Sunday, July 25, 2010

Sunday Essay - scoping Mr Abbott's immigration targets

Congratulations to Pakistan on winning the cricket and to the Wallabies for their victory over South Africa.

The rush to try to stay in the middle ground continues in Australia's Federal election with Opposition Leader Abbott announcing that the coalition would limit immigration to 170,000 and the Australian population growth to 1.4%. By this he means, I think, net immigration. Well, what might this mean?

The following table shows Australia's population increase in the year ended December 2009.

Natural Increase   154,900
Add new migrants 508,000  
Less Australians leaving 230,300  
Net overseas migration   277,700
Total population increase   432,600

If I interpret Mr Abbott correctly and had the cap been in place in 2009, the numbers would have looked like this:

Natural Increase   154,900
Add new migrants 400,300  
Less Australians leaving 230,300  
Net overseas migration   170,000
Total population increase   324,900

If you compare the two tables, the target set by Mr Abbott would have involved a reduction in net migration of 107,700, bringing migration down to 61.22% of its previous level. You can also see just how difficult it is to achieve a precise numeric outcome. Not only do many factors contribute to new immigration, but  the level of Australian emigration is now so high that it has a very powerful influence on the net migration number.

Leads and lags are important in all this. I have used 2009 numbers because these are the latest figures. In fact, the Government has already put in place greater controls on immigration, including changes to student visa arrangements, that are already bringing down the number of new migrants. It seems quite likely that these will of themselves bring net migration levels down below 170,000 to perhaps as low as 140,000 or even 100,000. In this event, you can probably expect the debate to reverse itself.

But what would have happened at state and territory level in 2009 had the cap been in place?

The following table shows increases in state or territory populations before and after the cap on the assumption that net migration fell by the same proportion in each jurisdiction. Assuming that I have made no silly mathematical errors, the single most important change is that Queensland would have moved from third to first in the growth rankings, with NSW falling from first to third. This result reflects the continued importance of net internal migration from NSW to Queensland.  

State Population change 2009 Net migration actual Net migration capped Population change capped
NSW 115,798 78,787 48,233 85,244
Victoria 114,580 77,502 47,447 84,525
Queensland 106,560 53,265 32,609 85,904
WA 58,668 38,078 23,311 35,357
SA 21,228 17,349 10,621 14,500
ACT 6,386 3,775 2,311 4,922
NT 4,932 1,909 1,169 4,192
Tasmania 4,442 2,046 1,253 3,649

There is nothing very profound in this analysis. I am just using a few simple numbers to scope one element of the debate over population and immigration. It helps when you consider the screaming headlines Abbott to slash immigration.     

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