Politics Opinion

Population 'mistruths' in the Budget

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The Budget reiterates 'fibs' about population and migration (image by Dan Jensen)

The Budget’s big spending and “repair” measures are under the microscope. Barely acknowledged is the biggest immigration drive ever.

Politicians’ porkies go unchallenged.

On top of fires and floods, COVID-19 hounded Scott Morrison to the unthinkable. Suspending mass migration.

Net migration plummeted to negative 89,000 in 2020-2021. Lowest since World War I. Officially, this barely influenced the 50-year unemployment low. It was the genius of government stimulus.

Therefore, the 2021 and 2022 Coalition Budgets reset huge migration targets. Rising to plus 235,000 net, from 2024-25 onwards. Anthony Albanese didn’t blink.

The first Jim Chalmers Budget pitches the 235,000 (figure likely underestimated) into 2022-23. With 195,000 permanent migration “outcomes”. Effectively, Australia’s largest immigration program ever. Voters get no say.

A formidable silo of self-interest, dominated by Australia’s graduate classes, endorses this endlessly growing "big Australia". Political parties, Treasury/Reserve Bank, state/local governments, industry and developers, think tanks and economists, media and academics, employer/labour associations, and organised religions.  

Voters liked the migration lull. Silo could not care less. They also dismiss the continent’s carrying capacity and environmental warning lights.

Chalmers’ Jobs and Skills Summit was typical. His 140-plus attendees were big Australia loyalists. Low-migration thinkers weren’t invited. Immigration fibs had the floor.

Fib: We should always be an increasingly “migrant nation”

Albanese’s premier pitch for big Australia. Having always had lots of migrants, we should have lots more. A non-argument. Try it with “fossil fuels” for “migrants”.

Prosperous European Union (EU) or Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) nations usually practise low population growth. A few Middle East autocracies emulate Australia’s 30% of the population overseas-born.

We proclaim the world’s most successful multicultural society. It’s gold to Australia. No reason to keep topping the OECD at population growth.

Fib: Big immigration fixes “skill” shortages

Albanese is the sixth prime minister to back John Howard’s fateful big Australia pivot of 2005.

Nodding to local training “failure”, Kim Beazley Labor had supported Howard. Now it’s Albanese, touting the “skill shortages”. While mass migration, bluffs Treasury, “complements” local training.

High-value recruits aren’t really Australia’s topmost immigration thing. The income threshold for temporary “skilled” migration is $53,900. We just lowered the qualifications threshold for permanent migrants.

In 2020-21, principal applicants in the “Skilled” Stream contributed about a quarter of permanent migration “outcomes”. Outnumbered by Family Stream plus Skilled Stream dependants. Even for 2022-23, “skilled” principals will be less than half of the total.

Most permanent “outcomes” are already onshore. Upgrading temporary visas. With international students returning en masse, this lurk will continue.  

Clare O’Neil propagandises high-end permanent migrants supplanting guest workers. Treasury craves raw population growth to eke out smallish GDP growth.

Fib: We must urgently rectify visa “backlogs”

Like, COVID “cost” two years of peak migration. Can’t let Canada win the global talent “war”.

Labor inherited a “backlog” of nearly a million visa applications. Begs the question, who or why let Mike Pezzullo mushroom the queue, to a staggering 4% of the population?

Even with antiquated systems, wouldn’t you closely manage applications load, under COVID? Or shutter applications windows? 

Morrison’s backlog teed up Albanese’s blitzkrieg. You really want backlogs minimised? Don’t do mass migration. Backlog hype typecasts Australia as an immigration pushover.

Fib: Big immigration’s great for the economy

Australia bragged about a miracle of 28 years of growth. Though we managed the GFC, said growth disguised three GDP recessions, relative to population. Potentially, another looms.

Were mass migration an economic bonanza, OECD nations would copy, not ignore.

Treasury trumpets the average migrant’s $2m lifetime GDP contribution. Outside each Budget sits the $100,000 fiscal burden, conservatively estimated, each added migrant would incur. Mass migration is fenced off from Budget repair

Headwinds against 21st Century productivity growth are global. Big Australia 2005-2020 was unrewarding, for its low productivity growth, stalling wages growth, chronic housing unaffordability. Ultra-rewarding for profits.

Nominally, we’re among the world’s richest people. Flipside, increasing inequality and world-beating household debt.

Depleted manufacturing has gone further backwards this Century. Albanese gunning population won’t get us making things.

Scarred by the miners’ Kevin Rudd ouster, the Treasurer will keep marrying timid resources levies to swingeing immigration targets. While Albanese amplifies the Ross Garnaut spiel, Australia the “zero carbon” superpower.     

Fib: “Congestion-busting” and “decentralisation” manage big immigration

Morrison’s population plan vaunted “congestion-busting” and “decentralisation”. Albanese, once Rudd’s Infrastructure Minister, is another congestion-buster.

In highly urbanised Australia, Sydney-Melbourne has long captured about 40% of the population. In 2018-19, nearly two-thirds of 240,000 net migration gravitated there.

