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Australian MP Kelvin Thomson's Seven objections to increasing skilled migration in Australia

Australia's population is now rising by a million every three years. It used to grow by only 200,000 a year. The increase has not been driven by natural increase, refugees or family reunions. It has been driven by an increase in skilled migration from 24,000 in 1996 to over 100,000 now. (Kelvin Thomson - Member for Wills electorate, Victoria, Australia)

The source of this article is a Speech by Kelvin Thomson, delivered to the House of Representatives on 24 May, 2011, in response to the Government's Budget. You may find the original source here: House of Representatives Bills, Appropriation Bill 2011-2012, Second Reading, Speech, Tuesday, 24 May 2011, House of Representatives Chamber Speech, Mr KELVIN THOMSON (Wills) (19:48): Note that we have included several paragraphs which time constraints engineered by the [Liberal] opposition caused to be cut off the end of the speech.

"I do not agree with raising the skilled migration target to a record level"

I do not [...][2] agree with raising the skilled migration target for the 2011-12 financial year to 125,850-a record level.

I have seven objections to increasing skilled migration.

First objection: Immigration drives rapid population growth

The first is that it is the principal driver of Australia's rapid population growth. Only recently our population used to grow by 200,000 a year; now it is rising by a million every three years. The increase has not been driven by natural increase, refugees or family reunions. It has been driven by an increase in skilled migration from 24,000 in 1996 to over 100,000 now. This is the main reason net overseas migration is now 180,000 per annum and the main reason Treasury is using net overseas migration of 180,000 per annum to project that Australia's population will rise to 36 million by 2050. That is, it is giving us big Australia.

I have set out in numerous speeches in the parliament and at public meetings my objections to big Australia: cost of living pressures and pressures on food,water,land and energy supplies, carbon emissions, housing affordability, traffic congestion, species extinction, loss of open space et cetera.

Second objection: Australian unemployed should have priority

My second objection to increasing labour force migration is that there are people in Australia who want work and we should be getting them jobs. There are 500,000 people on Newstart allowance and 800,000 on disability support pension. These people should be our first priority. In the last decade the numberofpeople receiving disability support pension grew around six per cent per annum in real terms.

As Budget Paper No.1 outlines: Past growth … reflects increases in the number of beneficiaries arising from population growth and changing composition of the population … Population growth will continue to contribute to sustained real growth in the cost of this program.

As I mentioned earlier, I support the steps that seek to move people from these benefits to employment, but there needs to be jobs for them to go to. Cutting back workforce migration numbers will ensure there are jobs for them to go to.

Third Objection: Many skilled immigrants unemployed or working as unskilled labour

Included among the people who are out of work and are deserving of our attention are quite a few skilled migrants already in Australia who are either not working at all or not employed in areas for which they are qualified. As reported by Michael Quin in the Melbourne Times Weekly, a local newspaper which circulates in my electorate, four out of five skilled migrants in Melbourne are unemployed or underemployed, according to a recent survey. The article outlined the case of Preston skilled migrant Natalia Garcia, who has applied for 17 engineering jobs in the past four months without getting an interview or feedback, despite speaking advanced English and holding an engineering degree and seven years industry experience in Colombia.

Ms Garcia said: We were told Australia was desperate for engineers and that we would find a job in a maximum of two months, Ms Garcia is working as an office cleaner, and said most skilled migrants she knew were doing the same.

It is highly revealing that a qualified engineer with seven years industry experience should be working in Australia as a cleaner. I suspect that quite a few of the business leaders who bang the drum incessantly about skilled migration know about this kind of outcome perfectly well. They are not so much interested in the skills of migrants as their potential to provide cheap labour in occupations such as cleaners and taxi drivers and in providing personal services like house cleaning and chauffeuring at cut price rates. So my third objection to the skilled migration increase is the treatment of, and outcomes for, many skilled migrants.

