Flat White

Dollars don’t lie: when immigration support makes sense

8 September 2019

4:28 PM

8 September 2019

4:28 PM

You’d have to have been living under a rock these past few weeks not to have heard about the Priya and Nades Murugappan, the Tamil couple from Biloela in Queensland, whom the Government is in the process of trying to deport. Their story has provided headlines on almost every media outler in Australia, so much so that it has overshadowed another case.

In this, Rajasegaran Manikam, a Singaporean-born but long-term Australian resident aged care worker, has been threatened with deportation after failing a medical examination.

The results suggested that, while perfectly healthy now, Raj might need either kidney dialysis or a transplant at some point in the future.

The Department of Home Affairs, which has overall responsibility for immigration matters, argued that the associated bill, which could hypothetically be as high as $800,000 over Raj’s lifetime, was too high a cost for the Australian taxpayer to bear.

Of course, that assessment didn’t take into account Raj’s young family, his commitment to the close-knit community of Warrnambool where they have settled, or his promise to forego any treatment at public expense should be and his family be allowed to stay.

It didn’t even take into account the highly emotive online petition, started by his daughter – a Grade A student, and captain of her school – which attracted more than 8,000 signatures in just 24 hours, begging that her father be allowed to stay in Australia.

As far as the Department – and by extension, the Morrison Government – was concerned, this was an economic decision, and we should focus wholly upon the numbers.

So, instead of trying to argue morals with the morally bankrupt, let’s play their numbers game out to its logical conclusion.

It is surprisingly difficult to find an estimated taxation-over-lifetime figure for the average Australian. Equivalent numbers have been crunched and published for workers in the US and the UK, but Australia seems to be a little behind the curve when it comes to advertising that sort of bottom line.

Never fear – with a calculator, and access to some basic data, we can get past that particular oversight.

According to figures released by the Grattan Institute last year, the average Australian wage is earning somewhere in the region of $81,843 per annum, based on Australian Bureau of Statistics figures which list a full-time adult average weekly wage of $1628, multiplied by 52 weeks to reach a yearly total.

We have an income tax threshold of $18,200. That leaves Mr or Mrs Average Australian with a taxable income of about $63,642, and puts them firmly in the middle of the ATO’s tax brackets, paying a lump sum of $3,572 per year, as well as an additional 35.5c for each $1 over $37,000.

That adds $9,457 to the pot, giving Joe or Janet Average an annual income tax bill that looks an awful lot like $13,029, give or take some loose change down the back of the sofa.

Now I’ll confess that I don’t know Raj’s exact age, but with an 18-year-old daughter, let’s take a punt and say that he’s forty.

He’s already been here for two years, and by all accounts he’s been gainfully employed throughout that time, working with dementia sufferers within the aged-care system (if he hadn’t been in full-time employment, the Department would have been knocking on his door long before this).

In other words, he’s already paid $26,058 in taxes to the same government in Canberra which now wants to deport him.

His wife Prema has also been working. In her case, she’s been employed by their local council as an education coordinator. Presuming she too brings in an average wage, the family unit’s tax total to date, in just two years, is going to have been something like $52,116.

Let’s presume that Prema is roughly the same age as Raj, and that they each have twenty-five working years left before they retire. On that basis, they will, by the age of sixty-five, have paid the State in the region of $677,507 between them.

And let’s not forget their kids.

Their eldest, Vanisre, wants to be a doctor. It will take her some time to achieve that, of course. She’s 18 now. Let’s be conservative, and presume she doesn’t start practising for another ten years.

And let’s continue to be conservative – rather than presuming she qualifies as a brain surgeon, let’s presume she comes out of university as a common-or-garden GP, earning an average GP wage of about $250,000 per year.

On that basis, she’ll be paying (at today’s rate) a healthy (or sickening, depending on your perspective) $85,732 in tax per year (a lump sum of $54,232, then 0.45c on every $1 over $180,000).

Presuming she starts work no later than 2029, she will have contributed $1,285,980 in the fifteen years until her father retires.

In other words, without even taking her younger brother, Vani, and his earning potential into account, or Vanisre’s wages after 2043, or – and here’s the real kicker – any increases to taxation rates in the next two decades, the Manikam family can easily be expected to pay the state in excess of $1,963,000 by the time Raj retires.

In fact, if Vani makes no more than minimum wage until he himself retires, it is hard to see the family unit contributing less than $2m to Canberra’s coffers over the medium term.

All of this is hypothetical, of course. But then, so, by its own admission, is the figure of $800,000 being touted by the Department as an estimate of medical liability.

Whichever way you look at it, the numbers don’t lie.

Will there be other costs to be deducted? Education? Incidental medical costs for other family members? Time out of the workforce for one reason or another? Almost certainly. But that is true of any family, native, naturalised or immigrant.

According to the raw numbers, drawn from the government’s own data, retaining the skills and potential of the Manikam family here in Australia is a net benefit to the country.

In the best-case scenario, that benefit might be as much as $2m over the next 25 years.

In the worst, it might be as low as $1.1m.

The work that Raj and Prema are already doing in their respective fields, not to mention the work Vanisre might well do as a doctor in the future, are as imponderable as they are immeasurable.

Australia needs doctors and educators, just as it needs specialists trained and willing to work with its ageing population.

The Manikams tick all of those boxes, and as I prepare this to go to press, the news is looking good. The Immigration Minister, David Coleman, has taken a personal interest in the family’s case and overturned the Department’s decision.

The question as to whether that decision was humanitarian or economic is a mote one for the Manikams, but it should still be of interest to the wider Australian community.

The Department was short-sighted enough to suggest that we couldn’t afford to keep Raj Manikam and his family here in Australia.

A better question might have been, could we afford to lose them?

Craig Buchanan is a former Liberal candidate for the federal seat of Brand and now serves on the State Executive of the Liberal Democrats WA.

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