ABC Immigration Idiocracy II: Discombobulation


Before sitting down to tuck into this weekend’s serving of immigration bilge sample the fare on offer last weekend!

Another weekend, another serving of Immigration loaf from someone else’s ABC.

Poked through the door of the public domain at circa 0600 on Saturday Morning.

This week we don’t get an ABC luminary to spout nonsense at us on the subject, Laura returning to economic issues. We get Tom, who wades into the subject with a generous Megalogenis style 2000 words of Immigration pabulum.


Internal Editorial Process

Again we can see something of the internal decision making processes. Someone in editorial command has rightly identified Aunty needs a weekend piece on Immigration. What to do?

They can’t run another A-lister to trash their credibility on the subject, there’s only a limited number of A-listers with credibility to trash, and if they use up all the credibility on this subject they could get caught with their pants down when other issues need to be credibly addressed in the next year. FFS, in addition to Immigration being a major issue in the next Australian federal election, that fruitcake PM in London has just called an election there where Immigration is going to be a painfully big issue. Then in November the US Octogenarian election features two ageing nutters who are both beating their chests on the issue. Then there are Irish, Canadians and Kiwis with mounting concerns about the subject. They need Immigration commentary. The whole world needs immigration commentary.

Someone at that editorial table has the answer, in the third paragraph of the 9th page of a report enclosed in a manila folder containing about 8 other reports. It reads


‘…… could report facts and data and allow these to shape the narrative reported on the issue, with additional comments from informed commentators.’

The person with that manila folder knows that Immigration is an issue which ‘vested interests’ have strong views about. One of those is likely in the room, and signs performance review documentation for that person. They may even have a ‘monthly chat’ with them to ensure that everyone is a ‘team player.’

The person with the manila folder knows that the person who has monthly chats with them also chats more frequently with ‘people’. People in the Minister’s office, captains of industry, decisionmakers, and influential commentators. The person with the manila folder knows the person who has their monthly performance chats wants to please those people.

That is why the manila folder contains 8 other reports. The person with the manila folder thinks that the person who does their monthly chat would not be happy if that sentence was to make the light of day.


Sitting around the table are other decisionmakers. Some of them have also had heretical thoughts about immigration coverage, but they too have monthly chats with someone who wants to please people who don’t want data shaping the organisation’s immigration coverage. Life wasn’t meant to be easy.

Someone leans back and baldly states ‘We have Tom on Immigration this weekend. He will do a good job. Ex Grattan Institute, ex Treasury and an honours degree from Melbourne. Sharp, incisive, will deliver.’

Every person at the table breathes a sigh of relief.


Here is Tom in all his immigration glory

The migration debate is heating up, but will the war of words lead to action?

By political reporter Tom Crowley

Even as the migration debate threatens to get ugly, Australia’s politicians agree more than they disagree.

For example, most profess agreement that migrants have made a positive economic and social contribution. And most also agree that there are problems with our current approach, like the precarious status of many temporary entrants.

But last week, Peter Dutton sharpened migration into a political weapon by tying it to public anxiety about housing affordability, accusing the government of a “big Australia policy” and blaming a surge in migration for the housing crisis.

Treasurer Jim Chalmers called that claim “dark” and false, suggesting sweeping cuts to migration would “trash” the economy. But the government already had its own plans in motion for a short-term cut. Now the opposition has one too, although some details remain unclear.

Even as the two parties push in the same direction, the debate will be heated. But where will it lead us on a policy front? The answer requires a trip into the weeds of our notoriously complicated system for deciding who comes to this country, and by which circumstances.

If Tom sat down and thought about opening up with a sentence to troll the entire Australian electorate on the gulf between their thoughts and the thoughts of those on any side of politics they vote for he couldn’t have done better. The one thing they have agreed about for a generation is ‘don’t mention immigration’.


The suspicion is our politicians agree a tad too much – especially when it comes to immigration – because there is no ‘Plan’ for our economy. We give away the national bounty to tax avoiding multinationals and we encourage housing speculation, and we juice GDP stats with the Population Ponzi. And if, as is increasingly seeming the case, that doesn’t seem to be working for large numbers of people, the last thing we do is mention immigration – because that is the road to questioning why we give away the national bounty, and why we encourage ever rising house prices in a nation comprised of the the most heavily individually taxed people in the OECD, living in some of the most insanely priced houses on the planet.

And the first line of defence on the nobody mentions immigration front is the ‘racism’ line.

