It happens at every federal election – the parties target immigration throughout their respective campaigns and wield their policy as a cure for all ills.  And true enough, migration policy remains a cog in the propaganda puzzle, however, it often seems like the parties’ policies are indistinguishable as they both centre around the adage of ‘Australian interests first’ followed by hazy (and often underwhelming) details on the policies they would like to see come into fruition if they were bestowed power from the people.

Following Scott Morrison’s surprising majority government win, we wonder what the former immigration minister’s term will mean for the Australian migration program.

Morrison vs Shorten – The Dialogue on Migration

The political race over the last year has been a contentious one with Labor initially being the front runner following yet another episode of ‘who wants to be Prime Minister?.’  The Coalition’s revolving hot seat with Scott Morrison replacing Malcolm Turnbull in August last year finally gave the party some stability heading into the election.  The homestretch saw the two parties coming to a head and the Coalition edging out Labor, which has been largely attributed to the United Australia Party’s scare campaign.

That said, it was interesting to observe the makeup of each representative’s political agenda throughout the election.  Both Morrison and Shorten had similar viewpoints on the current migration climate in Australia; this being the less is more approach and relieving Australia’s metropolitan areas of the current burden.  But their voices, dialogue and approach on the matter were quite distinct.

Shorten for the most part was coarse in his campaigns and discussions related to skilled migrants and associated visas.  His take on the issue of overpopulated suburbia was confused with issues related to terror and extremists and he began to cross the murky waters of generalisation and stereotypes with a touch of xenophobia;

“The standard you walk past is the standard you accept. So I repeat, as leader of the Labor Party, one of the two parties who can form a government in this country, dog whistling about immigration and asylum needs to stop, and it needs to stop because the crazies, the extremists, they take comfort when there is approval given to go down this slippery path of staring to bag immigration.”
– Bill Shorten

Morrison on the other hand was more conservative yet to the point of the matter and acknowledged what current migration conditions means for cities like Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane having already reduced the cap on migration intake from 190,000 places to 160,000 places and tightened work rules for skilled visa holders.  All of this was not done in vain, but to begin addressing the overpopulation issue and the tension on current infrastructure and transport in metropolitan regions across Australia.

Despite viewing economic migration as a contributor to overpopulation, Shorten has shown sympathy for the current conditions surrounding parent visas which the Labor party has labelled as ‘heartless, callous and cruel’ with reference to the exuberant costs, the annual cap and the strict requirements.

Liberals’ temporary sponsored parent visa comes at a cost of $5,000 for a three year visa and $10,000 for a five year visa.  Only one set of parents can be sponsored at any one time and there is a limited cap of 15,000 approvals annually.

Labor has proposed a 2.0 version which is fairer, more affordable for families and reasonable in requirements.  Under this version, costs will be cut to just one-fourth of the current fees, there will be no annual cap and parents can renew their visa onshore.

Morrison Wins – What’s Next?

Morrison’s policies on immigration can be best described as a ‘two for one deal’ or a ‘two birds one stone’ type scheme.

“Managing population growth isn’t just about the migration intake. It’s about infrastructure, it’s about city and regional deals, it’s about congestion busting projects, removing traffic bottlenecks, it’s about funding the essential services Australians rely on and providing key skills to rural and regional area.”
– Scott Morrison

For Morrison, it is clear that immigration is both the source and the tool for the current overpopulation qualm, infrastructure tension and city congestion.  And so, the policies that we will see from the Morrison government will focus on sustainable population growth via population displacement.  This is something we have talked about in our post ‘How to Plan a Population’.

On 16 November 2019 the Liberal government will welcome two new regional visas – the subclass 491 and 494 which are replacements for the existing 187 and 489 visa subclasses.  The purpose of these visas is to support population growth in regional communities, enhance regional economic development and help regional communities to grow.  The new regional visas will allow skilled migrants to live and work in regional Australia for five years with the option to be eligible for permanent residency proceeding after three years of living and working in the respective regional area.

On consideration of the new visa, we did ponder the degree to which it could be exploited – what are the chances that an individual will come through a regional visa pathway (an easier alternative to the subclass 482), work until they are granted PR and proceed to move to one of the metropolitan cities?  On the other hand, is this why the length of time to PR is so lengthy?

We also postulated that by the five year mark individuals may be settled in the regional area with their families, their children possibly in school and may not consider leaving after PR is granted (if statistics ever capture this, it will be a huge win for the Government).  Regardless, mobility is the new norm and  five years isn’t such a lengthy time to deter people from moving from regional to metropolitan centres, especially if they may have been offered a better job with a better salary or, for a more simple reason, just really want to move there.

Another issue with the two regional visas is demand.  The latest statistics show that demand for regional visas (the current 187 employer sponsored visa) has fallen from 10,198 places in 2016/17 to 6221 places in 2017/18, a 39 per cent drop.

One has to wonder, is this the result of a lack of work in regional areas or simply because it is a regional area that lacks infrastructure and transport and is thus less attractive as a place to live and work. For Morrison, this seems to be the catch 22 he is currently facing and how the new regional visas will target this issue will be an interesting unfolding of events, one which we will be sure to keep you updated on.

Our Final Thoughts

Time and time again, we find ourselves at the precipice of huge change which is seemingly never ending.  Where exactly is Australia headed?  And how does migration fit into that trajectory?  Ultimately, the answer is always somewhere in the middle.  The beauty of a bipartisan system is that we can essentially lean left and right and land somewhere called consensus.