Population increase in Australia is not to be feared as growth and the skilled migration that fuels it helps the economy to grow and enables it to support an ageing population, build better infrastructure and protect the environment, it is claimed.
Although a growing population presents the country with challenges it also provides opportunities and rather than pretend population growth is not happening, the nation should be actively trying to harness the benefits, according to a new report.
‘Our population is not growing because of a scheme hatched up in the halls of Parliament House by Labor or by business interests. Our population is growing because our economy is strong and our society is confident about the future,’ says the report by Jessica Brown and Dr Oliver Haderwich, both research fellows at The Centre for Independent Studies.
It points out that Government has remarkably little control over aggregate migration numbers in any one year. Canberra only sets annual targets for permanent migration. It does not control the number of long term temporary migrants entering and leaving the country, or the number of Australian citizens and permanent residents leaving and re-entering the country.
‘Our migration numbers are driven by temporary migrants. Many of them take up permanent residency after living in Australia for a number of years. If government did want to exert more control over net overseas migration, for example, by implementing an annual cap, it would have to substantially change the nature of our immigration programme,’ the report says.
It also points out that two thirds of migration is skilled and much of this is demand driven. ‘The total number of migrants coming to Australia in any one year depends on how many overseas workers business needs to hire, how many working holidaymakers want to come to Australia and how many students wish to study in our universities. Changes in economic conditions both in Australia and abroad can result in large swings from year to year,’ it says.
Between 2009 and 2010, the number of long stay business visitors fell by more than 33,000, a drop of almost a third. ‘This makes a huge difference to Net Overseas Migration but has nothing to do with government policy. As skills shortages intensify, business arrivals will increase. This laissez faire approach enables our migration programme to act as a release valve, moving in sync with the economic cycle. This feature, along with a focus on skilled, prime working age migrants has made Australia’s migration programme a success where so many others have failed,’ it adds.
It also argues that population growth will be sustainable if the country continues to innovate and make better use of existing resources. ‘Our environmental resources can cope with projected growth. Despite the doomsayers, Australia is in no danger of running out of food, water or land. Population growth may even spur us to become more innovative and efficient in the way we use our resources and energy,’ it says.
‘The great majority of migrants, who have come to this country in the last 30 years, have been skilled. Those who came in the decades before may have been unskilled, but they were entrepreneurial and ready to work. Most have had the right mix of skills and attributes to be successful in Australia. We have everything to gain from such migrants. Instead of worrying about them, we should be actively competing for them. Otherwise they will take their skills, qualifications and brains to Canada, the United States, Asia or South America instead,’ it adds.
‘Living in a colourful, multi ethnic society is nothing to be feared. Not only can a growing population make us economically richer, it can make us socially richer too. Our challenge is not how to stop or slow population growth. Our challenge is to properly manage it to ensure that a growing Australia is a prosperous, interesting and liveable place for us all,’ it concludes.