Tom has wedged Australia’s elected representatives from the people who vote for them in the very first sentence. Cojones.


Then that second paragraph. A little more gaslighting never hurt anyone did it? Yes there would be no doubt there could easily be some students living in precarious circumstances. The overriding thought of the electorate, however – shown in survey after survey, is not consternation about the precarious living of temporary migrants, but the precariousness of ordinary Australians.

Let’s call it a swing and a miss. Whaddya reckon Tom?

After those two looseners Tom bowls up a wide. Tom asserts that Peter Dutton’s simple observation that importing an additional half a million people to house when we have issues with housing those already here – with the largest housing construction sector to population in the OECD – was sharpened into a political weapon.


He is right. But it is not a weapon Australian politicians may dirk each other with. Rather, it is a weapon the Australian electorate could conceivably roast their political class with.

Tom then riffs the Treasurer slagging off the Leader of the Opposition, before blowing them both up with the observation they are both presenting themselves as paying lip service to what appears to be the public mood vis immigration. Politicians will do that Tom.

And as a close for the opening stanza Tom underlines the hypocrisy of our politicians before harking back to the words ‘We decide who comes into this country, and the circumstances in which they come’ which may not have been his intention.


If Tom had raced off after a freshly thrown lit stick of political dynamite, retrieved it and returned it to the person who had thrown it, sheltering from its intended effect – he could not have done better.

He now reaches for the hyperspace button.

How does migration work? It ebbs and flows

There are two categories of migration, temporary and permanent.

These often come one after another. Most permanent migrants start on temporary visas – perhaps as students, backpackers or temporary workers.

Each year, a set number of people receive permanent visas, either sponsored by an employer (the skills pathway) or because they have relatives in Australia (the family pathway).

The government has set the level at 190,000 this financial year and 185,000 next year. Roughly two-thirds of these are skilled and one-third family.

The Coalition plans to cut that to 140,000 for two years, then 150,000 for one year and 160,000 after that. It would maintain the current proportions of skilled and family visas, implying a cut of about 30,000 skilled and 15,000 family.

It also wants to cut the humanitarian resettlement program from 20,000 to 13,750.

But all of these numbers are dwarfed by the temporary program. At any one time, there are more than one million temporary migrants in Australia.

When the pandemic arrived, that figure plummeted as many returned home. But in 2022, they roared back. There are now more temporary migrants than before the pandemic, although broadly following the same upwards trend as before.

Tom might be seeing ebbs and flows, but everyday Australians would be seeing a one way moon shot. In the post Covid era it has gone up, and is still ludicrously up. There may be some excuse for seeing immigration in terms of a chart going back 12 years, but the vast majority of Australians have a memory going back further so that it looks like this.


Beyond that Tom has slipped into a little bit of numberwang, and has started off on the permanent or temporary discussion. He comes back to that a touch later. But with all those words to play with he keeps laying those bricks.

Getting back there meant a very large annual intake. Net overseas migration, the common measure of the intake, has hovered between 150,000 and 300,000 for decades, but in 2022-23 it reached 518,090.

More than any other, that figure ignited the political brawl. It didn’t help that it coincided with an extremely tight rental market.

Experts tend to agree the rental crisis was caused by our long-term failure to build enough houses, but that the added competition, especially from international students in cities, made the short-term problem worse.

Prior to the surge, politicians were openly agitating for temporary migrants to return – Peter Dutton himself was urging the government to boost the intake in late 2022, at a time when businesses were scrambling to fill labour shortages. Back then, the fear was that the pre-pandemic numbers would never return.

But when they did, the narrative changed and both sides of politics began to talk about cutting numbers.

Talk is one thing – an actual cut is surprisingly difficult. That’s because the government has next to no control over any of the main temporary entry streams. In each of the big programs, entry simply depends on whether you meet the eligibility criteria.

Students can come so long as an institution wants them, workers in certain occupations can come so long as an employer wants them (and jumps through the right hoops).


Tom has the trowel out and lays on some bullshit.

When he states….

‘Net overseas migration, the common measure of the intake, has hovered between 150,000 and 300,000 for decades, but in 2022-23 it reached 518,090’

….he means that NOM went over 150 thousand per annum three times in the 20th century. 1919, with all those soldiers returning from war, 1950 as the post WW2 migration drive kicked into swing, and 1988 as Australia had a bicentennial larger intake. In none of those years did the intake go beyond 170 thousand per annum. The next time it went beyond 150 thousand per annum was 2006, and it has never been below that mark again as the Population Ponzi has kicked into full swing. He is, however, on the money noting that 500 thousand plus in the last financial year has been the red rag to a long simmering bull of public sentiment.