Fourth Objection: Skills shortage overstated and abused to undermine wages and conditions

My fourth objection is that the skills shortage is overstated and is abused in ways which undermine the wages and conditions of Australian workers. National Secretary of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, Dave Oliver, believes the skills shortage issue is overstated and that successive federal governments have failed to deliver an adequate labour market testing system, which means employers can exploit the system. The AMWU has launched a skills register to give skilled workers and young people seeking apprenticeships the opportunity to register for work before employers are allowed tobring inworkers on 457 visas.

As Dave Oliver has said: "We do not deny that skills shortages exist in some areas, but they are being exaggerated by employers seeking to use 457 visas to undermine local wages and conditions and avoid the cost of investing in apprenticeships."

With apprenticeship completion rates below 50%, the long term answer to our skills problems cannot be importing workers from other countries on a temporarybasis. Employers can't complain about skills shortages while they are dropping their investment in training.

I encourage people who have skills which are not being made use of to make contact with the AMWU to get their details put on the skills register.

Fifth Objection: Australian economy overdependent on immigration

The fifth objection I have to increasing skilled migration is that we have become addicted to it.

We need to do more to educate and train our own young people. Going back two or three decades, governments and employers dropped the ball on training.Governments closed technical schools and cut back on technical education. Private employers lost interest in taking on apprentices. We started outsourcing our requirement for training. This has been an addictive, self-fulfilling circle and we need to break the habit. Those countries which do not run a big migration program put more effort into educating and training their young people, and they have better participation rates as a consequence.

The Sixth Objection: High immigration feeds vulnerable overstoked commodity economy

The sixth objection I have to increasing skilled migration goes to the claim that this is necessary to avoid capacity constraints and bottlenecks in the resources industry.

The truth is that running the resources boom as fast as possible has a number of economic consequences, not all of which are positive. Using the resources boom as a reason to ramp up skilled migration and staking a lot of our economic prosperity on Australia's high terms of trade overlooks some of the negative ramifications of the two-speed or multispeed economy. For example, as reported in the Australian in early May, hundreds of fruit processing workers face the sack if Coca-Cola Amatil goes ahead with plans to close parts of its SPC Ardmona division and capitalise on the strong Australian dollar by importing food from Indonesia.

CCA chief executive Terry Davis has said one or two of SPC's three plants in central Victoria could be closed due to the strong Australian dollar putting pressure on the business. He said that the current strength of the dollar severely limits the potential for SPC Ardmona's export business, which produces some of the country's best-known canned fruit brands.

The strong dollar has been cited by the Reserve Bank as impacting adversely on manufacturing and tourism.

A report in 2006 by the Victorian Department of Treasury and Finance on the previous mining boom used modelling to determine its impact on non-mining states and found that there were adverse consequences for Victorian exporting and import-competing firms.

Their modelling results showed that the Victorian and New South Wales gross state products were about half a per cent lower. Most industries in these states contracted, apart from the mining industries.

Australia needs to ensure it doesn't become a 'one trick' economy

I believe the relentless rise of the Australian dollar as a result of the resources boom presents a real challenge to the Australian economy. The current mining boom mark 2 represents the highest terms of trade in 140 years, so the pressure on manufacturing and other trade exposed industries not directly benefiting from higher commodity prices is severe. Retail, manufacturing, building and tourism are labouring under the weight of subdued sales, weak profits and low orders. We need to ensure that we do not become a one-trick economy and that the structural changes that occur as a result of this boom do not leave ordinary people behind.

If the resources boom generates growth levels that cause the Reserve Bank to lift interest rates, then many Australian households and small businesses will suffer.

As a nation, we need to be more sophisticated than simply trying to run the resources boom full throttle.

The Seventh Objection: Immorality of Skilled immigration

The seventh and final objection I have goes to the question of the morality of skilled migration. Last week I participated in a debate[3] on Sky News TV Channel on the program known as The Nation, with the Member for Mayo, the former Member for Cook, and Geoff Gallop, the former Western Australian Premier. We were talking about migration, and Geoff said he thought it was a moral issue, that Australia had a moral obligation to take large numbers of migrants from poor countries. Now Geoff is a great guy, a fine Australian who has made a very valuable contribution to this country. But skilled migration is not a moral duty.

