MB Radio: The meaning of immigration

Ahead of the ABC’s planned 4 Corners report on a ‘Big Australia’ and discussion about Australian immigration planned for Q&A, Gunnamatta spoke with Leith van Onselen about Australia’s immigration backdrop and the significant ramp up of immigration numbers which occurred in 2006, as well as recent calls for immigration levels to be reduced.  In a wide ranging discussion which lasts about 35 minutes the conversation covers the disappearance of a clearly articulated narrative to the public about why immigration is desirable and of the economic rationale behind it, and the replacement of the rationale which once existed by myth, speciousness, and a cross party unanimity that immigration be discussed as little as possible.  Also discussed are the economic costs and budgetary implications of Australia’s current immigration levels, as well as those who gains most from high levels of immigration and the impact it contributes to when it comes to wages, housing affordability and social amenity.





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    • GunnamattaMEMBER

      Sorry chief, I had a chest infection all week (which is why I was off work, which is why I could catch up with LvO to do the podcast)

      • no i mean seriously you could be a voice actor if that is what your voice sounds like for real – you have a really deep and powerful voice, its awesome to hear / extremely made for radio


    “NSW Opposition Leader Luke Foley has backed Tony Abbott’s call for a closer look at immigration, including a cut to total numbers, saying that if elected he would push for the yearly intake to be decided by the state and federal governments in a proper “national population policy”.



      ‘NSW Labor leader Luke Foley backs Tony Abbott on migration rollback’

      NSW Opposition Leader Luke Foley has backed Tony Abbott’s call for a closer look at immigration, including a cut to total numbers, saying that if elected he would push for the yearly intake to be decided by the state and federal governments in a proper “national population policy”.

      Mr Foley’s call for a more sensible immigration policy has echoes of former Labor premier Bob Carr’s “Sydney is full” pronouncement. Mr Foley argues the federal government “reaps the benefits” of higher immigration, through increased tax revenue, but that state governments “wear the cost” in having to meet infrastructure needs.

      The comments by the Labor leader, whose opposition is deadlocked 50-50 with Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s Coalition in the latest Newspoll, come amid great concern in Sydney about the speed of development.

      “From 2004 to 2008, the net migrant intake went from about 110,000 to about 300,000 and the capacity of our large cities in this country to cope is being severely tested and the test is greatest in Sydney,” Mr Foley tells The Weekend Australian.

      “The migration intake has to be set, not simply by the commonwealth government alone any more, but by all Australian governments working jointly, given the burden the states bear in having to pay for the infrastructure.

      “And I think we need to set the migrant intake numbers on a five-yearly basis going forward … and the discussion occurs every year between the commonwealth and the states.

      “That would be very different to now and all the factors the states would bring to the table are the pressures we see in our state capital every day — which is congested roads, congested trains, congested buses, groaning under the weight of a surging population.”

      Mr Foley’s comments came as a paper by Bob Birrell, the head of the Australian Population Research Institute, rejected arguments that the skilled migration program was providing scarce skills. “The great majority of those visa-ed in the skill program are professionals, an­ ­increasing share of whom hold ­occupations that are oversupplied,’’ the paper said.

      As a consequence, most ­recently arrived skilled migrants could not find professional jobs.

      Of the 256,504 overseas-born people aged 25-34 holding degree-level or above qualifications who arrived in Australia from 2011-16, only 24 per cent of those from non-English speaking backgrounds were employed as professionals. Fifty-eight per cent of those from English-speaking backgrounds were employed as professionals.

      “The program is not needed. Australia’s employers would hardly notice if it was abolished,’’ the paper said.

      Mr Abbott last month called for Australia’s population intake to be reduced from 190,000 to 110,000.

      The former prime minister made the point that federal Treasury wanted more immigration so it could receive more tax revenue, and he claimed — after Treasurer Scott Morrison criticised his statements — that the minister had been “captured by his department”, and the national interest should not be decided by Treasury’s “accounting rules”.

      Mr Foley agreed federal Treasury was behind the immigration number. “I think if you had the state governments at the table with the commonwealth, rather than the commonwealth setting the migrant intake number on its own, I suspect the number (of ­immigrants) would come down a bit because the perspective of the states about the strained infrastructure in our larger cities would become a much bigger factor than it is now,” Mr Foley said.

      “Really the commonwealth in setting the number thinks about what it means for its fiscal balance; the burden on the states just isn’t factored in at the moment.

      “The federal government reaps the benefits but the state governments have to pay the cost.”

