Posted on December 11, 2023

Voters Want Migration Intake Cut

David Crowe and Lisa Visentin, Sydney Morning Herald. December 10, 2023

A clear majority of Australians want the federal government to cut migration after a surge in arrivals since the pandemic, as the prime minister pledged to return the country’s overseas intake to sustainable levels in a landmark policy to overhaul the visa system.

In an exclusive survey, conducted for this masthead by Resolve Political Monitor, 62 per cent of voters said the migration intake is too high, while only 16 per cent of voters believe the government is running the migration program in a carefully planned and managed way.

Labor will on Monday unveil its long-awaited migration strategy, which will include measures to rein in overseas student numbers that have fuelled a record migration intake on track to surpass 500,000 this year. Among the changes will be stronger English language proficiency requirements for students.

The findings highlight the scale of public concern about the fiercely contested issue, and the challenge facing the government as it seeks to balance business demands for skilled workers with community anxiety about housing supply shortages and pressures on infrastructure and essential services.

Foreshadowing the government’s forthcoming plan, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese on Saturday committed to bringing migration back to “sustainable levels”, but declined to say what the government’s target figure for net overseas migration would be.

“We have a plan to fix migration by ensuring Australia can get the skilled workers that Australia needs, by putting an end to any abuse and any rorts,” Albanese said.

“The new migration strategy we’ll announce this week will bring migration back to sustainable levels.”

Albanese said treasury forecasts, which will be included in next week’s mid-year budget update, showed that migration is expected to decline substantially over the coming financial year.

He emphasised the need for major changes to the system in response to a review by former police commissioner Christine Nixon into illegal migration – including sex trafficking – and a “once-in-a-generation” review into the overall system led by former public service chief Martin Parkinson.

He said the latter had “found that it was a deliberate decision to neglect the system and that it was so badly broken, according to Parkinson, it required a 10-year rebuild. Well, we are determined to fix this”.

The Resolve survey also reveals a strong preference for bringing skilled workers into the country rather than students, as well as relatively low support for giving priority to refugees and asylum seekers.

Business groups have been urging the government to maintain a strong skilled migration intake to help fill hundreds of thousands of jobs in construction, health, housing, engineering and technology. The building industry has said it needs 480,000 new workers over the next three years, ranging from Australian apprentices to skilled foreign workers, to meet growing demand and replace older tradespeople as they leave the workforce.

Italian carpenter Giorgio Rocchi, 36, who arrived in Australia on a student visa seven years ago before transitioning to a temporary skill shortage visa, is one of many skilled migrants navigating the complex visa system in the hope of securing permanent residency.

“The process is really hard, and a lot of people give up. But there is a lot of work, and we don’t have enough people to work,” Rocchi, who is employed by Canberra construction company Pacific Formwork.

The migration overhaul comes as the government is under political pressure on border security after the release of non-citizens from indefinite detention – including six who have been arrested after their release – in response to a High Court ruling on November 8 that changed a key feature of migration law.

The Resolve survey found that 57 per cent of voters said the government was handling immigration in an “unplanned and unmanaged way” and only 16 per cent said it was carefully planned and managed, with 27 per cent undecided.

The May budget said net overseas migration would be 400,000 in the 2023 financial year and predicted this would fall to 315,000 in the 2024 financial year, but the actual numbers show the intake is ahead of the forecasts due to a surge in arrivals by students and temporary workers.

The annual intake over the year to September 30 was close to 500,000, said former immigration department deputy secretary Abul Rizvi, an independent commentator on the issue, although the official numbers are not due until next week.

“To get the net overseas migration down, the government must further tighten student policy and temporary graduate policy,” Rizvi said.

The survey told voters that migration exceeded 400,000 this year – using the more conservative number because the official figure is not yet known – and found that 62 per cent thought this was too high, 23 per cent believed it was about right and 3 per cent said it was too low, with the rest undecided.

The next question told respondents of the government estimate that net migration would fall to 260,000 each year in the coming years, as forecast in the May budget.

Only 25 per cent of voters said next year’s number was “about right” and 55 per cent said it was too high, with 5 per cent saying it was too low and the rest unsure.

Opposition migration spokesman Dan Tehan has accused the government of allowing too many people into the country, and cited figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics last month to predict this year’s net migration intake would exceed 500,000.

Tehan drew on the ABS numbers to blame Labor for the 664,178 overseas students who are in Australia, saying 306,259 of them had arrived since Labor formed government in May last year.

“Labor say they don’t want a big Australia but judge them by their actions, not their words,” Tehan said.

“Under Labor, Australia is experiencing record numbers of temporary visa holders, record

numbers of international students, record numbers of failed asylum seekers and more people on COVID work visas than during the COVID pandemic.”

The Resolve Political Monitor surveyed 1605 people from November 29 to December 3, producing results with a margin of error of 2.4 per cent.