It is over 2 ½ years since the WA Labor Party won the 2017 election. And there policy agenda has left many West Australian’s dissapointed. In particular the McGowan government’s employment and immigration policies are a cause for concern. The government’s policy direction in 2017 did make a significant difference by lowering State migration nominations in there first 6 months in office. But the evidence suggests the initial intentions where good but the commitment has withered away. So how are the McGovern government policies fairing in late 2019?

After 2 ½ years in government the WA Labor government’s performance on unemployment is dismal.

The latest release from the ABS reveals that West Australia’s unemployment is still trending high 83,800 people looking for work at August 2019, rate 5.8%. In March 2017 when the Labor government took office there where 83,500 West Aussies looking for work.[1] The fact that under the McGowan government’s term in office, high unemployment has not reduced over that period represents a dismal failure in government policy. But what about West Australia’s youth (15-24) hoping to make a fresh start as they transition from school or college to the workplace? There are over 30,000 young West Aussies looking for work the unemployment rate up from 12.4% in July to 14.3% in August 2019 (see Figure 1 below). The 4-month moving average (black line in Figure 1) displays the youth unemployment trend since the McGowan government where elected. And reveals the longer term trends have not dropped below a 12 % unemployment rate.

(Source: ABS, 2019.[2])

The policy failures.

It is unacceptable the McGowan government have not addressed this real social problem in Western Australia. The impacts of persistent unemployment on youth groups in particular can be long lasting. Research has revealed Poor employment outcomes can result in so-called ‘scarring’ effects, which can be persistent, affecting lifetime earnings, particularly if they occur early in a person’s career and when labour markets are slack.[3]

Has the McGowan government made matters worse by opening up State migration to another 209 occupations in late 2018 – predominantly targeting foreign students/workers to apply for State nominated visas? And the government are funding this as well ($4.5 million of taxpayers funds to StudyPerth) a representative organisation of WA’s universities whose roles it is to fast-track foreign students in from overseas.[4] This is a remarkable case of ignoring the impacts of immigration on West Australia’s own unemployed people. West Australian’s now face a stiffer challenge to get back to work as WA’s net overseas migration makes a rapid move upwards increasing by 42.7% for the year ending March 2019 and population growth rising to 26,000.[5]

It is little wonder therefore that the youth unemployment is stuck on very high rates. Commonwealth government research identified this in 2016: “where economic conditions are weak, existing inhabitants with low skill levels and aged 15–24 (youth) are at greatest risk of displacement as their labour is more easily substituted for immigrant labour”.[6]

A lost opportunity to change State migration for the benefit of Western Australian’s.

The policy direction of the State Labor government suggests they are taking no notice of research and robust evidence highlighting the link between immigration and youth unemployment. But even more baffling is there current migration policy contradicts the migration policies they where elected on in 2017 by WA voters. For example, pre-election Mr McGowan promised voters if elected there would be an immediate slashing of the overseas migration list. This was trumpeted by the Premier as being more in tune with the West Australian public and a responsible policy move: “Our policy will ensure that, whenever possible, Western Australians will be given first preference on WA jobs. It doesn’t make sense to fast-track workers from overseas when there are unemployed Western Australians who are capable of doing the work”.[7] Where has all those good policy intentions gone? Unemployment levels have not changed since the McGowan government took office, yet they have added an additional 200 plus occupations to the overseas migration list.


[1] Australian Bureau of Statistics, ‘6202.0 – Labour Force, Australia, Aug 2019’, 2019 <> [accessed 28 September 2019].

[2] Australian Bureau of Statistics, ‘6202.0 – Labour Force, Australia, Aug 2019’.

[3] Australian Government Productivity Commission, ‘Migrant Intake into Australia – Productivity Commission Inquiry Report’, 2016 <> [accessed 23 February 2019].

[4] Government of Western Australia, ‘Media Statements – State Budget Boost to Secure More International Students to Perth’, 2019 <> [accessed 2 June 2019].

[5] Australian Bureau of Statistics, ‘3101.0 – Australian Demographic Statistics, Sep 2018’, 2019 <> [accessed 21 March 2019].

[6] Australian Government Productivity Commission.

[7] Dylan Caporn, ‘WA Slashes Jobs on Skilled Migration List’, The West Australian, 2017 <> [accessed 2 January 2019].

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