It is not about Australia being unselfish. It is about us being utterly selfish, taking the best and brightest from poor countries and denuding them of the people most likely to lift them from conditions of poverty. When we take a poor country's doctors or nurses, we damage their health system. When we take a poor country's engineers, we damage their capacity to build infrastructure. It is a moral question alright, but there is nothing moral about what we are doing.

In closing I welcome the measures in the budget on improving workplace participation but I am concerned that the government has bowed to industry calls for higher migration.

We need to ensure that the right policy settings are in place that will not leave behind those industries, individuals and households who are not benefiting from the mining boom mark II, and avoid short-term policy 'fixes' that cater to the vested interests who shout the loudest.

Kelvin Thomson MP Federal Member for Wills


[1] In order to focus quickly on Kelvin's incisive contribution to critical analysis of Australian economic policy, this article has left out the beginning of the speech as delivered to the House of Representatives. Here is the text we left out:

"I wish to commend the Australian government on this budget, which continues our tradition of sound economic management. It stands in stark contrast to the opposition's troubling lack of insight on this core issue.

Peter Costello is on the record as saying that an opposition leader's responsibility consists of going through the budget saying what the opposition agrees with and what it does not agree with; putting forward alternative tax proposals and saying when they would start and how they would be paid for; and saying what the opposition would do if it were bringing down a budget. Peter Costello was scathing of any budget reply speech that was short on detail or full of motherhood statements and cliches, which he believed let the Australian public down. What, then, are we to make of the opposition's budget reply?

The opposition say they would bring the budget to surplus sooner than Labor, yet they oppose and run interference on all of our savings measures, they produce no savings measures of their own and they even come up with more spending measures. They are not serious. Family payments is a classic example. The government will maintain higher income thresholds for certain family payments at their current levels. When the government announced similar measures two years ago, the opposition leader said they were soft and wanted the government to go harder. Now he wants to talk about the 'forgotten families' on $150,000 or more!

Analysis by Commonwealth Securities suggests that, on an Australia-wide basis, families with incomes above $150,000 are among the better-off families in the country. The average male income is currently around $57,500, with the average female income just over $38,000. Only three per cent of all taxpayers have an income above $150,000. In 2012-13, the number of people who will cease to be eligible for family payments will be less than two per cent. You would think, based on the scare campaign of the Leader of the Opposition and shadow Treasurer, that the government is running an assault on all families' standard of living.
As Tom Dusevic identified in his article of 14 May in the Weekend Australian on the coalition's position:

Abbott and Hockey have lost the plot on the basic tenet of Liberalism. Unlike Menzies, who saw government handouts as helping hands to the destitute, the Liberals became the chief advocates for unsustainable middleclass welfare, which grew out of the revenue boost from the first phase of the mining boom.

Absolutely right.

I would like to acknowledge the measures in the budget to boost workplace participation and expand the economy's productive capacity. I agree with the Prime Minister that we do not want to see a situation where the economy is booming but where we still have long-term unemployed people who do not have a job and people on the disability support pension who want to work, who do not have the opportunity of a job.

And the Treasurer is right when he says, 'Our economy can't afford to waste a single pair of capable hands.'

In my electorate of Wills there are at present 1,397 very long-term unemployed people who have been without work for two years or more.

To help them prepare for and find work, the Labor government has provided in the budget an additional $2.7 million over the period 2012 to 2015 to support local employment services in Wills. This will provide them with training and work experience. Additional funds have also been provided for a wage subsidy to support employers who give the very-long-term unemployed a job.

An investment of over $1.6 million for Australian Disability Enterprises in Wills is also welcome. It will support the work of the Brunswick Industries Association, North West Employment Group, the Trustee for The Salvation Army Victoria Property Trust, and Yooralla.

