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| Alex Paterson

Immigration’s Role in Australia’s Future Development

At the State of the Nation conference on 25 and 26 June, the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) released its report Community Pulse 2018: The Economic Disconnect. The report sets out CEDA’s survey findings regarding Australian community perceptions of the country’s economic performance and the importance of a range of social and economic issues. The research suggests a number of areas where immigration will continue to play an important role in Australia’s future strategic direction.

Attitudes to Growth

The report reflects on Australian community attitudes to the 26 consecutive years of growth in Australia without recession – now a global record. Despite this achievement, CEDA found that only 5% of respondents consider that they have gained significantly from this growth, with most respondents (74%) identifying large corporations as the main beneficiaries.

Issues that Matter

Respondents were also asked to rank a series of social and economic issues in order of importance to the respondent. The top five identified issues were:

  1. Reliable and affordable health care.
  2. Reliable and affordable essential services.
  3. Access to stable and affordable housing.
  4. Affordable, high quality chronic disease services.
  5. Reduced violence in homes and communities.

These results deliver an emphatic message of the critical importance of aged and health care services. The significant shortfall of workers in aged and health care in Australia is well-known. Actuarially, after age 65 a person is more likely to require support with day to day living, which may include medical, nursing and personal care as well as home maintenance, cooking and transportation. Age 85 is the threshold beyond which a person can no longer live independently even with such support.  The significant numbers of Australians reaching these milestones through to 2050 will create the demand for an additional 980,000 aged care workers over the next three decades – some 30,000 per year.

Immigration

CEDA’s research demonstrates that community support for migration has remained high throughout the global financial crisis and the end of the Australian resources sector construction boom. In the Community Pulse survey, a majority of respondents did not identify “strong limitations on foreign worker visas” as a crucial issue, with an overall ranking of 21st out of 30 social and economic policy directions.

So what role does migration have to play in addressing some of the current challenges identified in the outcomes of the survey? At the most basic level, skilled migration programs provide Australian businesses with the ability to address any local labour shortfalls. In aged and health care, skilling and training programs for entry into this industry are significantly increasing, an example being the reskilling of automotive manufacturing workers in northern Adelaide. Given the anticipated shortfall of required workers, these training programs are not going to bridge the gap entirely.

As a revamped work visa program, the Temporary Skills Shortage (TSS) visa provides an avenue for appropriate and targeted use of aged and health care workers from overseas. The new Pacific Labour Scheme similarly allows regional facilities to supplement local supply with suitably qualified workers from Pacific island nations.

At the State of the Nation conference, infrastructure development was identified as key to restoring the connection between Australia’s macroeconomic performance and Australians’ sense of personal financial well-being. My colleague, Simon Haag, has written about the positive social and economic impacts of infrastructure projects here.

Large scale infrastructure developments incorporate the training of Australians to deliver benefits beyond the lifecycle of the project itself. Bringing skilled workers from overseas also enables these projects to quickly scale their workforce up and down based on the stage of the project; or rely on its global network with existing proprietary skills if the company is introducing new technology to Australia. These examples illustrate the positive effect of skilled migration – not just for the individual and their employer, but for broader long term skills enhancement within the Australian workforce.

Technological Innovation

Of course, infrastructure does not just mean bridges and trains. Increasingly projects are developing Australia’s social infrastructure.

At State of the Nation, technological innovation was cited as one of the keys to assist with meeting demand and managing access to aged care. Innovation can assist by reducing the ratio of carers needed per person without reducing (and preferably improving) the quality of care; and can also be a strong contributor to restoring the link between Australian economic success and an enhanced sense of personal well-being.

The importance of providing a skilled migration pathway for highly and uniquely-talented individuals with STEM skills was recognised by the Australian Government earlier this year with the announcement of the forthcoming Global Talent Visa scheme. Since March 2018, the Department of Home Affairs has been consulting with industry and other stakeholders to develop the program to ensure that it facilitates the entry to Australia of individuals of high value to Australia’s future development in cutting-edge fields of technological innovation. The scheme will be launched as a pilot program on 1 July 2018.

Like many other areas of policy reform, CEDA’s research activity shows that Australia’s visa programs need to be agile and adapted to Australia’s future needs, by complementing areas of growth and economic development through skilled workers, the introduction of new technologies, and building Australia’s capacity for innovation.

Fragomen engages closely with CEDA and actively participates in the policy research and debate it generates, most particularly in relation to migration. We congratulate the Board of CEDA on its latest report and for a successful State of the Nation conference.

Learn more about Alex Paterson.