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Labor's Immigration policy - more economic growth through immigration

The Hon Richard Marles, MP

The Hon Richard Marles, Shadow Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, was a guest speaker at the Australian Institute of International Affairs Victoria, on 2nd July, 2014.

The Australian Institute of International Affairs (AIIA) is an independent, non-profit organisation seeking to promote interest in and understanding of international affairs in Australia.

(124 Jolimont Road, East Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia 3002)

As advertised for the event: “Associated with potentially contentious debates around population size and labour market flexibility, international migration is an undeniable feature of Australian society and future economic development. As such it warrants careful consideration from economic, social and political perspectives”.


Marles comes from competent and illustrious parents. He was born in Geelong, Victoria. He is the son of Donald Marles, a former headmaster of Trinity Grammar School, and Faye Marles, Victoria's first Equal Opportunity Commissioner and later Chancellor of the University of Melbourne.

He was also the General Secretary of the National Union of Students in 1989

He graduated from Melbourne University where he graduated with a Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Laws with Honours. He started his career as a solicitor with Melbourne industrial law firm Slater and Gordon.

He was Federal Legal Officer, Transport Workers' Union of Australia (TWU) 1994-98; Federal Assistant Secretary 1998-2000.
Assistant Secretary, Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) 2000-07.

Marles was elected member for Corio on 24 November 2007 in the election that returned the Labor party to office under the leadership of Kevin Rudd.

He is now the Shadow Minister for Immigration and Border Protection.

Richard Marles MP spoke on "International Migration and Australia's Future."

This is a synopsis of some of what he said:

Without immigration, our population would cease to grow and then decline.

(With immigration overwhelmingly increasing our population growth to record levels, we hardly have to worry about decline! That would not happen until decades in the future. In a world of massive population growth and increasing scarcities, not to mention climate change, surely the organic stability of our population size would be a good, positive thing, and beneficial for Australia.)

Marles concedes that the 457 visa program must come with protection, and local workers must come first.

(However, this is not what is happening. 457 visas are being exploited in urban areas while local unemployed are by-passed. A 32-year-old Geelong carpenter said overseas workers on 457 visas, including many Irish and Filipinos, were picking up jobs on low pay rates but faced problems with excessive rentals and costs in mining towns. They were undercutting local wages and conditions and taking jobs from locals Geelong:Visas sour dreams of mines jobs )

A sustained and fair migration program means we all benefit. Investors want security. There is a visa for the wealthy, with $5 million, to invest in bonds, funds or Australian companies.
We need immigration to compete with international investors, and it has a strong role in our economy.

Australia also needs to promote cultural and social development in our region and the world. Working Holiday Visa is a key for Australia's youth. The reciprocal nature of it allows Australians to travel overseas.

Hospitality needs this flexible workforce, and cultural ties in our neighbourhood. It provides for Gap Years. More than 185,000 came to Australia on WHV and boosted our economy. Hospitality staff still need seasonal workers with temporary workforce, and it encourages the exchange of cultures.

( India unfortunately does not offer working holiday visa, and due to language and cultural barriers, the border divide means it more likely a one road highway to Australia)

Tongans worked in Cosco tomatoes. It's not just for business but has global impacts. Tongans got benefits for their communities.. Household poverty levels have increased. Migrants are the key to trade innovation and brings skills and perspectives. It should be a job creating activity, filling in the employment gaps.
There is an enquiry at the moment on 457 visas. They should not become industrial tools.
Attention is not the same as when we were in government. We will be watching it very closely.

There is care and horticultural sectors, such as child care, aged care and other areas in which temporary migration can work. These areas are where there are gaps, and employers embrace it. There needs to be agencies to drive it. There must be genuine labour shortages.

(With our record rates of youth unemployment, any genuine labour shortages need to be dealt with internally, with appropriate skill training and educational programs. Hiring foreigners will only exacerbate any skills shortages and not address them. It's offensive to suggest that overseas trained are better than Australia's, and that we have “skills shortages” when our jobless queues are so long!)

Some responses to questions from the audience, and predictably most of the discussion was about asylum seekers. While it's a contentious issue of human rights, and a global problem, asylum seekers granted visas account for only 1.2% of our population growth last year out of 59% due to migration )

-Asylum seekers:
Pre 2001, pre Tampa, we enjoyed a bipartisan situation with regard to migration. We were as a country able to deal with the problem of 7 million people seeking permanent migration to Australia. We must say NO to millions of people. Even if all the political parties were on the same page, it can become impossible to navigate.