The budget initiative establishing the $558 million National Workforce Development Fund will assist in responding to the most critical emerging skills needs facing Australian industry. This will deliver 130,000 new training places over four years. The fund will be supported by the establishment of a new National Workforce and Productivity Agency, from 1 July next year, which will work closely with industry to identify critical skill needs and build a more skilled and capable workforce. The Labor government is improving support for Australians with a disability to help them into work where possible. I support these significant reforms to address the issue of workplace participation and skills shortages."

[2] The very first line of this paragraph as delivered in the House of Representatives ran, "I do not, however, agree with raising the skilled migration target for the 2011-12 financial year to 125,850-a record level."

[3] - The rest of this speech is the text which Kelvin intended to deliver, but which was abuptly cut off in the House of Representatives because the Opposition called a quorum and time ran out.


Kelvin Thomson is spot on when he wrote:

They are not so much interested in the skills of migrants as their potential to provide cheap labour in occupations such as cleaners and taxi drivers and in providing personal services like house cleaning and chauffeuring at cut price rates.

Taxi driving is a particularly miserably paid occupation. The conditions that taxi drivers work in, seven decades after the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission granted Australian workers the 40 hour week in 1948 is a damning indictment of Australian governments, businesses and the media as well as unions who are supposed to have safeguarded the interests of workers.

Who would have imagined, back in 1948, when the 8 hour day and 40 hour week was granted, that 73 years later, in 2011, so many Australians would be forced to work 12 hour days, six or seven days a week, in order to make ends meet?

That anyone, let alone the highly skilled migrants who make up a large proportion of taxi drivers, is prepared to work under such slave-like conditions, shows up for a cynical lie the claim that wages are too high for Australian businesses.

Instead of the benefits of multiculturalism to justify ongoing population growth, it is now the alleged "skills shortages" myth to replace it. With our universities being underfunded and relying on foreign students, if there are skills shortages, why aren't they funded more? This scheme assumed that Australia's economy and business sector will keep growing, and outgrow our present supply of employees. It's about sourcing cheaper and willing labour from overseas to by-pass Australians.

Multiculturalism has already been achieved in Australia, so it is a "tired" concept. What happens when our resources dry up, as any non-renewable natural resources do? Our population won't be able to be supported.

Our governments are back in the 1960s, in an era of potential and "populate or perish".

Our government is running an all-consuming Economy, and surrendering to its demands for cheap labour and perpetual growth, instead of running a once proud and sovereign nation of Australia!

The facts of global overpopulation, climate change, depleting arable land, food shortages, climate change have not reached through the thick walls of Parliament House?

[See editorial comments below this post. - Ed.]

Was achieved by Australia until the politicians decided to begin filling our country with Muslims. The post WWII migration intake have absorbed well into our communities and enriched them. Those migrants came to join us and not to become the spearhead of community division and to eventually supplant our laws and government with Sharia.
I would like to see the true cost of hosting Islam in Australia. From the $80Kpax to process a boat tripper etc to the cost for homeland security because of the presence of Islam here. We cannot afford, socially or financially to go down the same road as Britain or many of the other EU countries who are groaning under the weight of their Islamic populations.
Australia has to have a referendum re: ceasing the importation of Islam.

CDB Editor: Thank you for this comment.

Since this is a topic that attracts significant polarity and can cause tension in the community, we do try to show good faith and avoid causing more tension on candobetter, whilst trying to represent valid points of view.

Candobetter tends towards the idea that multiculturalism has been used to confuse public debate about population numbers and has thus, especially recently, negatively affected democracy and the environment. There have been environmental and social problems absorbing all new cultures and people in Australia since 1788. For hundreds of thousands of Australian Aborigines the event of colonisation was fatal or highly injurious, with generational impacts. The ongoing simplification of complex and wondrous ecology is tragic. Only a superficial short term economic and social view supports the idea that changes since 1788 have been a good thing, but for those still riding high on the hog it must seem worth the ride. We cannot stop what has happened, although post-peak oil depletion will inevitably reduce our carrying capacity and tax social expectations. (Of course a lot of Australians and most people in 'developed economies' have been implicitly educated to believe that material sophistication is a justification for depriving hunter-gatherers of land and self-government and this would include many cdb readers and some writers probably.)

