Workforce ‘Needs More Migrants’

Sarah Smiles, The Age (Melbourne), February 6, 2008

AUSTRALIA has to increase immigration to meet future labour force demands, two academics have warned.

Against the backdrop of an ageing population and predicted economic growth, their paper estimates that 227,000 migrants will be needed annually by 2021.

Written by leading demographer Peter McDonald and economist Glenn Withers, the paper warns that Australia is unprepared for labour market demands. It calls on the Government to establish an independent inquiry into how immigration can meet those demands.

The paper, Population and Australia’s Future Labour Force, says the demand for unskilled labour should be tackled, arguing that a tightly administered guest worker scheme be considered to allow Pacific islanders to fill low-skilled jobs where there are shortages.

A record 177,600 people settled in Australia in the past financial year.

The paper predicts the resources boom and investment in new facilities will increase pressure for immigration. Demand for skilled workers in mining, transport and communications will increase as baby boomers retire. “In the next 20 years, the only potential sources of increases in labour supply are increased labour force participation rates and immigration,” it says.

The paper highlights labour shortages in hospitality and primary industry. It says caps on unskilled migration should stay, but a modest scheme that allows Pacific islanders and East Timorese to fill low-skilled jobs could enhance development in the Pacific through an exchange of remittances and skills.

“A new Pacific Compact could now replace the Pacific Solution used by the former coalition government, whereby island nations are paid to provide refugee processing service support for Australia,” it says.

The paper was released by the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia. South Australia has begun an aggressive advertising campaign in Britain to attract immigrants.

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