When Tom says that experts agree that the rental crisis stems from a long term inability to build the requisite number of abodes – despite having the largest housing construction sector per capita in the OECD for long periods of the time – he doesn’t make any mention of whether those experts think pouring another 500 thousand souls into the dynamic is the best way to address the situation. A real journalist might have at least sounded them out.

Tom does well to note that the Honourable Leader of the Opposition may well have feet of clay (or worse) when it comes to Immigration but doesn’t sniff at whether there were any actual skills shortages about – beyond those looking for kickbacks or other favours, or just generally looking for labour to fleece.

Then Tom the Political reporter comes out with a pair of ‘Chariots of the Gods’ style assertions about government ability to control Immigration.


‘Talk is one thing – an actual cut is surprisingly difficult. That’s because the government has next to no control over any of the main temporary entry streams. In each of the big programs, entry simply depends on whether you meet the eligibility criteria.

Students can come so long as an institution wants them, workers in certain occupations can come so long as an employer wants them (and jumps through the right hoops).’

Think about that for a moment. The government has next to no control over any of the main temporary entry streams. Hey Tom (BA Honours Graduate from University of Melbourne, ex Grattan Institute and Treasury), do you think there may be a case for a government getting itself some control over those if it really doesn’t have them?

Think about the mindset of a young man who even thinks that may be true. At that point we find ourselves wondering who Tom thinks gives those institutions or those employers, or those workers in certain occupations those rights. Were they handed down from on high by the Good Lord himself (or herself if that is the case)? Did the Lady of the Lake with an arm clad in glistening samite bestow them upon us?


Did the Lady of the Lake also hand out permanent migration rights?

Then, right when we are wondering if Tom is in the same dimension as the rest of the Australian electorate, he tees off again.

The government does set the permanent intake, but since most permanent visas go to people who are already in the country that is barely relevant – in fact, there is some evidence lower permanent numbers encourage more temporary entrants.

All of that means the government can hope the numbers will come down – its budget projects the net intake will fall to about 350,000 this year, and 260,000 next year – but this is more of a guess than a plan, and the same goes for any net migration target the Coalition sets.

That is, unless caps of some sort are introduced. That is something both parties are now contemplating for international students. Amid the din of budget week, the government quietly announced it would pursue institution-by-institution caps. In his budget reply, Peter Dutton also committed to a cap, which looks more likely to be a single nationwide cap.

The university sector has warned against torpedoing one of Australia’s most successful export industries. But amid the short-term political pressure over housing, both major parties appear to have made the political calculation that the cost is worthwhile.


So after telling us the government had no control it now appears government has control over permanent visas, but that is ‘barely relevant’ because permanent visas go to people already in the country on temporary visas. You would think that could get the crowd baying for a reduction in temporary visas, but our Tom is following up with governments limited to hope rather than plans to reduce immigration numbers – unless student visas are capped. His final defensive position is the redoubt provided by the University sector warning against a torpedoing of ‘successful export industries’. That could spur Kriegsmarine applications from those who dont think Universities generate much net exports whatsoever, and are often funded by serf like employment opportunities taken on in Australia of the type Tom suggests the government has no control over.

That last sentence is the barest acknowledgement that when push comes to shove, maybe there is more control than Tom would like to think about.


Successful export industries can attract these types

Tom’s odyssey continues.

A not-so particular set of skills

But temporary workers is a tougher task.

In 2022, a government-led review suggested there was a policy justification for reining in temporary work visas.

It identified a rise in temporary workers who were not filling a clear workforce need and had no prospect of permanent residence, but were staying for prolonged, precarious stints.

Labour exploitation and housing insecurity often followed, a state of ‘permanent temporariness’ which could also be seen among graduated international students.

This is Tom telling us government has already been advised to do something about temporary workers. Presumably that wasn’t to import more of them. Tom omits to mention that labour exploitation and housing insecurity are of major concern to the broader Australian community, as well as graduated international students.