The mainstream press has supported expression of anxiety about the import of new fundamentalist religions, but the government has gone right on doing this, and much of the mainstream press continues to profit from turnover associated with high population growth, so this is a democratic issue and a media licensing issue. (By media licencing, I mean that interests in policy outcomes and reporting should be made publicly searchable through public declaration of media financial interests, constantly updated, as with politicians - which could also stand improvement.)

Problematic also, however, is the infiltration by more well-established christian religions into Australian schools. Separation of religion and state need shoring up in Australia.

Without wishing to sound patronising, we should correct the impression that Muslims typically arrive in boats. Many arrive in aeroplanes at the invitation of our governments in our skilled immigrant programs. It is not surprising that the person writing the above comment might think that Muslims arrive on boats since that seems to be the effect of much government and mainstream press propaganda.

Candobetter does not have any platform against Islam, but we are critical of religion where it affects scientific and useful policy on the environment, population, democracy etc, as we are critical of anything which erodes the health of these things. We are in favour of universal franchise within functioning democratic polities, so of women's rights and these are poorly represented in many Muslim legal systems. Some of our articles reflect our knowledge of the history of colonialist interference in Islamic regions causing many of the problems we now perceive as a threat to the so-called Western World. That said, Australia is still a colony and her people have few rights at law, but many illusions still.

"Problematic also, however, is the infiltration by more well-established christian religions into Australian schools".

There has always been Christian education in schools, not "more" of it. There must always be a separation of State and church, but they are not totally isolated concepts, and not an "infiltration". People do not exist (overall) in a spiritual vacuum, and our Western civilisation has developed, however skewed, with the support of the remnant true Christian church. Political liberty as reflected in the separation of powers, with its checks and balances based on the absolute value of human life, property and liberty. It's officially the role of the state to protect life, liberty, and property, and the constitutional protection of the rights of minorities. Christian reason triumphed in the abolition of slavery. Slavery was widespread in all the great societies of history, but only in Christian Europe (and America) was it perceived to be a sin that must be abolished. All these were bequeathed to the modern world by Christianity. It has played a vital role in building and cementing the complex socio-political and economic system of the West. It has influence our human expression in the arts, music, architecture, family values, celebrations, and laws.
Today we suffer from amnesia of the past, and a disconnection with our heritage. It should be remembered that the real strength of Christian values, wherever they survive, are not in a mythical or dogmatic set of beliefs. It lies in its emphasis on kindness, sympathy and service to the cause of suffering and other such values that have almost - but not by any means exclusively - become synonymous with Christianity.
Christianity is part of the fabric of our society, and although there have been many distortions and human abuse of its institutions and beliefs, its should be at least given some status in our schools, by accredited trained volunteers, so that kids understand our ideals, our festivals, and our cultural beginnings. They are thus in a better able to evaluate and think about values beyond the material and tangible. world. There is no compulsion to "convert" them! On the contrary, Islam is dogmatic, compulsory, ritualistic, unforgiving in nature of their understanding of god, and thus draconian in its enforcement of laws. Islam is being advanced into the West due to mass immigration, overpopulation and global conflicts, and thus is to their advantage.

There are plenty who would disagree about calling Australia a Christian country, but we are. They also hold up census figures as to how many of us are Christians. Fancy believing the census. I refuse to answer questions of race, religion or precise annual earnings. Always remember what wonderful and accurate collectors and preservers of data the Germans were and that allowed the Nazi movement so much success with it's genocide programme. In fact I had a Census person on my doorstep about six months ago insisting I tell him if I was Aboriginal or not. I told him I didn't answer race questions and besides I hadn't done a family tree to see if I was Aboriginal or not. He was going to fine me for not answering, and he finally filled in his notes with his own estimation if I was or wasn't, which would have been made entirely on his own racial stereotyping of what an Aboriginal should look like.

