Background - Share of population growth 2007 - 2018.
Every year since John Howard lost the 2007 election to Kevin Rudd, more of Australia's population growth has been attributed to migration than a natural increase due to births.
The period under Howard was transitional, but brought substantial migration growth in its later years. Treasury's 2015 Intergenerational Report identified three separate phases in Australia's rate of migration. Treasury describes the rate in migration the past decade as exceeding the rate of any period since World War II.
Much of Mr Howard's time as prime minister was linked to a period of low migration. However the latter years of Mr Howard's prime ministership delivered significant increase to net overseas migration as a proportion of the population.
The planned size of the migration program — the number of permanent visas the government plans to grant each year — was reduced in the early Howard years. Those reductions were more than made up for in later years.
By the time of the 2007 election, his government had doubled the permanent intake.
Permanent visa streams
The growth to the permanent migration program under Howard came in the "points tested" category of the skilled stream, as noted in the Productivity Commission's 2016 report on migrant intake.
Under the points scheme, applicants are scored based on their background. More points are given for characteristics deemed preferable, like superior English and employment experience.
In contrast, the employer-sponsored permanent visas — where migrants have already lined up jobs — became a dominant source of population growth in the years following Mr Howard's time as PM.
Student and 457 visas
A major change to the migration program in recent decades has been the increase in temporary migration. Many temporary visa holders come to Australia to work, and even those who come to study can work up to 20 hours in a typical week. In both the 457 — temporary business visa — and overseas student categories, Mr Howard oversaw significant growth from the turn of the century.
ABC Political reporter Jackson Gothe-Snape found in August 2018 that new figures showed a a 5 per cent increase in temporary visas over 2017-18. Almost 2 million temporary visa holders were in Australia in June 2018, up 107,000 on the previous year. These temporary visa holders would easily eclipse any Government cuts to permanent visas over the same period.
A FLUID MIGRATION POLICY AWAITS
On November 20th 2018, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced two significant migration policy changes.
The first was a proposal to reduce Australian permanent migrant intake by 30,000 people per year. There would be a meeting with State government Premiers in December, after which he would announce the Government’s position on this matter.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison also confirmed the Government was considering a new temporary visa for regional workers, which would require them to spend five years outside the major cities.
Under the proposal, states would be required to demonstrate they have the required infrastructure and services to support more migrants. That is, States and Territories other and Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane where urban congestion and rapidily rising population numbers in those places compared to other parts of Australia were becoming 'intolerable' to people like the Premier of New South Wales and the member for Warringah in federal parliament, Tony Abbott.
Late in 2018, Former prime minister Tony Abbott called for Australia to cut its immigration intake to what it was under the Howard government. He told an internet radio station that
"we've got to get the numbers down, and get them down very significantly". "[John] Howard got them down 30 per cent in the first couple of years of his prime ministership,".
Mr Abbott told The Daily Telegraph . "We should look to getting [the migration intake] back down towards 110,000 a year, which was the average of the decade of the Howard government."
Mr Abbott would not appreciate being reminded that changes in Australia's immigration sector were significant under Mr Howard, but not because his government kept the granting of permanent visas low. Nor would he appreciate being reminded that the number of people from overseas living in Australia increased substantially under John Howard. The permanent intake might have been 100,000 per year under Mr Howard, but under other visa arrangements the numbers were much higher and by the of the 2007 election, the Howard Government had in fact doubled the permanent intake.
Reducing overall migrant intake by 30,000 on the migrant cap per year and creating a new regional worker visa compelling them to live outside of Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane for five years was mooted as the way to address the 'intolerable' situation in those three cities.
1 The Permanent Migration Cap reduction Policy
The Federal Government seems likely to cut Australia's permanent migration cap, in a move it says will ease congestion in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. Prime Minister Morrison said
"The roads are clogged, the buses and trains are full, the schools are taking no more enrolments. That's why we need to improve how we manage population growth in this country."
Mr Morrison said he did not want to inadvertently disadvantage states like Tasmania that want more migrants, so he would introduce a new temporary regional workers visa compelling recipients to live outside of the three main cities.
Ministers conceded cutting migration will take a financial hit to the budget and dismissed doubts that major city congestion will ease if permanent migration is cut, given intake levels are already well below the current cap of 190,000.
ALP POLICY RESPONSE
Labor frontbencher and former population minister Tony Burke said reducing the cap would not fix congestion problems.
"At the moment, the actual [permanent migration] numbers have been much less than the cap anyway. So reducing the cap closer to actual numbers won't make a difference in terms of people's lived experience. What will make a difference in people's lived experience is if we can finally act on infrastructure."