Analysis debunks congestion-busting “catching up” city population surges. Property-rich politicians don’t care. They outsource city in-migration to the habitually under-serviced western (or ring) suburbs. Eastern, in Perth.

Between now and mid-2029, the Budget programs 1.5 million net migration (highly likely) versus an extra million new homes (less likely). That should fix the housing crisis - not.

“Decentralisation” culture predates Arthur Calwell’s 1945 “Populate or Perish”. 1970s Labor birthed Albury-Wodonga. 1980s Labor floated a zany Multifunction Polis. Canberra, our one world-ranked decentralisation, was derided by Morrison.

A 2015 White Paper urges over-damming the “empty” north, while Rudd imagines 50 million Australians. Presently, “regional” permanent migration claims less than 10% of the total.

Disregarding politicians’ congestion/decentralisation theatre, Sydney-Melbourne will surge from 10 million to 15-16 million or more by 2050.

Fib: Our greenhouse emissions can decouple from population growth

UN net zero emissions (by 2050) is the new black. Silo admires the alluring arithmetic of carbon sinks “netting” out human emissions. Eventually.

Inexorably, the eight billion humans are causal in 70% of biodiversity crash. Rich nations are emissions gluttons. Poor nations’ surging population exacerbates environmental degradation and climate change. Stalemate.

Mugged by Matt Kean, Morrison nominally endorsed net zero. Albanese has legislated a “43%” reduction on 2005 emissions by 2030. Improbable, but EU’s happy.

Omitting suss deductions re “Land-use, Land-use Change and Forestry”, our emissions actually rose, most of 2005-2020. Renewables-led transition to “43%” or “net zero” is contradicted by a booming population, bulldozing bush and fossil fuel extraction. 

Via Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, even UN (sort of) concedes population growth and GDP-per-capita are the strongest drivers of global emissions. These two outpace offsetting reductions in energy use per GDP unit.

Earthwise, population growth is hard to corral. Easy, for Island Australia. Albanese does the direct opposite. While tinkering with ineffectual carbon “credits”.  

Fib: Mass migration counters population and workforce ageing

A shop-worn fib. “Ageing” population and workforce mean increasing dependency ratios and drains on Budget. Requiring mega-migration relays.

Migrants also age. The “rejuvenation” is temporary and minor, but for repetitive top-ups. That is, the only answer to more migration is more migration.

Longevity is a societal plus not minus. US longevity is going backwards.

Silo “rejuvenation” hustlers spread alarm about failing health, health costs, sluggish revenues, faltering productivity. If anything, population ageing can lift productivity and participation. But Treasury Intergenerational Reports pre-load a Big Australia.

Fib: Opposition to mass migration must be racist

The “racist card” disciplines speech around immigration. Nixes prudent population policy.

Exbibit A: Shadow Immigration Minister Kristina Keneally, veering off script in 2020. Said she, the recent “size and shape” of immigration has “hurt many Australian workers, contributing to unemployment, underemployment and low wage growth".

What, Australian Labor backing Australian labour? Silo economists were scandalised. Team Albanese flashed her the Card. Had her walk back the words. And worse.

The centralised imposition of mass migration is of itself discriminatory. Australia preferences UN immigration policies ahead of local constituents.   

In bipartisan rhetoric, new migrants ace business and job creation. Closer to truth, all-time immigration influxes flatten wages and living amenities.

That explains why the majority dislikes big Australia. Sure, migrants still have to fend off racists. Such persons are so 1945. Fait accompli, we’re a multicultural migrant nation.   

Recent migrants tend to assimilate to local immigration preferences. Even in western Sydney. Recall Bill Shorten’s election fizzog, uncapped migrant parent visas.

No fib: Morrison-Albanese have thrown immigration into overdrive

The COVID immigration freeze was Australia’s “sliding doors” moment.

With government stimulus, 2020-21 GDP growth was tolerable. Commodity exports motored on. Unemployment fell to lows thought impossible. While floods persisted.

Were voters craving a repeat 15 years of intensive immigration? No.  

Yet Morrison, the minute he could, decreed a hyper-immigration influx. Albanese’s visa blitz ices the cake.  

Annualised net migration is already pushing towards 150,000, on its way to 235,000 and more. Environmental precaution recommends 60,000-80,000 at most, hopefully, to stabilise the population around 30 million. Instead, Labor channels Howard's policy. Relives post-war reconstruction.

Already, annual population growth is nudging 1%. And will surge. What silo never mentions? Comparable OECD nations commonly sit around 0.5%.

Post-Summit polls distrust the immigration drive. Which will deepen the housing crisis, increase inequality, and hike unemployment. Tough for well-being framework.

You tried to warn them, "Coronavirus Party". You can’t reason with Liberal-Labor Party. You’d almost need that asteroid strike, to shut down their big Australia.

Stephen Saunders is a former public servant, consultant and Canberra Times reviewer.

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