889,722 people in one year coming into a country with a total population of not much more than 20 million sure is one heck of an influx. No wonder even a Leftist government is beginning to show concern
AUSTRALIA'S immigration policy is set for an overhaul amid concerns that it is failing to meet the nation's long-term needs, with a record influx of more than 600,000 temporary residents adding to the strain of a growing population. In a significant shift, Immigration Minister Chris Evans told The Age that cabinet had approved the development of a five to 10-year plan that would consider the types of migrants that Australia needed, where they should settle, and the extra need for housing, transport, water and other resources to accommodate more people.
New figures to be released today show that Australia's official migration program recorded an intake of 171,318 permanent migrants in 2008-09. When the 13,500 refugees and the 47,780 New Zealanders who settled permanently in Australia are included, the migration program saw 232,598 people arriving in the past year, a 12.8 per cent leap from the previous year's record high of 219,098 people. But according to figures obtained by The Age, a further 657,124 temporary migrants with the right to work arrived in Australia during the past year. The 11 per cent surge in temporary migrants was fuelled by big increases in foreign students (up 15 per cent to 320,368) and working holiday visas (up 22 per cent to 154,148). This compensated for a 9 per cent drop in 457 visas - an employer-sponsored visa for temporary skilled labour introduced in 1995 - to 101,280.
The surge in temporary migrants with a right to work has created an unprecedented, unplanned migration wave. Senator Evans said Australia needed a rational immigration debate, beyond the hysteria about the few hundred boat people who arrive each year. ''The annual figure this year [for skilled permanent migration] was, say, 115,000, but more than 500,000 came into the country. They came in as students, temporary workers, working holidaymakers … but the public still focuses on the 115,000 as if it's got anything to do with reality and my attempts to have a more sophisticated debate about this have totally failed.''
Senator Evans said immigration should be the nation's labour agency, meaning a continued high intake of migrants, especially younger, skilled workers. But the desires of migrants - including overseas students who came in on temporary visas in order to gain permanent residency - should not be driving Australia's immigration policy.
Decisions about who came to Australia would be increasingly left to employers although, conversely, Australia would also be competing for the most highly skilled migrants. Senator Evans said to do that successfully the impacts of record high immigration on our liveability had to be tackled. ''In Australia we've got this sense of, 'Well, we're the lucky country' and … people will naturally come here, and that's still true to an extent. But other countries … are increasingly marketing themselves too.''
He said immigration policy would remain non-discriminatory and that Australia's Muslim communities posed no fundamental threat - despite the arrest of five Melbourne men on terrorism charges, three from Somalia and two from Lebanon. ''I don't want to downplay terrorism … It is a serious public policy challenge that has to be tackled … But there's also been this slightly irrational fear and debate about people who arrive unauthorised as possibly posing some sort of threat.''
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