The Business Council of Australia today welcomed support for a debate about Australia’s immigration policy but said it did not go far enough.
The Executive Director of the BCA, Mr David Buckingham, said he was pleased with recent comments by the federal government and federal Opposition and a number of state governments supporting the need for more skilled migrants.
But Mr Buckingham said the debate should be part of a broader discussion about the size and make up of Australia’s population.“The truth is that Australia is facing a population crisis in the next 30 years as birth rates continue to decline population inexorably ages and immigration levels are at historically low levels,” he said.
“If we do nothing, we face the prospect of a population which, by 2028, will have stopped growing and which will begin to diminish in size with all the consequent implications.
“Rather than setting annual targets for immigration levels and quotas, a long-term policy framework should be developed to guide the future of Australia’s population.
“Such a framework would give serious consideration to a migration program which generates growth, prosperity and vigour and a family policy that encourages natural increase in the population by making the successful combination of work and family life a practical choice.”
It would also be an opportunity to make regional development an important component of Australia’s population growth.
Mr Buckingham said the key emphasis in articulating such a framework was the need to foster and develop Australia’s human capital.
“The BCA welcomes the steps the government has taken to address short-term gaps in the labour market by streamlining the long-term temporary visa arrangements,” he said.
“Temporary entry suits many highly skilled professionals. With businesses increasingly organised on a global basis, the ability to locate people here easily and quickly provides Australia with a competitive advantage.
“This is, and should remain, an important component of Australia’s market opportunity before the global pool of skilled and mobile people. It is important, however, to note that Australia also needs settlers so that succeeding generations contribute to society as consumers, workers, taxpayers and as contributors to the human capital of the nation.”
Mr Buckingham said the council was not making recommendations for next year’s numerical intake.
“A longer-term framework, rather than the setting of targets, is required because the commitment Australia makes to migrants is long term in its character and because it is in the long term that decisions taken about migrant levels have an impact upon the composition of Australia’s population,” he said.
“Such a framework should also address challenges, such as that posed by the ageing of Australia’s population and seek opportunities to enhance social, economic, cultural and strategic development.
“A long term policy framework should be about stimulating demand, and Australia’s overall human capital development, not just about filling short-term vacancies.”
Mr Buckingham said the BCA had been funding a research program that had provided a high level of confidence that a younger, growing, dynamic population would help maintain and build a robust, internationally-competitive economy without compromising Australia’s quality of life.