We need a more bipartisan approach and take the politics out of it. We really need to return to first principle on the values that drive us, such as compassion, fairness, and generosity.

-We must ensure that multicultural aspects of migration can be extended and migration can be as seamless as possible.

-Process of globalisation has potential to reduce racism. We are more exposed to each other. Racism is not modern. Multicultural has been embraced well. Pauline Hanson distorted the political debate. We have to embrace it as what we have is as good as it gets.
Now, we have old throwbacks to the past, with knighthood and dames. Odd!
There was an attempt to change 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act and the protection from the worst elements of racism. A campaign raged. Restoring of a sense of Australia as n outpost of the British empire is not the way. Our economic future is in S E Asia.

-Malaysia solution.
In 2009 there was a growth in the umber of people globally, and the number of people wanting to come to Australia. It was better not to close Nauru. More than 1000 people have lost their lives coming to Australia.
Significant proposal was in 2011. Turnarounds have now been reduced the numbers of asylum seekers. There cannot be more than 300 or 400 that have been turned around. We need to resolve this issue as a country.
As a country we must take some responsibility for loss of lives. Dismantling Nauru wasn't helpful.

-Why can't Australia tap into the skills of asylum seekers and contribute to the economy? Labor has never used the word “illegal”. It is not illegal to seek asylum. We opposed temporary protection visas. It puts people's lives in limbo. Labor disallowed it.
A High Court Decision meant that we can't close shop. The program needs to be implemented. People will then be able to be given work rights.

We need to deal with Manus to end suicides. We need a regional arrangement regarding displaced people. PNG arrangement is significant in reducing drownings at sea. Asylum seekers shouldn't be in hell holes. They need to provide humane, dignified and safe accommodation.

Lack of empathy and communication with Grass Roots

Marle's privileged upbringing and background has isolated and immuned him from struggles and contemporary issues that directly surround him. He exists in his broad landscape, imbued by the vocabulary of academia and political frameworks. He paints a broad picture, on a big canvas, with a wide brush. No details, or real world imperfections, are allowed to be focused on. His world is a global oyster. with rich pickings. He sees a world without limits, and pearls of endless resources for economic growth. There's nothing tainted by climate change, increasing scarcities, overpopulation and energy costs. His ideas have been incubated and absorbed from academic theories, political spin, economic and political ideals - and any contrary real-world limitation have been filtered out from his vision of cornucopia. There can be endless growth, and the benefits of the globe will come to Australia without any hindrances! Marle's policies are Kevin Rudd's “big Australia” but more subtle!

Previous statements by Richard Marles

In response to the government's hard-line approach to asylum seekers, Mr Marles put forward an alternative motion in the meeting, that “asylum seekers should be afforded safe, dignified and humane conditions while awaiting refugee status determinations”.

SMH: Labor MPs fail to reverse party's asylum processing stance

By 2030, it's expected that the majority of the world's middle class will live in our time zone in East Asia, in China, in India, in the ASEAN countries. And providing goods and services to them will be an enormous economic opportunity for this country, given that we are providing those sorts of goods and services to our own population.

(From now to 2030, the world will need to build the equivalent of a city of one million people in developing countries every five days. Although Southeast Asia has enjoyed decades of robust economic growth, its infrastructure coverage trails below the Asian average and is still a fraction of that of advanced economies. As summarised by the ADB, “ASEAN’s infrastructure needs are estimated at $60 billion a year from 2010-2020, and this is in addition to national projects with significant cross-border impacts such as airports, seaports, and roads to borders.”

The density of people, economic activities in the coastal areas, rich biodiversity, and natural resource based economies make ASEAN cities especially vulnerable to climate change.

Cross disciplinary research demonstrates that economic growth is already 50% in “overshoot.” This means that human systems are presently using 50% more than the annual productivity and assimilating capacity of the planet’s ecosystems. As in much of the rest of the world, some ­­­­­­60 percent of Asia’s population is concentrated in vulnerable coastal regions. These trends will interact with and intensify the threats posed by climate change.

NAB chief economist Alan Oster says
Australia's agriculture is too small to be a global powerhouse like the resources sector, therefore replacing the mining boom.

