Scott Morrison will seek to bring the debate over immigration and refugees to the centre of the election campaign, with an announcement that a Coalition government would freeze the humanitarian intake.
He will contrast this with Labor plans for an increase in the humanitarian component, claiming this would cost many billions of dollars and challenging Bill Shorten to produce more detail about the consequences.
So far immigration has not had a prominent place in the campaign. The border security issue went quiet when the expected large number of applications for transfer from Nauru and Manus after the medevac legislation failed to materialise.
Morrison on Sunday will announce that the number of migrants coming to Australia as refugees will be frozen at 18,750.
He will appear at a rally with John Howard, who as prime minister was strongly associated with a tough border policy.
The government has already announced a cap on the migration program of 160,000. The previous cap was 190,000, although the actual intake had fallen to about 160,000.
It will contrast its freeze on the humanitarian intake with Labor’s plan to increase it to 32,000 by 2025-26.
Morrison will also outline the proposed makeup of the humanitarian program for the first time. This will include an overall target of 60% of the offshore component allocated to women. Women made up 50.8% in 2017-18.
The Coalition’s Women at Risk program, as a proportion of the offshore component, would be increased from 14% in 2017-18 to 20% (3,500) in 2019-20.
The government also plans to try to boost the number of refugees and humanitarian entrants settled in regional areas from a target of 30% to 40% in 2019-20. But it stresses that people would not be forced to areas that did not want them.
Some 27% of the humanitarian program will be reserved for Women at Risk and the Community Support Program, which is private sponsorship from church and community groups.
In comments ahead of the Sunday announcement, Morrision said: “We’ve got our borders and the budget under control. We make decisions about who comes here based on what’s in Australia’s interests.
“Australia isn’t just about growing our population – it’s about quality of life. We’re capping and freezing our immigration growth so our government’s record A$100 billion congestion busting program for roads and rail can catch up and take the pressure off our cities.”
Morrison said the government had been upfront that it was reducing the migration intake cap and capping the number Australia let in under its humanitarian program – that was one of the most generous in the world.
“We are telling where we’ll be taking migrants from, who they will be, the skills we want them to have, and working with regions to settle people in towns that want and need more workers, skills and students.
“It’s time for Bill Shorten and Labor to front up and tell Australians about their $6 billion plan to massively increase immigration and where they’re going to house thousands of extra people.
“Labor’s immigration bill is going to go through the roof and the only way they can pay for it is taking $387 billion in higher taxes from Australians.”
The government some time ago put a costing of $6 billion over the medium term on increasing the government-funded humanitarian intake from 17,750 to 27,000 by 2025-26.
The net effect of all of these movements can change the recorded “net overseas migration” in ways that are inconsistent with what’s been happening to the migration program.
If, for instance, the Australian economy picked up and fewer Australians decided to leave for better prospects overseas, recorded “net overseas migration” would increase even if the migration program hadn’t.
The two have been moving increasingly independently since mid 2006 when the Australian Bureau of Statistics changed its definition of “resident”, making temporary residents more likely to be counted in the population and their movements counted in net overseas migration.
Over the past five years, the number of international students arriving has increased every year but there have been few international student departures.
Inevitably, the departures of students will increase in future years and recorded net overseas migration will fall sharply again.
So, forget the near-record official net overseas migration figure of 262,000 – the underlying level of net overseas migration is more likely to be around 200,000. The underlying level of population growth is about 1.4%, and falling.
We’ll need strong migration for at least a decade
A new study by Shah and Dixon finds there will be 4.1 million new job openings in Australia over the eight years between 2017 and 2024.
Over two million of these new openings will be due to “replacement demand”, effectively replacing the retirements from the labour force of baby boomers.
There will not be enough younger workers arriving to fill the gap.
In the absence of international migration and assuming constant age-specific employment rates, the number of workers under the age of 35 will fall by over half a million between 2016 and 2026, essentially because of the small number of births in the 1990s.
It means that without migration Australia would face a labour supply crunch unlike anything it has ever faced before.
Slowing or redirecting it won’t slow congestion
The mismatch of labour demand and supply makes this an extraordinarily bad time to cut migration.
The labour market is at its hottest in Sydney and Melbourne.
Investment contracts involving new employment are signed and the construction of the new transport infrastructure promised in these cities will only increase the demand.
Logic and economic theory tell us that workers move to where the jobs are, and jobs move to where the investors invest.
If, in some way, official migration into Sydney and Melbourne was restricted, the jobs in Sydney and Melbourne would still have to be filled and would go instead to workers moving from the rest of Australia or New Zealand or temporary skilled migrants.
As a result the restriction would do little to reduce population growth in these cities. It would however, strip other states and territories of the workers they need. It would make the flow of the best and brightest from Adelaide and Perth to Melbourne even bigger.
Diverting, say, 15,000 permanent skilled immigrants away from each of Sydney and Melbourne in 2019-20 would have no impact on transport congestion.
Indeed, it might make it harder to build the required infrastructure, making congestion worse.
We’ll need it to ease a painful transition
Migrants will be needed in order to smooth the looming dramatic and uncomfortable changes in the age structure of our population.
Migrants don’t only do this because they are young; they also do it because, before they themselves grow old, they have had children and grandchildren.
Net overseas migration of 200,000 per annum would give us 6.8 million more people of traditional working age by 2051 than would no net migration, but only 400,000 more people aged 65 years and over.
It would place Australia in a better position to support its aged population than any other country in the OECD.
My vice? Well this is a ‘different’ type of question. I wouldn’t be prepared to defend any type of ‘vice’ that I would describe as being sinful or ungodly – these are to be repented of and are not to be defended. So, what I will say is that I do drink a lot of coke, which is necessarily the best beverage to be drinking I suppose – but what is, other than water perhaps. They all have their problems without moderation. How did I start drinking coke? Well, someone must have given me a drink of it at some point – probably my father I’m guessing. Anyhow, it is simply a drink that I like. Why would I quit? Well, there are a number of answers for this question, which include reducing caffeine intake, less calories each day, less sugar each day, drink more water, etc – the list can go on a bit.