Julia Gillard is steering the nation’s population on a course to more than 40 million by 2050, despite warning just three years ago against “hurtling towards a big Australia“.
New figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics today show net overseas migration jumped by almost a third, to 228,000, in the 12 months to September 30 last year.
When the Prime Minister vowed, in the 2010 election campaign, to work towards a “sustainable Australia”, net overseas migration was running at about 176,000 a year.
The jump in net overseas migration adds to the prospect of a cut in the immigration intake in the upcoming federal budget.
Demographer Bob Birrell warned that, in the flattening labour market, such a rapid rate of population growth posed a threat to Australian jobseekers.
“This is a serious issue, particularly at the entry level of the labour market,” Professor Birrell said.
Net overseas migration refers to the number of incoming migrants, including temporary residents who stay at least 12 months, less the number of residents who leave the country for a year or more.
Professor Birrell said the spike in the measure, which accounts for about 60 per cent of Australia’s population growth, was being driven by temporary migrants.
Treasury’s last Intergenerational Report, released in January 2010, projected a 36 million population by 2050 based on maintaining net overseas migration of 180,000 a year.
Ms Gillard campaigned heavily on the issue ahead of the last election, warning that the nation’s big cities, and particularly Sydney’s west, could not cope with greater congestion.
“How many more people can fit onto the sardine express to Central, Town Hall or Wynyard?” she said at the time.
“And on our motorways and roads there are days when they could be forgiven that whilst they got into the car in Penrith they feel like they’re in an LA traffic jam.
“In that context, hurtling towards a big Australia is not only undesirable; it’s irresponsible.”
In a similar pitch ahead of this year’s election, to be held in just over five months, Ms Gillard has launched a crackdown on “rorts” involving 457 visas.
Professor Birrell said the rise in the number of temporary 457 visas being issued was feeding into the surge in net overseas migration.
But he said other visa sub-classes with work rights, including backpackers, overseas students and New Zealanders, were having an equal or greater impact on rising net overseas migration.
“She said in 2010 she wasn’t in favour of big Australia but then did nothing about it,” Professor Birrell told The Australian.
“Labor has left in place and indeed opened up the settings for all these various streams which have generated these extraordinarily high net overseas migration figures.
“The 457 visa has been the key focus, but I think these other temporary visas are just as important if not more important. If the labour market continues to flatten they should be adjusted to take account of what the impact on domestic residents is.”
A spokeswoman for Immigration Minister Brendan O’Connor said the government closely monitored net overseas migration to ensure steady population flow.
It was misleading to suggest that the population figures were targets or predictions.
“They are merely extrapolations into the future of current migration policy and migration behaviour.”Source: The Australian – Temporary entrants driving migration jump that points to population of 40m by 2050
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