Tom then sets about another round of trolling, this time with charts


Temporary workers can stay a long time

You may recall Tom telling us the government couldn’t do much about temporary immigration, and starting off on contemplation of a temporary or permanent divide between migration types. He now lays on a chart clearly demonstrating that about half of all temporary workers, and about a quarter of all international students are still in the country ten years after arriving. If you think that the international students and temporary workers make up about half of the 1.4 million temporary visas clearly indicated above in Tom’s very first chart, then it doesn’t take much to conclude we are talking a lot of additional bums on seats.

Tom now descends into the vague, puzzling, and tricky nuances of what he thinks the government may want to do.


To address this, the government wants to establish a ‘streamlined’ worker visa process, identifying permanent skilled workers quickly, but making sure temporary workers have temporary stays, and are admitted only when they fill a need.

There are to be three streams – valuable high-income earners (above $135,000) get in regardless of their job, middle-income earners get in if they have desirable skills, and low earners get in if they do ‘essential’ work such as in aged care.

These details of all these streams are still a little fuzzy, especially the last one.

But the early steps have shown how tricky it can be. In April, government agency Jobs and Skills Australia quietly released a consultation draft of the sorts of occupations that might be eligible for the middle-income skills list.

That list left off many of the most popular occupations for temporary workers, including chefs and IT workers. Puzzlingly, it also left off construction workers despite a well-documented shortage.

Tom is right the government is trying to work out how to taper the temporary numbers. Tom may have let go of the idea the government can do nowt but hope when it comes to temporary visas. Of the three categories he posits the government as looking to implement he notes the middle income tier may not be the loophole it was in the past, without questioning how many chefs we really need in the country and to what extent we could train our own, or if we could look to utilise the zillions of IT types in our midst already a little more intelligently, even if we give them additional training here. Although puzzled by the absence of construction workers, he may be even more puzzled by the application of collective power on the political process, and no doubt shocked to learn that Australia already has an outsized construction sector which has been demonstrably unable to keep up with housing demand for the best part of a generation – through no real fault of its own, in the face of governments of both mainstream sides determined to run the Population Ponzi full bore.

Tom now brings in some mates.


The Grattan Institute’s Trent Wiltshire told the ABC this was an inevitable pitfall of trying to filter by occupation, a process always prone to political influence-peddling – for example, the main limit on the entry of construction workers has been the persistent lobbying of the construction union.

Grattan has argued an approach based strictly on incomes – effectively, let employers decide which migrants are valuable enough to let in – would produce a better result.

But Ryan Edwards, a migration expert at the Australian National University, doubted that this approach would help either, warning any cap at all would “fundamentally change everything we know about how people come in… That’s something I would be very worried about.”

That suggests a difficult path ahead if the government wants to land its policy plan – and it is rapidly running out of time, especially given ministers Andrew Giles and Clare O’Neil have their hands full with immigration detention-related matters.

Trent doesn’t like collective labour, Ryan likes open borders. Tom reminds us the Ministers have a few side issues when it comes to Immigration, none of them easy and all of them potentially sensitive. He then casts his gaze at the Liberals who have their own issues.

The Coalition’s plans are even less clear. Various Coalition frontbenchers have said slightly different things about whether the Coalition has a temporary migration target and how exactly it would be achieved other than by cutting international students.

But getting to a level like 160,000 net migration, as floated by Peter Dutton last week, would presumably require some trimming of temporary worker visas.

Asked at the National Press Club whether how Australia would then fill labour shortages in construction, agriculture or care, Shadow Treasurer Angus Taylor said he was confident that those needs could be filled at home, such as by encouraging more pensioners back into the workforce.

But retirees aren’t especially likely to build houses or pick strawberries, and the Coalition has its own political interests to contend with, not least the Nationals whose farming constituents often depend on temporary workers and backpackers.

All plausible enough but is this where Australia wants to be? Worrying about strawberry pickers or having enough builders and tradies? Having an agricultural sector reliant on backpackers and temporary workers? What if we automate some of that and look at upskilling some of the kids coming out of schools now?


Tom now enters the home straight.

In the long run, we’re almost all migrants

All of that suggests a wide gap between political rhetoric and policy.

But there is an even wider gap between politics and policy in the short-term and consideration of the long-term benefits of migration.

Dr Edwards said there was a mountain of evidence that the societal benefits of migration were more than just a political platitude.

“There’s a pretty serious consensus out there amongst experts that migration is a very powerful way to increase global economic wellbeing,” he said.

“And the nice thing about it is that it happens for the migrants themselves, which we don’t focus on enough, but also the host country and the origin country. Everyone wins over the long-term and the gains are huge.”

