Newly classified as a "regional centre" but already struggling with infrastructure overload, Perth will only buckle under the Morrison Government's planned increased migration plan — and the consequences may be dire, writes Suresh Rajan.
THE MORRISON GOVERNMENT has already commenced celebrations of its reclassification of Perth and the Gold Coast as “regional centres” for the purposes of migration visa considerations. This creation of a migration “nirvana” is going to be the answer to all the issues of infrastructure overload that we are currently facing in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. Or is it?
Having spent some time in regional Western Australia recently, I am staggered at the lack of infrastructure that exists in those parts to cater for the current population. Now the aim of the Federal Government is to vastly increase the numbers that will go to those regions, as well as to Perth. Yes, that will certainly ease the burden on the three major cities that are currently receiving over 70 per cent of all the migration numbers. But all that will happen is that the stress on existing services in those regions will now be pushed to extremes.
It is impossible and in many cases unfathomable that we will take people from urban city spaces in countries overseas and then locate them in a regional centre – remote from the services available in their usual places of residence – and expect that they will find the experience even remotely appealing or fulfilling.
Our provision of significantly important services such as health, disability and education, inter alia, are hugely problematic with the current population numbers in regions. Increasing these numbers will not alleviate the problems that already exist there. Any suggestion that the boost to spending by these increased numbers in the region will create the need for infrastructure and, therefore, the economic viability of the provision of those services, does not take into account the lag factor between migration arrival and the demand flow-through into the local economy.
The other group of new migrants that governments – both Federal and state are again shamelessly targeting – is students. I have supported the desire by the WA State Government to markedly increase the international student numbers in WA in the past.
However, I have also made it abundantly clear that I will not participate any further in facilitating the transport of deceased students' bodies back to their country of origin. I have done this on a number of occasions in the past and it is neither a pleasant nor rewarding experience.
At the peak of the last student “boom” to this country, we took our student fee revenues to well in excess of $15 billion. Despite this, we provided nothing by way of “pastoral” and mental health care to these “fee-payers”.
We were allowing people into the country to reside a long way from their support structures, taking significant amounts of money from them by way of fees and providing nothing to address their emotional and mental health needs. This resulted in a number of suicide deaths and behaviour that was generally unacceptable in any society. But academic institutions and governments had completely abrogated their responsibilities to these young people.
An additional issue in the student space is that visa conditions dictate that most students are not allowed to work more than 20 hours a week. Even at an average wage of $20 per hour, this is hardly sufficient to afford rental payments, academic fees and survival rations. This places further stress and mental anguish on the student and results in the issues that culminate in unacceptable behaviour.
At the present time, there is also a dispute that is being played out in the public arena with respect to one of our major universities in Perth. There are allegations of diminution of standards in regard to English proficiency requirements. If this is the case, it can be attributed to the practice of that institution of a relentless pursuit of revenue over maintenance of academic standards. That is an area that the Federal Government has to act upon. It needs to ensure that sufficient academic and prudential controls are implemented that make it impossible for these institutions to undertake these practices again.
Therefore, while I see the merit in locating people coming from an agrarian background overseas into a similar environment here in Australia, I caution that we need to ensure two important things. The first of these is to ensure that services and infrastructure in those areas are, at the very minimum, sufficient for the existing population they are meant to service.
Secondly, in regard to student numbers, I caution that we must maintain the academic standards and also ensure the provision of pastoral care and trans-cultural mental health services to these potentially vulnerable young people. Otherwise, all we will be creating is a further class of people dependent on charitable and community support services for their survival.
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