The Australian Population Research Institute is an independent research organisation. It is devoted to understanding and communicating the nature of Australia’s demographic and economic situation and the policies and factors influencing this.
It is a not-for-profit Institute with no funding from corporate Australia. Its members are all participating researchers who contribute to the Institute’s work.
New research report, 26 November 2019
Bob Birrell and David McCloskey, Jobs and growth strategy: pathway to a low productivity economy
For Australia’s Coalition government, ‘jobs and growth’ is the catchphrase used to describe its claim to success as an economic manager. It bases this claim, in large part, on the remarkable expansion in employment growth of near 300,000 a year since 2016. It asserts that this outcome is attributable to its policies of budget thrift, its pro-business tax agenda and its commitment to economic reform. It also includes (though not publicly acknowledged) its policy of maintaining very high net overseas migration (NOM). This latter policy commitment is shared by the Treasury and the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) (though again not stated in the public arena).
The Coalition is struggling to maintain this ‘good manager’ status now that growth in the economy, in consumer expenditure and wages has slowed sharply. So has growth in labour productivity, that is, output per hour worked.
This report analyses these developments. It shows that Australia’s current economic growth is almost entirely attributable to increases in hours worked. The Coalition’s vaunted capacity as an economic manager has been reduced to dependence on extra work inputs, most of which are due to its high NOM policy.
In the case of the RBA, it has been carrying the heavy work of trying to kick-start the economy by aggressively reducing official interest rates. This policy has not worked.
It is not widely known that the RBA has recently admitted that the main reason for this failure is that Australia’s labour supply has been growing much faster than the RBA had predicted. This surge in supply, the RBA now states, ?has neutralised the stimulus effect of its interest rate cuts. It admits that such is the abundance of labour that employers have little incentive to increase wages.
The RBA, however, has not acknowledged that high NOM is the main source of this abundant labour supply. Nor has the Treasury. To do so would be to admit that the ‘jobs and growth’ strategy is part of the problem, rather than the solution to Australia’s current economic malaise.
This report argues that another bout of economic reform is unlikely to rectify the situation. This is because the impact of past Hawke/Keating reforms has been to destroy Australia’s manufacturing base. In the absence of targeted industry policy, further opening of the Australian economy to international competition will consolidate Australia’s dependence on its one area of comparative advantage, that is, its natural resource based commodities.
The conclusion is that it is foolish to load more and more people onto a domestic economy whose place in the global economy is dependent on this narrow commodity foundation.
Research report, 29 July 2019
Bob Birrell, Australia’s partner visa program: reform needed
Permanent residence visas issued to persons sponsored by an Australian resident for a partner visa make up 25 per cent of Australia’s permanent entry migration program. There were 47,825 issued in 2016-17 and 39,799 issued in 2017-18. In addition there is a huge backlog of pending applications. The Australian government is under pressure to clear this backlog and to withdraw its recent effort to more closely assess the bona-fides of these applications. If this happens the number of partner visas granted will increase rapidly.
The paper argues that this is because the partner visa is an attractive permanent residence option for the very large number of temporary migrants who are already in Australia and interested in finding a permanent entry pathway. It is also an attractive entry point for persons resident in non-western countries who have family and community connections in Australia who would like to move to Australia.
Analysis of who is obtaining a partner visa reveals that only a small fraction stem from boy meets girl international work and travel movements. About a third of the ?partner visas are issued to temporary migrants already in Australia who manage to find an Australian resident willing to sponsor them and another third to persons who connect to sponsors in Australia via chain migration links.
The main reason why so many persons manage to obtain a partner visa is that Australia has the softest rules on partner eligibility in the western world. ?These rules allow an Australian resident to sponsor a partner if just 18, unemployed, on a welfare benefit and still living at home. All that is required for a resident to sponsor someone on a partner visa is some (until recently) easily established evidence that the relationship between sponsor and prospective visa-holder is genuine.
?New blog post, 29 July 2019
Stephen Saunders, Why Treasury migration forecasts matter —and why they’re unconscionably high
Net migration is Treasury’s population lever. They adjust it without explanation or scrutiny and in the 21st century have more than doubled it. Their migration assumptions underpin their forecasts for GDP? growth and also feed the Australia’s active and self-interested growth lobby.
