Earlier this month, the ABC’s business editor, Ian Verrender, penned a fantastic article debunking the business lobby and Coalition’s incessant claim that Australia is experiencing chronic skills shortages, thereby necessitating the large-scale importation of foreign workers.
Verrender’s key arguments were as follows:
- The shortage claim lacks empirical evidence: “If it really is the case that skilled labour is in such short supply, why aren’t wages being bid into the stratosphere by desperate employers? In fact, the opposite is true”.
- How could Australia’s ‘world class’ tertiary education system fail so badly to equip people with skills, yet “legions of foreign students fight to get a place in our universities and colleges and pay through the nose for the privilege”.
- In 2002, the business lobby told a Howard Government inquiry that Australia was experiencing skills shortages and required skilled migrants. Twenty years later, the argument is exactly the same. How can this be after decades of strong immigration?
- In any event, “there’s an easy fix to skills shortages — pay higher wages”. But “instead, the push has been on to import large numbers of extra workers”. Why? Because businesses want to “depress the price of labour” and grow the population to create “a bigger economy and a larger potential market which makes it easier for businesses to make more money without any need for innovation”.
Verrender then concluded with the following insightful observation:
The Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development — now led by former finance minister Matthias Cormann — last week delivered its latest assessment of our progress…
Per capita GDP was 9 per cent lower than the OECD’s best performers and our productivity was 15 per cent below the star performers.
Our problem isn’t so much a skills shortage as a policy ruse.
We’ve bodgied up the numbers to make it appear we are world leaders when it comes to economic growth. But in the process, we’ve squeezed wages, living standards and productivity.
Ian Verrender last week gave an interview on ABC’s Nightline (listen from 1.02) where he once again demolished the claim that Australia is experiencing purported skills shortages:
“This [the skills shortages claim] has been going on for decades now. I went back to at a Senate Inquiry from 2002, which was put forward by the Howard Government, essentially with the same arguments that we are hearing now. That there is a huge shortage of skilled workers in this country and unless we do something about it – i.e. import a lot of workers – we will not develop and will simply end up going out the back door”.
“So, 20 years down the track, we don’t seem to have improved one little bit. And this argument has been going on and on for decades… How could this possibly be? How could we have such dramatic skills shortages after all this time? Over the past 20 years we’ve brought in probably 1.5 million or more immigrants into the country. That should have been enough to have done something about the skills shortage”.
“The other problem is that if we do have such a dramatic shortage of skilled workers in this country, why are wages growing at the slowest pace ever if we’ve got a skills shortage? Because if you’ve got a shortage of anything, the price should rise. Whether it’s bananas or cauliflowers or labour. If you’ve got a shortage of labour, then wages should be rising really, really rapidly. But they’re not. They are hardly rising at all. And it’s the biggest problem the economy is facing”…
“It [skills shortages] just doesn’t stack up at all. The business lobby groups, in particular, are the ones arguing for increased immigration because otherwise we won’t get the economy on track”…
“It [immigration] is one of the reasons why we’ve had such huge price growth in real estate over the past 30 years, as well… So, you’ve got an shortage of housing and an oversupply of workers. So you’ve got high house prices and not much wages growth”…
“If you strip out the effects of population growth… we’ve actually had a number of recessions since 1991-92… Our economic performance is not as good as we’ve all been led to believe”…
“If we really do have a skills shortage in a particular industry, then people would pay more for it… Our biggest problem in the past decade is a lack of wages growth…”
“If you look at the experiences of skilled migrants that come into this country… unemployment is at least double the general Australian community. And then you have a large underemployment factor as well. So, a lot of the people that came out here were not working in the professions in which they trained, they were working as Uber drivers and taxi drivers… So, a lot of heartbreak there. This is not really the kind of picture we are being told”…
“Businesses always lobby [for mass immigration] because they can get a bigger market, they can make a lot more money, without having to do any innovation or invest”…
“You’ve got so many vested interests that rely upon it [the skills shortage myth]. It’s just been taken to be the truth. If you just say something often enough, keep repeating it and repeating it, without any empirical evidence [it becomes true]”…
“Over the past seven or eight years, over one million migrants have come into Australia. Yet our federal and state governments have not spent enough on infrastructure. Our cities are choking. And our productivity is falling as a result of that”.
MB has provided similar analysis over many years.
No matter how the Australian economy has tracked, or how many migrants have arrived, the business and property lobbies have always cried ‘shortage’ and demanded more cheap foreign workers.
It’s time our politicians stopped listening to these parasites and instead allowed the labour ‘market’ to distribute workers to areas of highest return (as measured by wages).
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