POST 17: UPDATE ON WEST AUSTRALIA LABOR GOVERNMENT’S MIGRATION POLICY (NOVEMBER 2019).

Premier McGowan and his election promises.

Remember how Mark McGowan went about winning many votes from a West Australian public: totally over the many negative impacts of the State’s huge immigration driven population growth (over half a million people between 2006-2016). Mr McGowan in 2017 “One of my first acts as Premier of Western Australia was to write to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to request that Perth be removed from the Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme (RSMS). This is an important election commitment that we’ve moved quickly to deliver…our policy will ensure that, whenever possible, Western Australians will be given first preference on WA jobs”.[1] Was this nothing more than a political ploy to get West Australian voters onside?

The evidence demonstrates the WA Labor government used the McGowan rhetoric as an election ploy.

In just over 2 years The McGowan government have reversed their election promises and requested the Federal government reinstate RSMS visas for foreign workers to gain employment in the Metropolitan region starting from November 2019. Going back on there commitment to give West Australian’s preference for local jobs. This must rank as a knee jerk response to pressure from West Australia’s powerful vested interest groups, which are demanding another period of high growth in foreign worker arrivals. Yet there are no signs of any improvements in the fortunes of West Australia’s unemployed. For example the underutilisation rate (the sum of the number of people unemployed and the number of people in underemployment) has increased to 15.4% trend for September 2019.[2] Representing a constant increase over the past 5 months.[3]

The McGowan government’s response to the State’s growing underutilisation rate is to push the immigration lever even harder to let in more foreign workers. In his media statement the Premier states that the WA Labor government request to reinstate Perth as a regional city for overseas visas will help create more local jobs.[4] How this is going to happen in any practical way is not made clear. The Premier’s media statement implies that re-classifying Perth, as a regional city is solely to attract foreign students with working visas.[5] However there is growing concern that the State Labor government are engaged in drip-feeding information on overseas migration to the WA public. The Premier did not mention that reinstating Perth as a regional city means the number of regional visas now on offer is far greater than the 200 plus state nominated visas under the foreign graduate stream. And there was no mention by the Premier of the loosening of their graduate stream from December 2019. The stream will be extended to include vocational education and training graduates who complete a qualification in Western Australia at Certificate III level or above.[6]

Welcome to the regional city of Perth an additional 500 plus occupations for foreign workers from November 2019: Courtesy of the McGowan government.

In fact there are two new regional provisional visas created by the Federal government and based on the current regional occupation list there will be a huge increase of 527 occupations available for foreign workers to access in Perth from November 2019 onwards.[7] It is little wonder that the McGowan government choose to holdback information on the regional occupation list? The demand for the new regional provisional visas will be intense. Because they are a distinct improvement on the visas they replace. The Employer Sponsored Regional (Provisional) visa will replace the existing Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme visa. And the subclass 491 (Skilled Work Regional (Provisional) visa, will replace the existing 489 visa. This one is for people sponsored by a state or territory government, or an eligible family member. The major difference is that the holders of these regional visas have the same access to welfare payments and government services as permanent visa holders. And bare in mind these two visas are provisional temporary visas, which are uncapped. This is the first time in Australia that a temporary visa will have the same access to government services as a permanent visa.[8]

What are the Federal government’s real intentions with Australia’s migration program?

The decision by the Federal government to approve a Metropolitan region for regional visas goes against there own population policies laid out in Planning for Australia’s Future Population released in September 2019.[9] A major aim of the plan is to take take pressure off the big capitals, while supporting the growth of regions and smaller cities that want to grow faster. The Government’s new regional provisional visas are designed to support these efforts by encouraging more migrants to settle and remain in regional areas. These visas will enable skilled migrants to become established in regional communities and contribute to regional economies.[10] The Government therefore developed new regional visas capped at 25,000 places per year set aside for Australia’s regions and smaller cities.[11] However, this can be clearly altered on request by a State government and approved for major cities. So what is the point of the regional visa if it can be so easily applied to major cities?