      He said Australia needed a ­national population policy as recommended by the Productivity Commission in 2016.

      However, Mr Foley said there were benefits to immigration and it was important to point out that “multiculturalism is a great Australian success story and we should never have a bar of the Hansonites wanting to take us back to some racially discriminatory migration policy’’.

  2. Let’s call out the elephant in the room, there is a conspiracy, sound arguments won’t change the immigration intake. It’s happening all over the West with disturbing future implications.

    • It does seem strange that all of a sudden, Western English-speaking nations thought a flood of migrants from China and Indian was a good idea.

      It seemed liked we blinked, and then there was a glut of Indians and Chinese of all ages – from students to the elderly, given access to our spoils. Very strange.

      • The number of senior Chinese who speak no English in my area is overwhelming and I keep thinking they are getting access to health care that I fund as a tax payer and have bought housing that would otherwise have been for locals. It’s nuts..

      • The logical progression of outsourcing manufacturing to those countries to reduce costs and increase profits, was to import the same workers to do the jobs that couldn’t be outsourced, again to reduce costs and increase profits.

        You hardly need conspiracies when the base motivation of greed is sitting there covered in flashing neon lights and klaxons blaring.

      • Whatever floats your boat, champ. Keep shaking your fist at the hippies across the road smoking dope while you smile at the repo men carrying away your furniture and loading your car onto a truck.

  3. Govt has created a new economic theory called Population Easing. In order to avoid a technical recession at any cost, we can all look forward to perpetual debasement of living standards, along with the RBA perpetually debasing money.

  4. And James Kirchick wrote a sensible article on immigration yesterday:

    You can fight for liberal values without being liberal on immigration

    wide-open borders is a major reason for the collapse of social democracy in Europe, as traditional center-left voters have flocked to populist, anti-immigration parties, which are often the only ones offering reasonable limits on immigration.


  5. Treasury should be gutted and cleaned out of absolutely everybody implicated in juicing the federal budget by shifting up that immigration variable. Every self-aggrandising little hack economic researcher and toadying policy manager looking to preserve their own self-interest.

    Hey presto, Minister – an extra $1 billion in tax revenue !
    How did you do that ?
    Well, see – we just changed this cell here from 100,000 to 200,000. That’s the skilled immigration intake. It just flows through the model.
    And that takes into account the whole economic impact of increasing that one number.
    $1 billion dollars, Minister.
    And that’s the whole economic impact, across States and local Councils ?
    Erm … it’s $1 billion for us, Minister
    Yes, but what about the States ?
    Well, frankly … that’s not our problem, Minister. Look – an extra $1 billion !!
    But it’s the States that are going to have to wear the cost of …
    One.Billion.Dollars, Minister.
    And the triple bottom line ? The environmental, social impact, the pressure on our communities … ?
    Hahaha ! Very droll, minister.
    Ok, well … I’ll take it to Cabinet. $1billion could really come in handy right now.
    Indeed, Minister. We could increase that number a bit more if you like ?
    No, no … let’s just leave it there for now. This is going to give us enough grief as it is with the punters.
    The voters are racist fools, Minister. Which is why you have Treasury to advise you on such important economic matters. You don’t shape a nation’s future by listening to voters.
    Yes, well … why don’t you go an tell them that ?
    That’s why you have the ABC, Minister. And … *whispering* our agreement with Mr Murdoch.
    Yes…yes, that’s right. Look, this is great work. Just … let’s keep this to ourselves, wouldn’t want the punters, you know …
    Need to know basis, Minister, as always.

      • I doubt it’s the truth. Government departments deliver what their ministers champion.

    • Frankly I can’t laugh because it’s no doubt the truth. Why do you think Hockey was puffing that big cigar after announcing the budget a couple of years back? That big $hit eating grin was because they had adjusted the migrant intake metric to avoid any kind of dirty word like recession.

      In fact where I work its routinely discussed that hiring and firing decisions are based on excel and trimming headcount is pure excel work. I don’t see why Governments would be any better.

    • Can we at least have a better caliber of migrants please? Some that are more civil and well-mannered? Maybe some that actually like the locals?

    • Leith and Gunnamatta did a great presentation here that would be very convincing to ordinary people, if only they were given a forum in one of the main media outlets.

      • GunnamattaMEMBER

        Cheers, the main reason I got in touch with Leith to do one was because of the upcoming 4 Corners immigration report (I dont watch Q&A). I dont think too many people will listen to what we have done, but part of the idea was to have it up so that when the 4 Corners and Q&A things happen, anyone (who knows what we have done) can sort of listen through the podcast to see what the ABC has missed.

