CEO of the Australian Chamber – James Pearson.
Both the Left and Right of Australian politics have recent form on migration. At different times, migrants have been accused of taking jobs away from Australians. And yet, our country has been built on successful immigration programs that have enjoyed bipartisan support over many, many years.
Some would have us believe that migrants that arrived up until yesterday have contributed to our economy by building our skills base, establishing companies and creating jobs; but the people we invite tomorrow will be taking our jobs and driving up house prices.
We need support across the political spectrum for a well targeted and sensibly regulated skilled and business migration program, which brings together the best and brightest people from other countries with our talented Australians. We need that to stay competitive in a rapidly changing world.
My family left their home on the other side of the world for Australia half a century ago.
I was eight years old and we were 10 pound Poms.
The best 10 pounds my mum and dad ever spent.
We were invited to become part of Australia’s human story, a story already tens of thousands of years old.
Fast forward fifty years to today. Australia has long since cut the apron strings of the mother country. For years now we have been making our way as a confident, growing country.
Now we must make a living in a world that is changing more rapidly than ever before, with fierce competition from an increasing number of countries for financial and human capital and markets.
But at the very time our economy shows signs of having turned the corner, with record job numbers, increasing participation in employment and rising business and consumer confidence, ill-informed commentary on immigration runs the risk of pulling a handbrake on growth.
Calls to restrict immigration to contain house prices, and to prevent immigrants ‘taking Australian jobs’, demonstrate a misunderstanding of what Australian business, and the communities we serve, need to prosper.
As residual capacity is soaked up, we can expect the tightening jobs market to start to impact our productive capacity. Our real challenge comes when the skills needed to deliver increasing output are simply not available in our economy.
This is not restricted to essential trade and vocational skills. Australian business must partner with the best and brightest around the world if we are to effectively compete in the global marketplace. Opening our country to skilled and business migrants is one of the best prescriptions we have for increasing our competitiveness in a fast changing world.
Teaming the skills and energy that people bring from overseas with the talent that Australians bring to the table can be an unbeatable combination.
Little wonder there is dismay in the business community at mixed signals from politicians on immigration.
I’ve lost count of the number of times at events to celebrate the achievements of migrants that I’ve heard politicians from both major parties speak in glowing terms of the benefits of migration. Only to open a newspaper the next day to read accusations from the Left that new migrants will take our jobs or from the Right that they will make our cities too congested.
Some people would have us believe that the migrants that arrived up until yesterday made a huge contribution but the ones we invite tomorrow will steal jobs and inflate prices. The argument doesn’t make sense, and is a smokescreen for poor policy decisions over the years by federal, state and territory governments.
If it’s hard for young Australians to get a good start, despite an increasing number of jobs on offer, it’s because the apprenticeship and training system that should prepare them well is in crisis. If congestion is a problem in our capital cities, it’s because investment in roads and rail has for too long been put in the too hard basket, and release of new land and permission for infill for new housing has been tied up in red tape. These problems are within the power of politicians to fix.
In the 1950s and 1960s, a time looked on with nostalgia by some, Australia’s population grew quickly in size and diversity as migrants from old and new source countries came here to construct nation-building projects like the Snowy and build industrial centres around the country.
As a result of those and subsequent migration programs, around half of all Australians living today were either born overseas or have a parent born overseas. Their contribution is, and continues to be, enormous and fundamental.
As migrants have done for years, new arrivals will transfer their skills and knowledge to Australians. They will invest their hard-earned capital in setting up and building businesses. They will increase demand for goods and services that Australian businesses, large and small, can provide. They will pay taxes. They will reinforce the economic base we need to support our ageing population. And they will play their part in making our great country an even more vibrant and liveable place to be.
It’s timely, on the weekend we celebrate our national day, for our political leaders to re-affirm bipartisan support for an orderly, compassionate, well targeted and sensibly regulated migration program tuned to Australia’s needs.
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