Thursday 07 Oct 2021 | 18:27 | SYDNEY
Thursday 07 Oct 2021 | 18:27 | SYDNEY

Migration talk fills the policy vacuum


Mark Thirlwell

3 August 2010 09:52

As a member of a group the ABS calls 'overseas-born Australians', I'm always interested in the latest data on migration. According to last week's report, the overseas-born accounted for 27% — a bit more than 1 in 4 – of the total resident population as of end June 2009. According to the ABS, that's the highest share for more than a century:

As well as being part of that 1-in-4 group, I'm also part of another group – this time a 1-in-5. Of overseas-born residents, persons born in the UK (like me) make up the largest sub-group, accounting for about 1-in-5 of total overseas born residents, or 5.4% of Australia's total population. Persons born in New Zealand account for 2.4% of the population, followed by China (1.6%), and India (1.4%).

It's interesting to note that, as the chart shows, while UK-born residents still account for the biggest group of overseas-born Australians, 'our' share has been sliding since 1999. This is in contrast to the steady increase in people born in New Zealand, China and India.

As a member of the 1-in-4 and 1-in-5, it's probably not going to be any surprise that I'm finding the pre-election debate on migration pretty depressing. 

There are a range of reasons for feeling this way, but perhaps the most depressing is the way migration policy is now being used as a response to policy failures elsewhere. It seems that failing to deliver good infrastructure to urban-dwellers, failing to get the housing market right, and failing to deliver appropriate policies on sustainability are all to be dealt with by migration policy. In each of these cases, this is not just about an apparent inability to deliver what should be the first best policy solution. It's also about an inability to deliver a second, or even third best policy as well. 

Actually, that's not just depressing. It's worrying.