Immigration is almost certainly the fieriest issue in Australian politics right now – but this is incredibly strange when you consider most of the issues we’re talking about aren’t immigration issues. Political commentators are linking housing prices, infrastructure problems, ghettoisation and crime to immigration, meaning that we’re not discussing the most effective solutions to these problems and instead looking to shoot ourselves in the foot.
The vast range of research confirms the immense benefits of immigration. A Deloitte study from 2015 found almost all immigrants improved the government’s fiscal position (the 2014-15 cohort leaving a net benefit of $9.7 billion over 50 years), and a recent RBA report confirmed immigrants are keeping Australia young. This is vital both for budget repair and confronting our aging population, and is particularly pronounced when we compare our future situation to our low immigration counterparts like Japan.
Highly skilled immigrants make Australia more productive, which is vital for growing our economy and incomes. More immigrants also encourage more investment in Australia increasing returns to capital and by forging links with their countries.
If we look at immigration solely on its own merits we can see that a responsible government ensures as many people as possible are able to immigrate, become Australian and enrich our country. So why jeopardise the benefits of immigration needlessly?
The high prices of housing in some cities is often blamed on our large numbers of immigrants, even though the solutions don’t have anything to do with immigration numbers. Cutting back on zoning laws and red tape would make housing far less scarce, and as a result cheaper.
A recent RBA study confirmed this, showing that zoning laws raise the price of a house in Sydney by 42 per cent and Melbourne by 41 per cent. This isn’t because of immigrants: it’s the knobs we already have running the joint.
Economic reforms in other states and investment in regional areas can also take the pressure off Sydney and Melbourne by ensuring there are other attractive options across the country to find work and settle down. And best of all these solutions allow us to reap the benefits of immigration while ensuring Australians can afford homes.
Infrastructure is a very similar issue with very similar solutions. Zoning and red tape reforms would allow more housing across a smaller area, easing urban sprawl and the resultant infrastructure cost without needing to cut immigration.
Ghettoisation is used by some to call for a drastic cut in immigration. However, this misses the point. Integration isn’t about who your neighbour is, but your engagement with wider society. A large group of Chinese-Australians living in the same suburb isn’t evidence that they aren’t integrated.
However, there are solutions in the minority of cases where groups don’t engage with wider society. Helping immigrants find the dignity of work is a strong conservative policy, as is helping immigrants engage with civil society through mentorship programs and local community organisations.
A sense of Australian identity for new immigrants to fold into is also essential. People from across the globe have come to this country since it’s foundation and became Australian. There’s no reason to believe they can’t today.
Crime is the final major issue raised to criticise our immigration numbers. But despite a few over-represented groups such as Sudanese and New Zealanders, immigrants are actually under-represented in crime statistics. If crime was a reason to cut immigration we should look to replace Australians with the English and Chinese, not the other way around.
Instead, we need to look at how we vet people coming into the country and how we support them when they get here, rather than turning away vast numbers of people who could have contributed to this country. Furthermore, an often-ignored point is that the same issues don’t seem to be prevalent amongst Sudanese-Australians outside Melbourne. This suggests there are other variables which could be at play, including unemployment and single motherhood, that must be a part of the conversation about the issue but have been largely sidelined. Once again these are issues we can confront with domestic policy: not just through immigration cuts.
Concerns about housing costs, infrastructure, ghettoisation and crime are more than valid, and politicians are making a mistake if they choose to ignore these concerns. Yet these shouldn’t be treated as problems with immigration, nor should they be used as excuses to cut something that has largely benefited us.
If Australia wants to prosper and effective solutions to issues we need to stop talking about immigration and start talking about the problems we actually care about.
Kyle Williams is a Mannkal scholar and research associate with the Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance.
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