Like most Australians, I accept that immigration has delivered many good things to Australia economic, social and cultural. The Howard Government’s shift in the composition of immigration from family reunion to a person’s ability to fill gaps in the labour market has also been a boon for the economy.
But the total number of migrants has nearly doubled since 1996/7. They are now running at levels not seen since the old glory days of immigration. Is this going too far?
Let me raise a few questions for discussion.
1. How is increased immigration affecting the standard of public infrastructure? The acceleration in population growth is translating into an increase in the growth rate of real GDP overall. This is increasing the need for capital widening investment on public infrastructure as a % of GDP (investment rates are a function of the rate of growth). But is the increased need being fully met? (I have argued that it is not and partly blamed our silly low public debt fetish). Is the community right to be concerned about our dilapidated and inadequate infrastructure?
2. To the extent that investment need is being met, is it adding more to Australia’s investment levels than to our saving potential and hence to our trend external current account deficit (the saving-investment imbalance)? Should we worry about that?
3. Is immigration making excessive demands on our scarce water resources and posing a serious risk to the urban environment of cities like Sydney?
4. Are we approaching the limit of our capacity as a nation to absorb ethnic diversity without creating social tensions of the Hansonite kind? (N. B. I am a person of non-Anglo Celtic background myself, who migrated to Australia in 1950).
5. Does ethnic diversity create a more hostile attitude to traditional welfare and egalitarian policies? I note here the debate between Leigh and Norton. It is interesting to see how attitudes to welfare are changing in Scandinavian countries as they become more ethnically diverse.
6. Is our immigration policy (especially the more liberal approach to guest workers, including unskilled ones, and students) having the effect of appreciably increasing the elasticity of labour supply and if so is this holding down wage rates of many low to middle income wage earners and partly driving the ever-rising share of profits relative to GDP? Should we worry about that?
7. Is the pick up in immigration in good part responsible for the rise in house prices and is it squeezing many low to middle income Australians out of home ownership or forcing them out to outer areas where jobs are scarce?
8. Is Australia, as one of the richest countries in the world, morally entitled to entice scarce skilled workers and professionals from developing and emerging countries?
I have not done any serious research in this field since the mid 1980’s, so I am not in a position to answer any of the 8 questions dogmatically (although I am pretty sure about two or three of them) . I merely want to start a wide-ranging debate on them.