Back to religion.....with the lack of primary Christian teachings as an educational tool not as a conversion technique, I do wonder just how well kids understand many sayings, literary works or artworks. Thn agn thts proby why they h8 inglsh & spk and rite shrt txt.

I am non-religious and would be classed as agnostic, and thank my mother for sending me to Sunday School and allotting me to scripture classes through school as our culture is Christian. I am happy to live under society's laws that are based in Christianity, I celebrate Christmas etc. and wouldn't want our country to change from the voluntary adoption of religion to a system of convert or be put to death.

"There are plenty who would disagree about calling Australia a Christian country, but we are..."

Indeed. To claim otherwise is simply absurd.

Our society was founded by British settlers. And the single most decisive feature that determined the way Australian society developed was the Judeo-Christian-Western tradition carried here from Britain and Western Europe by those early settlers. As a society, we are who we are because of that heritage. I am not sure this is well understood in Australia today. It may be that a majority of Australians no longer believes the orthodox Christian faith. But whether they believe it or not, the society they share is one founded on that faith and one that draws on the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Dear Ed. (thanks for your added food for thought.)

I do know that the Islamic invasion of our country comes from more than boat people. Although without actual figures I would feel safe estimating that at least 90% of boat people are Muslim. (I will keep searching for some figures to post).

Our leaders are too ignorant of Islam and Sharia to realise what they are creating for our future, while they cherry-pick at bits of Sharia they will allow and bits they outlaw, eg. Sharia banking: (money & the chance for profit here) so that is a good idea; female genital mutilation....not allowed. Yet they don't have any policy in place to police those who take their female children back to their homeland for this dodgy slice job. Perhaps these female children need to have genitalia checks as part of a medical to get back into the country. Wife beating is recommended by Sharia, so is killing adulterers and homosexuals. (Funny how you never seem to hear of male adulterers being flogged or killed, it seems as though the women have to suffer the punishment for both parties.) Our Gov is supposed to be encouraging assimilation yet they divert our money to Islamic schools, that also teach Sharia.

If separation of education and religion is strengthened, will the Gov stop throwing money at Islamic schools? (Also other fundamentalist religious schools). Women wearing face coverings is offensive, yet all the PC twits get around banging the Women's Rights drum and saying they have the right to wear what they like. The West has to bend every which way so as not to cause offence to Islam but it is OK for Islam to offend us as much as they like. I wouldn't get away with covering my face at a servo or the shops.
You see Ed, division all the way down the line, and it will only get worse the more Muslims we import, until we are on the brink of civil war just as Britain is almost there. The Brits will survive a civil war as they know how to throw them. We have never had one and we shouldn't have to.

My reference to the cost of hosting Islam was in the thought of how much better use that money could be put, say, indigenous housing and other public housing etc. The cost of processing two refugees would buy a kit home.

Kelvin Thomson is a politician of an antiquated period when politicians actually represented the people in his electorate and beyond, not the power of economics and big corporations. Now, we have "nimbys" and community action groups formed to challenge politicians and their actions against the interests of the people. This puts enormous stress on communities that are almost powerless to defy the big powers against them.

The Labor party traditionally upheld the interests of working people, those with less economic and financial power. The roots of the ALP lay solidly in unions. After the depression one of the major tasks of the unions was to restore wages to their pre-1890 levels. Some victories were won, although any rise in wage rates was quickly accompanied by the inevitable price rise and jump in the overall cost of living. Unions were bypassed by privatisation of public assets and utilities and by importing willing and compliant workers from third-world nations.

The Labor party has abandoned any vision and now are under the power of the massive property and business owners, and their sponsorship deals. It means overriding public concern for the business elite whose interests are in growth. Globalisation means that we in Australia can lure cheaper skills from overseas, and by pass the Australian people. It's actually economic treason. The demands of an all consuming Economy has hijacked our government's focus and interests. With bipartisan support for population growth and globalisation, we in Australia are sadly lacking in leadership and alternative political parties to represent the concerns of the public, and global threats to our long term survival.