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Temporary skilled migration tipped to ease population woes

7 October 20180 comments

Diverting new migrants away from Sydney and Melbourne will only have a marginal effect on population growth and draw more internal migration to Australia’s two largest cities, according to a leading demographer.

Speaking on Australia’s population and labour force prospects at the University of Melbourne, Professor Peter McDonald argued that temporary skilled migration was the best way to distribute Australia’s rapidly growing population – particularly away from Sydney and Melbourne which are both predicted to hit eight million residents by 2050.

In 2016-2017, Melton, Geelong, Melbourne, Tweed Heads and the Sunshine Coast were the five fast growing urban centres in Australia, with Geelong’s growth being attributed to its close association with Melbourne as a ‘satellite city’.

Noting that workers moved to where jobs were, Prof McDonald called on investment decisions of firms to move to the satellite cities around Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, and provide rapid transit between the big cities to ease the population load.

With migration and population very much on the political agenda, echoing the ‘Big Australia Debate’ of the Gillard Government years, McDonald believes Australia has a “highly sophisticated, multifaceted and mainly effective population policy”.

“No country in the world is aiming for a specific population target,” Prof McDonald said.

“Population policy must be adaptable to changes in labour demand, and migration greatly enhances the capacity for the occupational competition of Australian employment to change in response to demand,” he said.

The main components of Australia’s population policy include maximising survival, supporting families to have the number of children that they want and moderating the speed and extent of population ageing through immigration, Prof McDonald said.

The policy has been deemed successful since the 1970s, with life expectancy increasing significantly and the fertility rate for Australian women fluctuating between 1.7 and 2.0 children over the last forty-two years.

Migration has also had a considerable effect on the ageing population, as many permanent migrants (from the skilled, family and humanitarian visa streams) are of working age and go on to start a family of their own, which increases the birth rate while the death rate virtually remains unchanged.

However Prof McDonald flagged the “discriminatory” nature of temporary migration, with an estimated 70,000 partners of Australian citizens currently long-term residents without being granted permanent residency in Australia and often regarded as “second class citizens”.

Temporary residents remain the main pool from which permanent visas are drawn, and in 2016, 58 per cent of temporary residents were international students. This group of temporary residents have dominated in the selection of skilled immigrants, and on present settings, Prof McDonald believes this is likely to remain the case.

To enhance the flexibility and precision of the permanent migration program, Prof McDonald believes there is a case to spread the net a little wider, especially through skilled temporary migration.

He has called for high priority research into the visa histories of people awarded permanent residency and their subsequent movements as a first step to ensuring Australia’s migration program continues to provide the skills that Australia needs and to promote its economic development.





Carissa Gilham
AMES Australia Policy Officer