Research report, 10 May 2019
Bob Birrell, The 2019 election and the impending migrant parent deluge
Labor’s proposed new temporary visa for parents is extraordinarily generous. It will apply to all parents with children in Australia regardless of the children’s capacity to provide for their parents. There is no cap on the numbers. Nor is there any requirement that sponsors take on any financial obligation for the public services their parents receive.
Labor’s proposal is for a renewable five-year temporary visa. It is a de facto permanent entry visa, since no Australian government will force parents to return home after five to ten years of continuous residence here. It will eventually require the Australian taxpayer to assume the welfare and health costs of these elderly residents.
There is no parallel to Labor’s proposal in other western countries. All, even Canada, hedge parent migration by applying strict financial obligations on the sponsors.
This report explores the implications of the parent visa should it be implemented as implied by the limited information Labor has provided on the rules determining who is eligible. It could result in the issuance of some 200,000 parent visas in the next three years, should Labor win the 2019 federal election.
Research report, 22 April 2019
Bob Birrell, Overseas students are driving Australia’s Net Overseas Migration tide
There is widespread awareness that overseas students are a large and growing presence in Australia.
But few observers would know that by 2017-18 overseas students were the largest contributor to Australia’s very high level of Net Overseas Migration (NOM). According to Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) estimates, overseas students comprised 104,987 of the overall level of NOM of 236,733 in 2017-18. That’s 44 per cent of total NOM.
Nor would many observers be aware that, over the six years from 2011-12 to 2017-18, overseas students were by far the largest growth point in Australia’s NOM. Their contribution increased from 25,700 in 2011-12 to 104,987 in 2017-18.
In the absence of the increasing contribution of overseas students, Australia’s NOM would have declined to around 150,000.
The student share of NOM in 2017-18 of 104,987 was far greater than that attributable to movements of those holding permanent residence visas – which was 68,850 in 2017-18.
Yet almost all the recent debate about the size of NOM and the Coalition government’s proposals to deal with the scale of NOM has focussed on the permanent resident component. The Coalition plans to reduce the impact on Sydney and Melbourne by diverting some who obtain permanent visas to regional areas.
The far more important size of the overseas student component has barely rated a mention in this debate, either by the Australian government or commentators on the migration issue. Nor are many commentators aware that overseas students are by far the largest contributors to population growth in inner Sydney and Melbourne.
This report explores the factors that have helped bring about the student influx. It shows that it was mainly due to Australian government decisions beginning in 2011. These diluted the English language and financial requirements overseas students had to meet in order to obtain an overseas student visa. The purpose was to promote the overseas student industry.
The report examines the consequences of growth in the overseas student presence for the labour markets and for the congestion issues now afflicting Sydney and Melbourne.
Research report, 11 April 2019
Katharine Betts and Bob Birrell, Immigration, population growth and voters: who cares, and why?
The TAPRI national survey of 2029 Australian voters was run in October/November 2018.
It found that half or more of Australian voters reject the progressive agenda of continual population growth and ever-growing diversity. This is the agenda embraced by Australia’s cultural and political elites and by most graduates.
The survey shows that 50% of voters want immigration to be reduced, 72% say Australia does not need more people, 63% want Australia’s manufacturing industry protected by tariffs, 60% favour turning back all boats carrying asylum seekers, 56% think Australia is in danger of losing its culture and identity, and 47% support a partial ban on Muslim immigration.
A much greater share of non-graduates reject the progressive agenda than do graduates.
This pattern is also found among Brexit voters in the UK and Trump voters in the US.
Some theorists argue that this is because non-graduates are more likely to have been ‘left behind’ in an economic sense.
A few others, such as Eric Kaufmann in White Shift, argue that this is not the main cause. Rather, most dissenters feel threatened by huge recent increases in migrants from non-western cultural backgrounds.
They also resent the way in which the graduate class denigrates their concerns.
The TAPRI results affirm the cultural thesis.
For an overview of the results see Survey results TAPRI media release
Research report, 19 December 2018
Bob Birrell and Katharine Betts, Australia’s higher education overseas student industry revisited
The Department of Education and Training has recently released higher education enrolment statistics for 2017. These show a striking increase in the share of commencing overseas students to all commencing students for all Australian universities from 26.7 per cent in 2016 to 28.9 per cent in 2017. Growth in this share in the Group of Eight (Go8) universities has been particularly rapid with several reaching over 40 per cent of total commencing enrolments in 2017. This report details this expansion and discusses some of the implications. It concludes that university claims that increased enrolments of overseas student do not detract from domestic enrolments are not correct, especially in the case of the Go8 universities.