The main point is that the new regional visas will help to maintain Australia’s very high population growth rates. Due to the fact that they can easily switched to major cities and therefore increase the visas attractiveness for foreign workers as is pointed out above it is an uncapped visa. In addition the new regional visas receive a much higher number of places in the permanent migration program. That is 25,000 of the 160,000 permanent places equates to 15.6 % of the migration program. Whereas the soon to be replaced regional sponsored migration scheme made up a much smaller component (6,221 visas) a mere 3.8% of the total migration program in 2017/18 (see Figure 1 below).

There is a strong probability the Greater Perth will be the major destination of choice for the majority of the new regional visas. This is because the demand for regional visas in Western Australia has been historically higher than all the other states going back over the past decade. In the graph below at the high point in 2012/13, Western Australia comprised the highest number of regional sponsored visas nearly 6,700 or one third of the total allocated. And this was because Perth was included as a regional city by a Federal labor government in 2011/12.[12]

Figure 9 – RSMS outcomes from 2008–09 to 2017-18.

(Source: Department of Home Affairs, 2018.[13])

References.

[1] Government of West Australia, ‘Media Statements – McGowan Government Delivers Commitment to Prioritise WA Workers’, 2017 <https://www.mediastatements.wa.gov.au/Pages/McGowan/2017/06/McGowan-Government-delivers-commitment-to-prioritise-WA-workers.aspx> [accessed 1 November 2019].

[2] Australian Bureau of Statistics, ‘6202.0 – Labour Force, Australia, Sep 2019’, 2019 <https://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/Latestproducts/6202.0Glossary1Sep%202019?opendocument&tabname=Notes&prodno=6202.0&issue=Sep%202019&num=&view=> [accessed 1 November 2019].

[3] Australian Bureau of Statistics.

[4] Government of West Australia, ‘Media Statements – Perth to Increase in Attractiveness for International Students’, 2019 <https://www.mediastatements.wa.gov.au/Pages/McGowan/2019/10/Joint-media-statement-Perth-to-increase-in-attractiveness-for-international-students.aspx> [accessed 2 November 2019].

[5] Government of West Australia, ‘Media Statements – Perth to Increase in Attractiveness for International Students’.

[6] Government of West Australia, ‘Migration WA – Changes to Graduate Stream’, 2019 <https://migration.wa.gov.au/services/skilled-migration-western-australia/changes-to-graduate-stream> [accessed 31 October 2019].

[7] Department of Home affairs Australia Government, ‘New Regional Visas’, 2019 <https://immi.homeaffairs.gov.au/what-we-do/regional-migration/news/new-regional-visas&gt; [accessed 27 September 2019].

[8] Harriet Spinks, ‘New Skilled Regional Visas (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2019’, 2019, 13.

[9] Australian Government, ‘A Plan for Australia’s Future Population | Prime Minister of Australia’, 2019 <https://www.pm.gov.au/media/plan-australias-future-population> [accessed 27 October 2019].

[10] Spinks.

[11] Rob Harris, ‘Government to Boost Number of Skilled Foreign Workers in Regions’, WAtoday, 2019 <https://www.watoday.com.au/politics/federal/government-to-boost-number-of-skilled-foreign-workers-in-regions-20191025-p534df.html> [accessed 26 October 2019].

[12] Department of Home Affairs, ‘2012–13 Migration Program Report Program Year to 30 June 2013’, 2013 <https://www.homeaffairs.gov.au/research-and-statistics/statistics/visa-statistics/live/migration-program> [accessed 2 November 2019].

[13] Australian Government Department of Home Affairs, ‘2017-18 Migration Program Report’, 2018 <https://www.homeaffairs.gov.au/research-and-statistics/statistics/visa-statistics/live/migration-program> [accessed 2 September 2019].

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