Pressure continues to mount on the Federal Coalition to make significant cuts to the permanent migration program and to reform the overseas students visa program. Those two migration programs are propelling Australia’s population growth beyond manageable levels. Over the past year Australians have seen their share of the nation’s wealth get worse with GDP per person falling to (-0.2%) for the year ending June 2019.[1] Australia’s population growth rate remains very high compared to other advanced countries at 1.5% for the year ending June 2019. The population increased by 381,600 people with net overseas migration (NOM) at 62.5% the major source of Australia’s high population rates.[2]

Australia has the fifth highest population growth rate (1.5%) among OECD member countries.[3] This is more than double the population growth rates of the UK and the USA.[4] However, GDP per capita is still slipping in Australia along with our quality of life. Clearly rapid population growth is not having the positive impacts on Australian’s standard of living that the politicians in Canberra would have us believe.

The McGowan Labor government will be satisfied that their huge expansion of the State migration list has produced a significant upswing in overseas migrant workers and student arrivals in West Australia. The population growth rate increased to 1.1% with another 27,500 people added to the State’s population. West Australia’s NOM increased by 32% on the previous year and reached its highest net overseas migration figure since 2013-14. Net overseas migration has picked up speed and surged ahead of natural increases in the State’s population growth figures. [5]

Foreign Students in Western Australia.

Foreign students made a significant impact on recent NOM figures. Higher education commencements are up by 19.7% for the year ending October 2019, compared to the previous year. Interestingly Foreign students commencing in English Language Intensive Training Courses was up 7% on the previous year. [6] Which begs the question if thousands of foreign students arriving in West Australia require intensive English spelling, reading and writing courses. How is the West Australian public supposed to trust the McGowan government migration polices are getting good results for West Australia? According to the Premier the Graduate migration list is meant to, “attract the best global talent with the advanced qualifications, skills and experience and help grow Western Australia”.[7] And yet 6,500 foreign students studying in West Australia need to enrol in intensive English courses to learn Basic English?

In late 2019 the McGowan labor government made a submission to a Federal inquiry into migration in regional Australia.[8] It was puzzling to find out that the McGowan government (at a time of high unemployment in Western Australia) where actually pleading with the Federal government to open up Greater Perth to mass immigration and nominate it as a regional city under Federal migration policy.[9] Lets not forget the Premier and his Minister’s had spent the most part of 2017 articulating the risk of mass immigration on the State’s unemployed. In a number of statements for example, “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”, and “On day one in office, we ripped up the out-dated skilled migration list and delivered our commitment to keep WA jobs in WA”.[10]

The McGowan Government’s migration policies 2017-2020.

The McGowan government increased it migration program first by developing an Overseas Graduate stream in 2018, with more than 200 occupations. Second by classifying Perth as a regional city enabling overseas migrants to access over 500 plus positions on the regional occupation list. Third the Graduate Stream has been extended to include vocational education and training (VET) graduates who complete a qualification in Western Australia at Certificate III level or above.[11] With all those policies targeted at rapidly increasing the State’s population these are beginning to filter through with the growth rate increasing to 1.1%. There has been considerable pressure on the State labor government to open up the migration policy from Property groups such as Real Estate Institute West Australia.[12] And To have Perth reinstated as a regional city for over 500 migrant occupations to crowd into Perth and compete with local workers in Perth’s tight Labour market. Taking policy guidance from vested interest property groups is no way to run migration policy for the benefit of Perth’s wider community.

As we move into 2020, looking back on the McGowan government record on migration policy. It is reasonable to conclude that the constant stream of media statements about looking after the State’s unemployed and initial policy actions which culled West Australia’s overseas migration occupation list in 2017 and taking Perth out of regional city status for overseas visas. In this context the Labor government had marketed there brand as much more responsible about dealing with the State’s unemployed and taking notice of public concerns with the huge migration intake. Whereas the outgoing Barnett Coalition government totally ignored these public concerns during there time in office. The Labor government where aware that West Australians where weary of hyper immigration fuelled population growth. Greater Perth had added nearly 450,000 people in the space of 10 years (nearly 30% growth in population between 2006-16).[13] West Australia grew by more than half a million people and had the highest population growth compared to all other states and territories. This was a radical new experiment in mass immigration overseen by the Liberal Coalition with Colin Barnett in charge. West Australian’s had not experienced this scale and speed of hyper immigration and population growth in previous decades.

