Business SA: Migrants a must for growth in South Australia


AUSTRALIA has always been a country which has thrived on migration, helping boost our skilled workforce, arguably increasing our intellect, and bringing waves of culture which have enriched our lives.

Who doesn’t love a good Indian curry, a lamb yiros, or — as a Canadian — poutine?

We are a nation built on migration, and South Australia needs skilled migrants more than most states. SA’s population sits around 7 per cent of the national share.

Since September 2002, we’ve had more people leaving to go interstate than coming — that’s 15 years of some of our youngest and brightest minds pursuing opportunities elsewhere in Australia.

Between June 2012 and March this year, our population only grew by around 4 per cent, well below the national average of 7 per cent. The numbers were bleak, with an average of 6846 local births per year compared to an average annual interstate loss of 4148 people. If it wasn’t for overseas migrants, SA would be standing still.

Our population is ageing faster than most states — our median age sits at 40; two years older than any other mainland median. That figure has risen from 37.9 years in 2002.

MIGRATION MATTERS: Business SA’s Anthony Penney.
Camera IconMIGRATION MATTERS: Business SA’s Anthony Penney.Picture: Supplied

Overseas migration is already a primary driver of our population. Population growth stimulates the economy. More skilled migrants means more people working and paying taxes, extra houses rented or built, cars bought, cafes and hotels filled, and retailers selling more goods.

Migrants stealing jobs is a myth — consistent research shows migration fuels economic growth; our GDP per capita increases the more migrants we receive. Plus they impart skills and experience on the domestic workforce.

Changes recently implemented by the Federal Government, and others proposed, however, are making it more difficult for migrants to settle in SA.

Current migration policies favour the eastern states and let down regional areas — it’s fair to say an accountant or electronic engineer is more likely to head to Sydney or Melbourne for work because of better employment opportunities.

International students will also be affected, because graduates will no longer move directly into work without three years of experience. Fewer students will come to SA, yet we know that for every three international students employed, one additional job is generated.

Regional employers currently pay migrants local market rates, which the Federal Government is considering changing to a national minimum migrant wage. This would significantly disadvantage regional employers, who would struggle to match wage standards benchmarked against the eastern states.

The Federal Government must encourage migrants to move away from the gateway cities. Retaining flexible wages would help.

If SA wants to grow, facilitating changes to regional migration policies to make the state more attractive would help.

We need more skilled international workers, and we need the Federal Government to recognise skilled migration benefits the whole country, and not just the east coast.

Anthony Penney is executive director of industry and government engagement at Business SA

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