Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Migration Matters - A Future Perspective

So much is being written and said at present about migration that I find myself struggling to keep up. I have still to finish my history of post-war Australian migration, but have put this aside for the moment simply because the overall discussion keeps on raising issues that I need to think about.

At this point, I will simply pose two questions:

  1. Why is it that immigration has become such an issue at a time when its importance relative to the size of the population is actually quite low, far lower than in the fifties and sixties?
  2. Why has no one, at least no one on the official side that I have seen, linked the debate to Australia's future needs?

Relative Importance

As I understand it, and I stand to be corrected, we presently take three groups of migrants ranked by size:

  1. Family reunions, the family of previous migrants who have become citizens.
  2. Skilled and business migration, those people we want because they have skills or money.
  3. Last, and a long way behind, refugees.

I am hard pressed to see what how these three classes link to our current obsession with values and citizenship.

Our Future Needs

As a strategic consultant, I am often required to provide advice on future trends. When I look forward I see the following key issues so far as immigration is concerned:

  1. An aging population. Productivity Commission analysis has made it clear that migration cannot reverse the effects of aging on population structures. However, it can improve our ability to cope by increasing overall numbers in working groups, numbers with specific skills. Here we will be competing with countries, especially Europe, who will face a far bigger population time bomb and sooner.
  2. Pacific islands. The Government is resisting attempts to allow Pacific Island guest workers. This is a short term response. In the longer term, we are going to have to come to grips with this (Pacific Islands migration) issue.
  3. Indonesia, more broadly ASEAN. Indonesia is a next door neighbour. As a country Indonesia has done most remarkably well. I mean most remarkably, even astonshingly well. Very few Australians realise this, and I will talk about this in a later post. For the moment, the key point is that we are going to have closer relations with Indonesia (and more broadly) the other ASEAN states whether we like it or not. And this will include immigration.

Again, I am hard pressed to see how current debates relate to these issues.

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