"There may be some opportunities [for Australian producers] in specific or niche agricultural areas, such as high-yield protein and dairy, but the notion that Australia will somehow become the food bowl of China, or the food bowl of Asia - what some people are calling a 'dining boom' - is very much misguided. We simply don't have the capacity to produce that much food at low enough cost," he says.

Nobody would question the benefits of immigration to Australia development and economic growth. Due to our unique history, immigration has brought skills, infrastructure, economies of scale and contributed to a great nation.

Anyone who's studied science or the natural world knows that there are limits, thresholds and constraints to any growth. More of the same does not guarantee more of the benefits, without fallouts. While immigration has been beneficial and welcome, now our cities, economy, jobs market, infrastructure demands and natural systems are straining under our population overload. Bigger is not necessarily better! Nothing can be filled forever without experiencing internal pressure, or the fallouts from spill-overs. The benefits we had in the past from high immigration are now forcing job losses, unaffordable housing, the extinction of iconic wildlife species, overloaded infrastructure, higher costs of living and lower living standards.

The 2006 Productivity Report, the one being ignored, concluded that ongoing immigration to Australia would benefit the immigrants, and capital owners – and little for the general public! he research of the Productivity Commission confirms the findings of many previous studies -- that the overall economic impact of migration is very small, but probably positive. And that the benefits mainly accrue to the migrants themselves.

Actually, per capita wealth growth has largely stagnated in Australia! There is a much greater gap between the well-off, and a growing poverty problem in our country.

Richard Marles, the opposition immigration spokesman in an interview with The Australian noted, “The ageing population is going to see the size of the labour force plateau and within decades that will start to shrink.”

OPPOSITION immigration spokesman Richard Marles says "the ageing population is going to see the size of the labour force plateau and within decades that will start to shrink" ("Welcome bubs, you'll live till 2101 in a very Big Australia", 27/11).
Does he imagine that by projecting our population to double its size by 2075 will stop the population from growing old? There won't be any reduction in ageing. In fact, there will be an even bigger ageing population by then.

If we need skills, our human resources should be used. Why is it imagined that skilled migrants from Asia would be better than our own?
We have seen university budgets slashed, TAFE funding cut, apprenticeship disappearing, along with manufacturing and jobs.
An economy based on perpetual population growth is unsustainable. If our budgets can't provide for pensions and care for the next generation, how will people be provided for in the future when their numbers will be even greater?

Vivienne Ortega, Heidelberg Heights, Vic
The Australian: letters/population mirage

There were no counter arguments, points of view, or debate at this event. It assumes that, while our economic development was promoted by migration, our “future economic development” must follow suit – in strange kind of extrapolation of the past used for future policy making. It's a cornucopia attitude that if growth is good, more of it is even better. No constraints, no contemporary influences, no limitations, no realities on the real world to hamper this cornucopia vision of endless benefits from immigration and growth! It's one foot in the past without any new strategy or focus on present day implications.

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A FEDERAL Labor MP based in Geelong has been blasted for supporting higher population growth when the region is suffering severe joblessness. Geelong has been hit hard by present or looming job cuts, including losses at Alcoa, Ford, Target, Boral Waurn Ponds and Qantas at Avalon Airport. "Victoria’s unemployment rate has now increased to 7 per cent, and youth unemployment across the country is now 16.1 per cent, the highest since 1991," MP Kelvin Thomson said. "Despite this we currently have over one million migrant workers in Australia with working rights."

Member for Corio Richard Marles under fire over population growth call for Geelong region (11 Aug) Herald Sun at

People like Marles seems to think that adding more people actually stimulates the economy, and thus it creates more jobs! He is ignoring that industries are declining, and our economy is being held together by more fragile, self-supporting strings! He's out of touch with reality, and thinks that the great growth of previous eras can be perpetuated forever - with no constraints of costs of living, housing unaffordability, increasing poverty and homelessness. Humans are not tradeable commodities, to be stacked in shoe-box housing, or on the streets, and be accumulated as inanimate economic units! Marles is cushioned by his own privileges, and wealthy existence. All politicians should have contact with the masses, the people on the street, and be forced to spend a minimum hours each week walking the streets and speaking to the general public. Otherwise, we end up with a Marie-Antoinette-esque naivety and cold distance, from the hungry masses - "give them cake"!