Immigration was important for the settlement and growth of Australia in the first two hundred years following European settlement, but is no longer the critical factor in our national development.
We are no longer a small country. We are now a middle-sized nation with cities that are very large in global terms. Over the course of the 20th century our average annual permanent intake was under 70,000 immigrants but today it is around 200,000. This is almost the highest immigration intake per capita of any country in the developed world, but it is no longer necessary for nation-building. Instead, it drives urban congestion, a crisis in housing affordability, a widening gap between existing and needed infrastructure, and decline in social cohesion.
Immigration does not increase per capita wealth. It reduces it.
Many small European and Asian countries with stable populations have steadily increased their per capita wealth by competing in the global economy and increasing productivity (Sweden, Singapore, Denmark, Malaysia). Amongst OECD countries, there is a negative association between population growth and growth in labour productivity.
Instead of joining countries like Sweden and Singapore, Australian governments have relied on high immigration as a substitute for competing in the global economy and increasing productivity. They have done this because our corporate sector is inward-looking, non-entrepreneurial and fearful of global competition: it relies on high immigration to boost domestic demand instead of competing for global exports. Economic growth that relies on high immigration instead of global exports and productivity gains is ‘false’ economic growth: it boosts the numbers for aggregate GDP but acts as a brake on per capita GDP. Our politicians mislead the country – intentionally and systematically – by not making this distinction.
In the past, Australian governments have had to import skills to build the country. We are now a nation with a large, diverse, highly educated and skilled workforce.
In recent years, many Australian employers have found it easier and cheaper to import the skills they need rather than train local workers. This has become a rort that successive governments have failed to check. A well-established system of importing skills has become a substitute for developing a proper system of vocational education and training. Most skilled migrants now come from non-English-speaking countries and tragically most fail to find appropriate work.
Successive Australian governments have failed to orient immigration policy to the selection of new settlers who will integrate successfully into Australian society.
Instead, governments have favoured settlers on financial, family reunion or refugee grounds. Post-settlement social policy failed to encourage interaction and social relationships across ethnicities and cultures, and failed to discourage ghetto-ised communities in localities, schools and workplaces. The result is a comprehensive decline in social cohesion.
The costs of integrating new arrivals into Australian society have been born disproportionately by communities with high economic and social disadvantage.
A clear pattern has been established over many years of systemic concentration of immigrants and refugees in particular localities that are characterised by economic and social disadvantage. Communities with the least resources, education and amenity have born the cost of assisting new arrivals.
Australia is a safe and stable country, and should generously offer a safe haven for asylum seekers and displaced people until they can safely return home.
‘Safe haven’ does not mean ‘permanent settlement’: there is nothing in the International Convention on Refugees that requires Australia to offer permanent settlement to those seeking asylum. Politicians have failed to distinguish between our obligation to provide ‘safe haven’ to asylum seekers, and permanent settlement. In doing so, they have misled Australians about our international obligations, and introduced deep but unnecessary social and ideological divisions over the refugee issue.
Australia offers education opportunities for many foreign students: studying in Australia should not be a back-door method of gaining permanent residence in Australia.
There is now clear evidence that institutions, employers and migration agents treat study in Australia as a step towards permanent settlement. This, too, has become a large-scale rort that governments of all persuasions have turned a blind eye to for decades.
Australia is a major investor in the development of our neighbouring countries, and should support the retention of skills and professions in developing countries.
We should not suck skilled professionals out of developing countries and settle them in Australia as an alternative to training our own people. Health professionals, scientists and engineers in developing countries are needed much more at home than in Australia.
Australian policy on immigration and refugees should be a matter of national consensus.
In the absence of principled and consistent leadership, government policy in these areas has become deeply divisive, pitting elite opinion against popular sentiment. This is unsustainable.
1. A moratorium on the entry of immigrants and refugees to Australia until such time as infrastructure, services and social integration have caught up with our population.
2. A moratorium on the entry of skilled workers to Australia until Australian governments, employer and employee organisations establish a comprehensive high-quality system of vocational education and training in which employers contribute financially to secure the skills they require.
3. A cap on student enrolments in public schools of 30% of students from non-English speaking backgrounds.
This cap give schools a mechanism for limiting the concentration of non-native speakers of English language in any one school (by ‘non-native speakers of English language’, we mean students where a language other than English is spoken at home). Because schools are incubators of language-based cognitive development and literacy, this cap gives schools a chance to eliminate educational deficits generated by lack of proficiency in English language.
4. A Neighbourhood Cohesion Program to:
a. offer a scheme of matched grants of up to $1,000 for street and neighbourhood-based initiatives which foster interaction and friendships across ethnic and cultural lines. The Program would match contributions from citizens for expenses up to $1,000 for these initiatives, on an annual basis. Eligibility for grants would be restricted to unincorporated informal citizen initiatives; and
b. develop a large-scale neighbourhood-based English language fluency scheme in which native speakers of English are paired with non-native learners of English.
5. Intensive English language remedial streams in public primary and secondary schools to eliminate educational deficits generated by lack of proficiency in English language.
6. A mandatory 30% cap on non-native speakers of English language in Australian institutions of tertiary education to arrest the decline in intellectual standards arising from large-scale non-proficiency in English amongst overseas students. Only institutions which implement this cap will be eligible for public funding.
7. A requirement overseas students in Australia to return to their countries of origin for a minimum of three years before an application for work or permanent residence in Australia is considered.
8. A Temporary Protection Visa to provide safe haven for asylum seekers and displaced people for a period of two years (renewable annually) until they can safely return home. The processing of asylum seekers and displaced people should be overhauled by:
a. permitting community-based detention while an application for a Temporary Protection Visa is assessed;
b. permitting churches, civil society and business organizations to sponsor asylum seekers and displaced people while their applications are assessed;
c. issuing applicants with permission to work, while sponsors (not taxpayers) would be required to meet applicants’ accommodation, health and welfare needs; and
d. closing detention centres on the Australian mainland and on Nauru and Manus Island as costly White Elephants.