        The ABC has been heavily under the kosh editorially for some time – my guess is there will be a few things they dont look at in their reports

  6. Fwiw I have a feeling our nation is on the cusp of some big changes (or at least a big conversation) re: immigration policy.

    The lack of commensurate planning has become increasingly evident especially in our biggest cities. We are assuredly living in a population ponzi and many of the promised infrastructure solutions are too far away to be of any real help. Even the most ardent fans of population growth cannot deny that the current trajectory is unworkable.

    Fully suppport a Plebiscite on the issue, even a postal one. Give people a voice, and a choice.

  7. Paddy Finucane

    Fine pod gentlemen,

    I know you are only talking about Australia, but something you should be aware of is that the issue of immigration numbers is a big one across Europe. Russia take huge numbers of immigrants no questions asked, and most Russians have a sort of acceptance of that. As an Irishman who lives in St Petersburg I have within the last week been in Helsinki and the Baltic capitals, and they all have issues and concerns with immigration numbers. Many Finns are surprisingly supportive of the UK stance on Brexit, solely on immigration, and there isnt an EU capital where immigration isnt an issue. Much of what Leith says is resonant of a far wider world, and a lot more peoples should be getting a say on immigration than the ones he has in mind in Australia. Gunna you sound unwell, but the work is there as always – you should do more of these. P

    • GunnamattaMEMBER

      Cheers mate, was off work with chest infection all week, which is why I may have sounded a tad throatier than ususal. I’d do more if I could swing time or line up yackees. Trust StP is nippy but defrosting and that the track is fast.G

  8. I was thinking about the frequently advanced argument that big cities are intrinsically desirable. The somewhat odd idea that cities like Sydney are hoping to compete with cities like London – because London is a wonderful place and big, Sydney should be big as well.

    There is a basic logical flaw with this argument. London is a magnet because it is steeped in history. London goes back over a thousand years, a gradual layering of people and events that gave the city character. That is not what you will get by pouring millions of immigrants into a brash and soulless monstrosity like Sydney. Traffic jams, crowded trains, vertical slums and giant mortgages will not result in a city steeped in culture. The numbnuts from the immigration boosting lobby groups would have us believe that piling in the hundreds of thousands into places like Sydney and Melbourne has some sort of magic sauce that will brush away any problems. I suppose that we will get a good dose of that magical thinking on QnA on Monday night.

    • Stephen Morris

      London is a magnet because it is far and away the largest per capita recipient of government spending. And that doesn’t include over forms of rent-seeking sustained by government policy. See https://www.macrobusiness.com.au/2017/12/domainfax-goes-population-ponzi/#comment-3020242

      The same is true of Australia (and indeed most Westminster systems). People flock to the “Fountainhead of Rent”.

      Note that Fairfax (Mark Kenny this morning in The Age) is already devising a counter-strategy. They’re saying that the policy should be to maintain migration but require new migrants to go to the regions.

      Unfortunately, they ignore Section 92 of the Constitution (“trade and intercourse between the States shall be absolutely free”). While it might be possible to place a temporary residence requirement on new migrants, it will certainly be illegal to force them into permanent residence in the regions. And the moment their indenture expires they will move to the metropolis like everyone else.

      • Bingo. As soon as they convert their 3rd world passport into an Aussie one, they shall try to move to the big smoke.

        Making immigrants wait 10 years before they can convert is a good idea. But we have way too much immigration as it is – 28% of AUS is foreign-born! – while Norway is 11% foreign-born and doing fine.

    • Nicely said. I argue regularly with family who speak in glowing terms about Sydney and Melbourne and how they fit with other great cities of the world yet they have not ever travelled to London, Paris, Barcelona, Rome so have no idea how crap our major cities are in comparison. There are so many smaller cities in Europe that we could aspire to whose infrastructure and culture sh1t all over what Australian cities have to offer……

    • The Sydney ‘could should be London’ argument proposed by Strayan twits ignores not only history but also empire with its multiple historical and contemporary links and the global hub nature of that city. The other great variable is the complexity and sophistication of a city like London compared to the remote regional parochial dump that is Sydney. Adding people will not do it, will not make it more attractive; Sydney is a philistine backwater without publishing, or related arts anyway, and not a global city because it lacks influence and that will not occur even with 10 million people.

