It is disappointing, but sadly not surprising, to see this report in the Canberra Times suggesting the Coalition is planning to adopt a more explicitly anti-migrant position. Despite all the evidence about the demographic inevitability of a shrinking labour force, growing international mobility (including record emigration from Australia) and the latest research showing the significant net economic benefit migrants create for Australia, the political temptation for the ‘Liberals’ is obviously too great to resist.
It is very unedifying to see Brendan Nelson – the alternative Prime Minister – willingly reinforcing the tawdry and discredited myth that migrants supposedly take Aussies’ jobs. The skilled migration intake – both permanent and temporary – has boomed over recent years because of the skills and labour market shortage. It is driven by demand, not by governments doing some social engineering. Indeed, if it wasn’t for the extra hurdles and red tape, the intake would be greater still because the demand for labour is certainly there. The same applies to the planned trial for seasonal workers from Pacific Island nations – the labour shortage is unquestionably there and has been there for quite some time. Working on enabling and ensuring more Australians can fill some of these vacant positions is always going to be important, but the reality is the positions are not being filled at present and migrants won’t come here (and employers wouldn’t bother to pay the extra costs of obtaining them), if the labour was reliably available here.