WORLD › NEWS
Call For Higher Immigration Exposes Australian Frailty
SYDNEY, Jan 13 (Bernama) — A leading business lobby group has called for a jump in Australia’s migration intake, reigniting the debate that helped destroy former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s career and exposing the skills shortage that could skewer Australia’s transition from a mining dependent economy.
China’s Xinhua news agency reported tha the Australian Industry Group (AIG) has proposed an increase in Australia’s immigration intake from 190,000 this year to 220,000 for 2014-15 financial year with an emphasis on skilled migration in order to meet current and future skills shortages.
In a submission to the federal government released Monday on the size of the immigration program to be set in the May Budget, Ai Group Chief Executive Innes Willox said: “This proposed increase takes into account the proven benefits to the economy of a strong migration programme.
“An increase in migrant numbers supports positive growth in our population and especially in our adult workforce, which is important due to relatively low rates of natural population growth.”
Australia’s population is growing by more than one million people every three years and with a growth rate at 1.7 percent a year, the global norm is just 1.1 percent, with most developed nations well below this average, the issue has been a flashpoint dividing the nation down economic and political lines.
In June 2010, former Prime Minister Julia Gillard promised she would not pursue predecessor Kevin Rudd’s “big Australia” population target of 36 million by 2050.
The unpopular Rudd-driven population plan was a key factor in the mandarin-speaking Rudd’s political demise.
According to the influential AIG, higher skilled migration intake is appropriate at present due to Australia’s historically low unemployment rates; the deepening impacts of an aging workforce (9 percent of all Australian employees now aged 60 or over and 17 percent aged 55 or over); and persistent skill shortages in key growth industries, including mining services, engineering, infrastructure and health services.
“With early indicators suggesting a positive upturn in national housing market activity, we expect the residential and commercial construction cycles will pick up significantly from 2014-15 which will in turn lead to further skilled trade shortages.”
The AIG said this will be further exacerbated by the flow of construction workers into the mining sector and reduced trades apprenticeship numbers in recent years.”
However, William Bourke, president of the Stable Population Party said that the population debate in Australia has been dominated by the extremes: business lobbies seeking more customers and anti-immigration groups promoting intolerance.
“As we approach 23 million, Australians of all backgrounds crave a rational and mature debate on population sustainability, free of simplistic and divisive distractions.
“We live in a finite world, so can’t grow forever. At some point, Australia must grasp the nettle and upgrade from immigration nation to mature, stable and sustainable nation,” Bourke said.
Incumbent Prime Minister Tony Abbott swept into power on a ” stop the boats” platform with the aim of limiting immigration, though he had indicated a preference for a “Big Australia.”
Both major parties here have been alternately lambasted for either pandering or inflaming long-dormant prejudices by seeding media reports with the potential social impacts of immigration or suggesting that population growth had negative environmental impacts.
However, very little policy has emerged when considering the skills shortages that loom across Australia’s swiftly evolving patchwork economy.
Willox said, “In particular, the flow of skilled workers into the mining industry from construction and industrial sectors will continue as mining moves from its current investment and expansion phase into a very strong period of growth in output.”
During the six months to September 2013, 67.7 percent of respondents reported either major or moderate difficulty in the recruitment of skilled labor (up from 65.7 percent six months ago).
“The skill shortages situation is even more serious in relation to occupations requiring Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) skills.
“While up-skilling our current workforce remains a priority, a larger skilled migration program will be necessary to manage the current situation and to assist in smoothing the path to future growth across the economy,” Willox said.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, population in Australia will grow to between 34.3 and 41.9 million in 2050 and between 42.3 and 69.5 million in 2100.