      • GunnamattaMEMBER

        I must confess I think Australia has the makings of one global city, and thats about it. That is Sydney currently – but the arts printing ed of thing tends to happen more in Melbourne (though journalism per se is very Sydney centric). Sadly (and I say this as one with ancestry going back to the origins of Melbourne Geelong and Ballarat) Melbourne has managed to turn itself from a fantastically vibrant liveable city in the late 90s to an endless grind shithole pockmarked with ethnic enclaves that dont work as multiculture any more but rather as little pockets of monoculture.

        Sydney on the other hand has been all about suppressing much of its culture for a generation or so – and replacing it with a sort of cross between midwestern corporate US vibe and little chunks of homage to capital. When I get to Sydney these days I feel the only places with real life are right out west, right down South (where a touch of the old working class hedonism remains) and right up North where you can still get a touch of Surf/bush dag – but in the centre of town and in the inner burbs – a bit like Melbourne its an immersion in blandness, and if its blandness you want then regional cities are where to be, they have the bladness and quality of life options.

        But all in all most of urban Australia is the same as much of urban developed world – the same Maccas and banks, the same mobile phone companies and shopping malls, the same strips of restaurants eking out an existence around which any given urbs wraps a narrative of ‘this is our life’ and endless homes (or apartments) into which a zillion little families are taking shelter

      • I must confess I think Australia has the makings of one global city, and thats about it.

        I’d argue geography means it will never have one.

        The culture remaining is way out west ? You mean where the “vibrancy” is ? 😉

  9. This is high quality work, although I feel that like a lot of MB’s excellent articles and resources, it will get lost within the next week due to subsequent posts.

    Something like this also needs to be on Youtube, so you can add a transcript and reach a wider audience. Soundcloud is a bit niche, I’m afraid.

  10. Also, listen to ABC720 in Perth from 10am to 11am with Nadia Mitsopolous as she hosts a panel (including your truly) to discuss population issues as they impact on WA.

  11. excellent work

    > Make sure everyone has a look at the QandA Facebook page and get the msg out there about resources such as #MacroBusiness and #DickSmithFairGo …. the debate is going Mainstream baby! woop

  12. Check out this casualty of mass immigration (impacting residents in Glebe and Pyrmont).

    “But now we’re being told around 600 truck movements will be directed through Pyrmont a day,” she says. “This area is now residential. This is unacceptable.”

    Locals at the community meeting may also push for compensation from the State Government, as some claim their properties had been devalued.

    “I’ve been in discussion with three real estate agents and they all say my home has now depreciated by at least $500,000 as a result of this,” said David Grafton.

    I think David may need to cut back on the smashed avo at his favorite gentrified cafe in Glebe. You know, cut back on non-essentials, don’t be so frivolous and a spendthrift. These old people just want everything handed to them.

    • David sounds like one of those pricks that buys a house near an airport and then campaigns to have it shut down because it impacts on the value of his house.

    • >These old people just want everything handed to them

      And they are…. and they don’t like it!

      Reminds me of an old warning sign I made in the old days of an ex-manager of mine: “Warning! Shaft-o-Matic tool in use!”

    • They seem self centered but their complaint is genuine: they were promised something, bought on that condition and the govt has reversed its decision. It’s not like someone buying into a late night entertainment zone and wanting it all quiet by 10pm. If this was another good or service the legal rights of the buyer should not be forfeited and consumer laws protect the buyer. This could be a bitter legal battle which will include estate agents too.

      • I sympathise with them on an individual level, but in aggregate f%$# em’. Why? because if their values rose $1M in value because of a government decision to improve infrastructure or add a ferry stop nearby or something like that, they would all celebrate whilst our tax dollars went toward making that improvement for them. But because it’s gone the opposite way they all want blood. Well, as someone who doesn’t own such property I have very little sympathy for them. Especially because that enclave predominantly votes Green, when Green’s support mass immigration and the reason they are brining in the supplies for building is because they need it to build for population growth. Your average punter won’t join the dots though!

      • They did what they could with the factors and timing they were given. That is essentially Blyth’s argument against boomers who profited from circumstances which aren’t repeatable. Their voting pattern may be superficial and all about local vibrancy in the ethnic cafes they patronise but the villain is the govt, because it made a decision which is not binding, which distorted property values and signaled to buyers to enter a market under special conditions and now is apparently revoking anything like good governance with all the ramifications that the article discusses. The govt has failed to plan, to foresee the effects, and to balance interests. Govt failed a community standard of competency.