative impacts of continued rapid population growth.
Simply because Australia was built on immigration in the 19th and 20th Century doesn’t mean that will always be the case. In fact, it almost certainly won’t be.
At some point the current level of rapid growth must come to an end.
Abbott is merely the messenger.