However, one thing that would "make a difference to people's lived experience" during this dabate period was the shift to a more demanding trap door of a higher standard of "proficient" English requirements introduced in 2017-18. This change saw increasing numbers of applicants living in Australia being granted bridging visas while they were being assessed.
The 176,000 bridging visas current in June 2018 -having grown by almost 40,000 in the past year — was described by senior official in the immigration department Abul Rizvi as historically "unheard of".
Bridging visas were introduced as a means of dealing with a situation of keeping a person legal while the Government Department processed their visa — it was a stopgap measure.
"If bridging visas are increasing in number, what it says is that the immigration department is not able to process the visas quickly enough" said Mr Rizvi.
10,000 extra Chinese nationals, 7,000 more people from India and another 4,000 Malaysians were in Australia on bridging visas in June 2018 compared to the previous year.
"When I was running the program, a figure of 30,000 was regarded as problematic," Mr Rizvi said. "200,000 is just a frightening number."
Multicultural Affairs Minister Alan Tudge declined to address the bridging visa increase, saying that "nearly all the growth in short-term visas since we came to office has been in international students". "
Would a cut to the permanent immigrant cap ease congestion in larger cities ?
Melbourne University professor of demographics Peter McDonald warned - a 30,000 cut to permanent migration would do little to ease congestion.
"If you cut 30,000 migrants to Australia, say 15,000 to Sydney and 15,000 to Melbourne, that would make absolutely no difference to congestion in Sydney and Melbourne because
(a) You've got to deal with the congestion, which is caused by the infrastructure delays. And we're actually doing that. We're investing quite a lot in infrastructure in Sydney and Melbourne.
(b) Infrastructure takes a long time to develop, it's four or five years. And while it's being done, of course, you get the congestion due to the building of the infrastructure, and
(C) Cutting permanent migration would also exacerbate existing shortages with labour supply.
2 The creation of a new temporary regional worker Visa
Prime Minister Morrison said he did not want to inadvertently disadvantage states like Tasmania that want more migrants by reducing the permanent migrant cap. Therefore he would introduce a new temporary regional workers visa compelling recipients to live outside of the three main cities.
Just hours before Mr Morrison made his comments, Defence Minister Christopher Pyne had warned against cutting immigration levels. He said the solution was moving migrants away from Sydney and Melbourne and into regional areas, something the Federal Government could achieve through policy settings
"We don't need to put a handbrake on population growth. We need to manage our population growth sensibly in a country which quite frankly can take a lot more than 25 million people" he said.
John Hourigan, the president of the Migration Institute of Australia, said the Government's plan might include either - more extensive agreements for specific regions, similar to the Designated Area Migration Agreement with the Northern Territory Government, or an extension of the duration of the temporary 489 visa from two years to five years before permanent residency is available.
One of the problems for regional areas and States with low population growth like South Australia where Mr Pine resides was changes already introduced in 2017-2018 to both the Regional Sponsored migration Scheme and the State Nominated Scheme.
Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme Declining
Regional visa approvals have fallen to their lowest levels in a decade after the Federal Government introduced changes to the regional sponsored migration scheme and the State nominated migration scheme in 2018. For example,
State-specific and regional visa approvals fell to 36,250 places in 2017-18.
Visas approved for the regional sponsored migration scheme for 2017-18 fell from 20,510 five years previously to 6,221.
John Hourigan, the president of the Migration Institute of Australia, said recently introduced erestrictions had effectively phased out key parts of the existing regional scheme. Hourigan said
- There are still more than 20,000 applications to be assessed under the old rules, but the processing of these has slowed to a trickle;
- The long processing delay — now around two years — is affecting the prospects of these applications;
- The processing times are now so long that nominations involving offshore applicants are being refused on 'genuineness' grounds; and
- There are industry expectations that worker supply will fall even further with new rules introduced earlier this year requiring three years of work experience.
“How can an employer say they've found a suitably qualified overseas worker to fill a critical vacancy today knowing that the vacancy's got to be there in two years' time once the department has commenced assessing the nomination?"
The State Nominated Scheme Declining
The larger state-nominated scheme, which accounted for just over 27,000 places during the last financial year, has also undergone changes. These restrictive changes included adjustments to the points system used to approve visas that demand applicants must have "proficient" English language ability, a significant game changer for would-be migrants, foreign workers and their Australian sponsors.
This seemingly minor change effectively shuts out foreigners from countries where English is not the first language and probably not the second or the third. That is, countries like Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea, Egypt, Yemen, Nigeria, Ghana, India, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Vietnam and Syria.
This reality feeds Pauline Hanson types of scare mongering that suggests that Australia would allowing Muslim terrorists into to country if Labor were to win Government.