The McGowan government’s big U-turn in migration policy is well underway and is now heading in the same direction as the previous Coalition government’s migration policies. The regional occupation list is currently 500 plus. Add the Graduate stream occupations, which in total amounts to over 700 occupations overseas students and temporary visa workers are eligible to apply for permanent residency. Ensuring a significant rise in worker competition with the domestic workforce for local jobs (foreign students are also temporary visa workers 20 hours per week during study periods and unlimited hours during study breaks).

But there is another problem in addition to these foreign student 500 subclass holders, West Australian’s unemployed also have to compete with Temporary Graduate 485 visa holders. This high demand visa allows foreign students a longer stay in Australia (after they complete undergraduate study) up to 8 years and work as many hours as they can get and in any occupation they choose. And no requirement to apply for work related to their course of study and qualifications. Astonishingly, dependents and secondary applicants are able to work and study under the primary applicant’s 485 visa.[14] This leaves the local unemployed a heck of a lot more unnecessary competition to get into the workforce competing with a growing number of foreign students (primary and secondary visa holders). Is this fair on West Australia’s unemployed citizens?

What happened to the McGowan government commitments to put West Australian’s first in the job queue?

The State Labor government’s record on looking after the local workforce is abysmal. In March 2017 the McGowan government where elected and unemployment was high with 83,500 West Australian’s looking for work. By November 2019 the number of West Australia’s looking for work was 83,400 (trend data) and the unemployment rate remained high at 5.8% increasing from 5.7% in October 2019.[15] While the McGowan government have achieved their migration goal to bring in more overseas students and temporary visa workers. I don’t think West Australia’s unemployed will be amused that the McGowan government’s migration policies has made it harder for them to find work.


[1] Australian Bureau of Statistics, ‘5206.0 – Australian National Accounts: NationalIncome, Expenditure and Product, Jun 2019’, 2019<> [accessed 27 November 2019].

[2] Australian Bureau of Statistics, ‘3101.0 – Australian Demographic Statistics, Jun 2019’, 2019 <> [accessed 19 December 2019].

[3] Australian Bureau of Statistics, ‘3101.0 – Australian Demographic Statistics, Jun 2019’.

[4] The World Bank, ‘Population Growth (Annual %) – OECD Members | Data’, 2019 <> [accessed 29 November 2019].

[5] Australian Bureau of Statistics, ‘3101.0 – Australian Demographic Statistics, Jun 2019’.

[6] Australian Government Department of Education, ‘International Student Data’, 2019 <> [accessed 7 December 2019].

[7] Government of Western Australia, ‘Media Statements – WA to Attract Best and Brightest International Students’, 2018 <> [accessed 23 December 2018].

[8] Parliament of Australia, ‘Inquiry into Migration in Regional Australia’, 2019 <> [accessed 21 December 2019].

[9] Parliament of Australia.

[10] Government of West Australia, ‘Media Statements – McGowan Government Delivers Commitment to Prioritise WA Workers’, 2017 <> [accessed 1 November 2019].

[11] Government of West Australia, ‘Migration WA – Changes to Graduate Stream’, 2019 <> [accessed 31 October 2019].

[12] Real Estate Institute of Western Australia, ‘Perth Reinstated as a Regional City in a Bid to Boost Population’, 2019 <> [accessed 31 December 2019].

[13] Australian Bureau of Statistics, ‘3218.0 – Regional Population Growth, Australia, 2016’, 2017 <> [accessed 14 April 2019].

[14] Australian Government Department of Home Affairs, ‘Student Visa and Temporary Graduate Visa Program Report at 30 June 2019’, 2019 <> [accessed 28 September 2019].

[15] Australian Bureau of Statistics, ‘6202.0 – Labour Force, Australia, Nov 2019’, 2019 <> [accessed 31 December 2019].

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