That view has been echoed by Treasury, the Productivity Commission, the Grattan Institute and others.

In that chunk we have a gap. Between politics and policy, and political rhetoric and policy, and then between the short and long terms. We have a mountain of evidence, a pretty serious consensus, and a very powerful way to increase global economic wellbeing. We have nice.

What we dont have is consensus in the host country that it is nice for inhabitants there. And this would underpin the gaps Tom alludes to between political rhetoric and politics and policy. And all the echoing by Treasury, the Productivity Commission, the Grattan Institute and others doesn’t really get us away from a simple question – Is politics about representing the people who vote?


Tom then moves into cop out mode to gloss over why the lived experience for Australians may not seem as ‘nice’ as others would have it.

There is some evidence of short-term negative consequences from migration on local populations. In particular, international research suggests the short-term migrant intake can push up rental prices.

And in the US there is evidence low-skilled migrants can push down wages in low-skill jobs, although overall wages are unchanged – suggesting locals generally move on to better-paying jobs.

Australian research is more limited, but suggests no negative effect of migration on wages, and only a contribution to house prices.

And over the long-term, migrants boost living standards across the board.

“Migration adds to both supply and demand in an economy, [so] you get to a higher new equilibrium,” Dr Edwards said.

“Regardless of who the migrants are, just by having more you benefit because you don’t need twice the resources to sustain that population. You also have a larger customer base. There’s all kinds of benefits that come from size.

“That’s why people move from country to city, it’s exactly the same argument there as the argument internationally… There’s also international evidence that shows migrants add to productivity, because more people means more ideas.”

Dr Edwards warned against letting short-term concerns about housing distract from this long-term benefit. “I think it’s a risky game for politicians to play.”

Similar sentiment is almost universal among migration experts. And politicians on both sides of politics are also happy to agree that migration has long-run benefits.

But as on many issues, the politics can tend to focus on the short-term.

Tom omits to mention that most Australians are in this context ‘local populations’ and that about a third of Australians rent. And that evidence he refers to in the US, as though it is somewhere on Alpha Centauri B, is the lived experience of large numbers of Australians. The issue he doesn’t go near is the ability of Australians to move to higher paying more sophisticated employment – the simple fact of the matter is that unlike the US Australia’s economy, outside commodity production, is an inward facing bubble staffed by amongst the world’s most expensive peoples regardless of whether they are local populations or temporary or permanent migrants. Australians live in a different economy.


Tom’s mate Trent, and his reference to higher new equilibriums, may care to have a look at the country around him and the rising levels of discontent about costs of living, and mounting underemployment. The higher new equilibrium sounds like something Dante dreamed up, upside down. When he says ‘you dont need twice the resources to sustain that population’, he obviously isnt talking about houses. And that larger customer base means retailers can hold off on price competition that much longer. The people on the lower level want their politicians to do something about it, and the Opposition Leader’s recent comments – regardless of his past involvement in the creation of the problem – should be seen in that light.

One hopes that other benefits of size are more tangible, and notes that reduced carbon footprint won’t be amongst them. The take away from that stanza reads bigger market and more ideas, which are likely pretty marginal – the more ideas may not get far if everyone is a precarious debt serf. When Dr Edwards talks about risky games to play he may want to consider the risk involved in trolling the ‘local population’ with spurious upsides or ignoring the downsides of poorly controlled immigration numbers.

Tom walks across the finish line sucking up deep breaths.


And Peter Dutton was this week squarely focused on the present.

“I just say to Australians, are you better off today than you were two years ago?”

“I absolutely celebrate every day our great migration story in this country, and I want to see international students come to Australia. But it needs to be done in a managed way. I want a better Australia, not Anthony Albanese’s bigger Australia.”

It’s a sentiment echoed by Queensland Labor Premier Steven Miles. And while Mr Chalmers called it “dark”, the PM’s first instinct on Monday was to insist that the government was “dealing” with the problem rather than seeking to deny there was one.

So far, clarity is lacking about how this will solidify into policy proposals. But all signs point to an election debate grounded in short-term anxieties, but which may have long-term reverberations.

Tom peters out with a ‘remains to be seen’ style ending which gives away the idea he wasn’t sure where he was going from the get go, didnt pay much attention along the way, and is uncomfortable where he has ended up.

We can look forward to loads of immigration or population ponzi spurious commentary in the months ahead.