It can be argued that one way the Coalition Government has responded to this perceived ‘threat’ has been to introduce new formal Immigration policy in 2017 and 2018 which would have a strict requirement that applicants must be proficient in the English language.
First generation immigrants from these countries are far less likely than others to have been exposed to learning the English language. They can be now rejected not on the potentially underlying grounds of religious discrimination against Muslims, nor an unproven threat of imported terrorism, but on the grounds they don’t speak the English language and/or do not have three years of work experience.
The emphasis on work experience and English proficiency may be allowing the Coalition to avoid the blunt instrument policy back-lash Donald Trump faced in June 2018 after he successfully introduced an immigration policy which would ban people coming the United States from the specifically identified Muslim countries of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen.
Iraq and Sudan were on earlier, unchallenged, versions of the ban. Venezuela and North Korea also were targeted.
Only restrictions on Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen were challenged in court cases.
The US Supreme Court upheld President Trump’s travel ban targeting several Muslim-majority countries and rejected the idea it represented unconstitutional religious discrimination.
The 5-4 ruling, with the court's five conservatives in the majority, ends a fierce fight in the courts over whether the policy represented an unlawful Muslim ban. The court held that the challengers had failed to show that the ban violates either US immigration law or the US constitution's First Amendment prohibition on the government favouring one religion over another.
"This ruling is also a moment of profound vindication following months of hysterical commentary from the media and Democratic politicians who refuse to do what it takes to secure our border and our country."
In other remarks at the White House, Mr Trump reinforced his reasoning for the ban. "We have to be tough, and we have to be safe, and we have to be secure. At a minimum, we have to make sure that we vet people coming into the country,"
Mr Trump has said the policy is needed to protect the country against attacks by Islamic militants. In dissent, liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor said "Taking all the evidence together, a reasonable observer would conclude that the proclamation was driven primarily by an anti-Muslim animus,".
A Home Affairs Department spokesperson dismissed the Migrant Institute of Australia observations and any allegations of "an anti-Muslim animus" in Australia , claiming that the 2017-2018 changes -
- Resulted in fewer, but higher quality, visa applications;
- Strengthened the quality of skilled visa applications, including the regional sponsored migration scheme;
- Enhanced legislation on labour market testing;
- Lowering of the qualifying age, and
- Enhanced qualifications and work experience.
Labor has opposed
(a) a reduction in migrant intake;
(b) forcing migrants to live in rural areas for five years, and
(c) negatively impacting significant changes to acceptance qualifications regarding sponsored overseas workers and migrants such as English proficiency and three years of work experience.
Labor has also strongly criticised the current two-year delay in processing foreign worker applications for rural and regional areas.
These changes and the impact on regional economies particularly in the NT and Queensland and States with low growth like South Australia may have an impact on voters in these areas for the 2019 election.
South Australia is desperate for population growth and overseas workers in both rural and urban areas.
The seat of Boothby is a middle-class urban seat with a 2.8% 2PP margin following the AEC redistribution. This seat is considered vulnerable for the Liberal Party post redistribution.
The Labor State government has been replaced by Liberal Government since the 2016 Federal election. Positive changes to migration policy that enhance South Australian intake of migrants and regional overseas workers will make it more difficult for Labor to win Boothby in 2018.
The Northern Territory is keen on population growth and overseas workers in both rural and urban areas. - Positive changes to migration policy that enhance Northern Territory intake of migrants and regional overseas workers will not impact significantly on Labor’s dominance of the NT Federal election seats of Solomon (6.1) and Lingiari (8.1).
Tasmania is also desperate for population growth and overseas workers in both rural and urban areas. - Positive changes to migration policy that enhance Tasmanian intake of migrants and regional overseas workers may make it more difficult for Labor to retain complete dominance of the four non-Independent seats it holds in Tasmania because Labor strongly opposed the proposed changes.
Braddon (2.2*) and Lyons (4.0) may be vulnerable, however Bass (5.3) and Franklin (10.7) will not.
Queensland urban conservative electorates in and around Brisbane will welcome Government proposals to to reduce migrant intake by 30,000 and force new migrants to live in regional/rural areas for five years.
Petrie (1.6), Bonner (3.4), Brisbane (6.0), Bowman (7.1) and Ryan (8.8) are urban LNP electorates. Migration policy differences will more than likely negatively impact on Labor attempts to win these critical urban Queensland seats and retain urban Griffith (1.4) and Moreton (4.0) and rural Herbert (0.02). Reducing the mythical risk of the importation of ‘terrorist’ [sic] migrants might play out well in these electorates.
