Labor’s job growth via mass migration
Jobs and Skills Summit another missed opportunity for introspection
1 September 2022
This week’s Jobs and Skills Summit in Canberra is ostensibly a moment of real political import.
Echoing Bob Hawke’s effort of the early 1980s – which brought government, unions, and business together and foreshadowed the major reforms of the era – the 2022 version seeks much the same.
This time, a group of 100 or so leaders from business, government and non-government sectors are being brought together ‘to address our shared economic challenges’ and to ‘recommend immediate actions and opportunities for medium and long-term reform’.
It’s an event that is highly portentous and one which Anthony Albanese and the ALP will use to burnish their reformist credentials. Further echoing the Hawke-Keating era, the summit will strengthen sentiments that long-time Albanese friend and Victorian Premier Dan Andrews advanced in his claim that ‘only Labor governments get on and build’.
The truth of such matters aside, certain things appear preordained.
It is a number that is momentous in itself, and as Judith Sloan has observed, could mean up to 400,000 extra bodies in Australia a year when added to our temporary intake. The vast majority of these will reside in our cities thus reinstating the congestion and chaos that characterised Australian urban life prior to the pandemic.
Immigration is not only a valid issue in itself, but a key plank in what is a broader left-liberal platform. That is: gay marriage, multiculturalism, and four-year-olds being farmed out to the state.
Indeed, even to politely critique these notions or to suggest that things of value lie outside this left-liberal purview is to be seen as suspect and to indicate that one has, to invoke the American metaphors, drunk too much of the Kool-Aid.
Our reliance on ‘lazy growth’ is redolent of remarks made by Donald Horne in the 1960s about Australia being a ‘Lucky Country’ that is ‘run by second-rate people who share its luck’. Yet instead of the dependence on mining and agriculture, to which Horne referred, all our new elites now seem to do is to open the immigration spigot in lieu of engaging in any actual reform.
Indeed, it’s hardly an exaggeration to say that the Australian project has recently revolved around using immigration as a political ‘catch-all’ as it keeps kicking the reform can down the road for future generations.
For one, our entire immigration project has been bipartisan and elite-led for decades. And in contrast to the common view of immigration as a leftist concern, it’s one that has been overseen by the nominal right: with that ostensible arch-conservative, John Howard, responsible for the doubling of our immigration intake.
Yet to give the migration advocates their due, there are sectors of the economy – such as aged care and agriculture – where shortages exist. Moreover, a growing economy provides an easy solution to a range of problems: it gives us a greater overall GDP; enhanced profits to select sectors, like construction and universities; and further job options in the labour market. This is why it’s continually advocated by a political class with few alternatives and why our population has boomed despite below-replacement fertility rates.
The whole Big Australia movement is emblematic of our lack of vision and myopic focus on growth as our sole political panacea. It’s also a stance that takes a narrow view of human beings. Under this dispensation, we are all merely interchangeable economic units: with considerations of nature, culture and religion either marginalised or ignored.
In this light, the Jobs and Skills Summit appears to be a continuation of the status quo and a missed opportunity for reform.
Most importantly, our insistence on immigration doesn’t resolve our deeper demographic dilemmas. Indeed, a trite but true observation is that one reason we have a ‘skills shortage’ among young, working-age Australians is that we have a shortage of youth and working-age people tout court.
As Australia’s age profile shows, we have gone from a situation in 1960 where 1 in 3 Australians were children, two-thirds or so of us were working-age, and only 8 per cent were elderly, to the current state where less than a fifth are children, the amount of elderly has doubled, and where the working-age population is kept afloat by immigration.
These figures are of course part of broader currents. With Australia, for instance, not seeing replacement-level fertility rates for almost 50 years. Shrinking fertility rates is a trend occurring globally brought about by a range of factors such as urbanisation, education, birth control, and liberalism.
This whole episode of modern politics is illustrative of the West’s social schizophrenia. On the one hand, we insist upon socio-economic liberalism as our default setting, yet we turn to the outside world with the other to provide us with our workforce and economic dynamism.
Indeed, in a non-globalised era, the limitations of our outlook would have been much more brutally apparent: we would have simply shrunk or been replaced by another people – with an inability to perpetuate yourself perhaps the starkest signal yet of the failings of your political order.
With the social liberalism unleashed by the 1960s and the economic liberalism of the 1980s now seeming to have run their course, what we are seeing, is, as Aris Roussinos notes: ‘The collapse of [our] chosen model.’ We are witness to the last throes in ‘the death spiral of the world created after the 1970s’.
It’s clear then that the Jobs and Skills Summit is shaping to be little more than a continuation of the failed status quo.
Clearly, what we require is deeper ideological and structural reform: with an Orban-like posture needed to enhance local natality, lessen our immigration dependency, and to restore national unity. Until then, however, all it looks like we’ll do is import our way back to solvency and kick the reform can down the road for yet another generation.