On his Queensland Scomo Bus Tour in November 2018, Prime Minister Morrison made an effort to soften the impact of recent changes to worker visa policy and assure regional growers that they would get the overseas workers they need to “get the crops in”. Maintaining conservative dominance of Queensland regional and rural electoral seats is critical to the survival of his Government.
Regional and Rural electors may not be convinced by the Prime Ministers assurances that he can offset the negative impact of significant changes to acceptance qualifications regarding overseas workers sponsorship and the current two-year delay in processing foreign worker applications for rural and regional areas.
Capricornia (0.6), Forde (0.6), Flynn (1.0), Dickson (2.0), Dawson (3.3) and Leichardt (4.0) are the most vulnerable of the 16 LNP rural-regional electorates.
Rural and regional conservative electorates may predominantly welcome Government proposals to force new migrants to live in regional-rural areas for five years.
On the other hand, other electors may not be impressed with the Government's proposals to reduce migrant intake by 30,000. This may be the reason why the Scomo Bus Tour ‘went over like a lead balloon’ according to Queensland rural and regional media outlets.
Mr Morrison, speaking as the treasurer earlier in 2018, warned that cutting permanent migration by 80,000 could cost the budget up to $5 billion over four years. Federal Cities Minister Alan Tudge said a reduction in the permanent migration intake would mean a hit to the budget.
"There is a fiscal impact on the budget, but there's also impacts in terms of congestion and liveability which people, particularly in Melbourne and Sydney, are facing right now,".
Migration agent Jonathan Granger from Granger Australia described the bridging visa increase as a "blow-out". He said the rise was due to two main factors — the increasing numbers of visa refusals going to appeals and an increase in visa processing times. "It's almost like they've decided not to put resources there and just leave it."
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said his party had "reintroduced integrity" into the migration program when the decline in permanent visa approvals became apparent in the 2017-2018 year. "We have to reduce the numbers where we believe it's in our national interest" he said.
NSW and VICTORIA
Muslim voters in Australia, particularly in these two States, mayl read Mr Duttons "national interest" as driven by an 'anti-Muslim animus" in these broader Migration policy changes and the policy he has under written regarding asylum seekers as head of Border Security.
Even if an 'anti Muslim animus' is not read into Mr Duttons national interest rhetoric,
Muslim voters and other migrant background voters will not appreciate the Prime Minister’s plans to
(A) cut annual migrant intake numbers by 30,000 from the current cap of 190,000;
(B) force approved foreign workers into regional and rural areas where people of their particular ethnic or religous persusian do not tend to congregate either permanently or temporarily, or
(C) or place a higher standard of English language proficiency which clearly is shaped to discriminate against first generation foreigners who have no English language skills.
In Victoria, the two federal seats with a strong Muslim presence are safe Labor held seats, (Bruce and Wills). However, there are clusters of foreign language speaking migrant families from overseas in Chisholm, Isaacs, Wills, Batman and Bruce. This issue will disuade the Coaltion's hopes of winning four of these from Labor in 2019.
Chisolm, with a strong Chinese community presence, an ex Liberal incumbent now standing as an Independent and both the Labor and Liberal candidates coming from a Chinese background, any hope of the Liberals winning back this seat are further away than they might have been if Coalition migration policy had remained unchanged after the 2016 election. I would not want to be a Chinese Liberal candidate in Chisolm trying to explain how and why these policy changes are 'in the national interest'.
Readers might recall that at the head of this paper on Migration I argued that there are times at the eleciton box when the voters instinct to vote for the Coalition because they match the persons 'aspirational goals' much better than Labors 'redistribution of wealth is put aside.
Those are moments when a person's race or religion, dare I say it, 'trumps' their economic or individual goals. Their identity and fidelity to an enthic group and/or religion reacts strongly to apparent discrimination or targeted exclusion.
In NSW, the Coalition's apparent willingness to risk at least being perceived as purveyors of ethnic or religious discrimination in their migration policy since 2016 [at least] will come back to haunt them in 2019.
Electors with family and freinds they would like to bring to Australia from Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea, Egypt, Yemen, Nigeria, Ghana, India, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Vietnam and Syria. in various seats will vent their rage above aspiration.
This issue alone will do enough damage to the Coalition brand in seats the Coalition lost in 2016 to dash any hopes of regaining (Lindsay, Macquarie, Eden-Monaro, Dobell, Barton, Macarthur, Paterson), especially in Barton with a strong Arabic community.
The Liberal held seat of Banks has a slim 1.4 percent 2PP margin and a strong Chinese, Arabic, and Greek communities presence. This seat will be lost in the 2019 election. The Coaliton seats of Gilmore, Robertson and Paige, already marginal, will slip into 'untenable' territory where voters family ties originate in any other countries listed above. These are the four seats to watch on migration policy in NSW in 2019.