New research report, 21 November 2018
Bob Birrell and Katharine Betts, Australia’s higher education overseas student industry: in a precarious state
Since 2012 there has been a sharp and sustained increase in the number of overseas commencing students at Australian universities. The share of overseas student commencers to all commencing students increased from 21.8 per cent in 2012 to 26.7 per cent in 2016.
This increase was particularly marked at the Group of Eight (Go8) universities. At the University of Sydney this share increased from 22.8 per cent to 39.2 per cent between 2012 and 2016. Almost all of the Go8 increase came from Chinese students.
This report explores the factors shaping these enrolment successes and their consequences for the teaching and research activities in Australia’s universities.
It concludes that the overseas student industry is in a precarious state because of its high dependence on overseas-student fee revenue and because current enrolment levels are not secure.
New research report, 22 October 2018
David McCloskey, Downward economic mobility in Australia—A report on households and people who have experienced income decline from 2011 to 2016
After more than a quarter of a century of aggregate economic growth, research into the mood of Australians has found low levels of optimism. The Committee for the Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) commissioned research in 2018 which found that:
—Only 5% of Australians considered that they had benefited significantly from 26 years of continuous economic growth, and
—31% of survey respondents were finding it difficult to live on their current income.
The Productivity Commission has weighed into the debate on inequality. In August this year it concluded that sustained economic growth over the past 27 years had significantly improved living standards for average Australians in every income decile.
TAPRI’s new report has found a missing piece of the puzzle, a piece which helps explain community sentiment. It tracks the income of people over time, using? longitudinal Census data. Thus, rather than looking at averages or trends across groups, the new report looks at the same people over time, comparing incomes of the same people in 2011 and again in 2016. The results are surprising:
—In 2016 there were more than 5.92 million people in Australia living in households where household income had declined over the five years from 2011 to 2016.
—There were 3.34 million people who had had a decline in personal income over the five-year period (approximately 20% of all personal income earners in Australia).
When patterns of decline were analysed by age and sex (variables associated with lifestage events) the report found that these alone could not account for the extent of income decline for either people or households.
Further, income decline occurred across all occupations and industries and all geographic regions. (Queensland and West Australia, however, had higher proportions of income-earners experiencing income decline.)
This new report documents these patterns of declining economic mobility. It also provides a foundation for further research exploring factors that associated with these trends.
New blog post, 6 October 2018
Stephen Williams, Australia’s population ponzi scheme
New research report, 1 October 2018
Stephen Saunders, Why do we have a ‘big Australia’?
‘Big Australia’ means an inordinate appeal to high population growth in order to boost growth in aggregate GDP, and in so doing devaluing the environmental and social consequences. Why so, asks this report, and must it remain so?
The 2011 ‘Sustainable’ Population Strategy normalised John Howard’s post-2000 migration push. Our 21st century population growth, well above world or OECD norms, is now passed off as inevitable or ‘normal’.
In a 27-year GDP growth ‘miracle’, our population plan has exited the political contest and has been reduced to mechanical budget parameters. A pervasive growth lobby aligns ‘progressive’ voices with the three main political parties, Treasury, the Reserve Bank, states, and industry. The increasingly evident environmental and electoral concerns are brushed aside.
Big Australia boosts aggregate GDP, but the states routinely under-do the infrastructure and service requirements. Congested Sydney and Melbourne are absorbing the bulk of migrants and suffering severe housing unaffordability. Nonetheless they eagerly ‘plan’ for eight million apiece at the mid-century.
But Big Australia isn’t batting for wages and equality. Gains to the few (or older) look more assured than gains for the many (or younger). Nor is mass migration the ideal way to update our resources economy for an innovation economy.
We’ve disconnected from our carrying and servicing capacities. Our annual migration intake should revert to 80,000-90,000, aiming for a population growth rate under 1 per cent a year. This would reset us more towards a 30m population at 2050. To achieve this we might need an authentic, central, population ministry.
Research report, 3 July 2018
Bob Birrell and Ernest Healy, Immigration and the Housing Affordability Crisis in Sydney and Melbourne
House prices are higher in Sydney and Melbourne than in almost all other developed-nation cities with the result that most young households cannot afford to buy a detached house. Why? Part of the explanation is a combination of generous tax benefits to investors and upgrading home owners. This has prompted massive investment in dwellings, but mostly in established detached housing. This investment drives up prices without adding to supply.
However these investors and upgrading home owners are competing for detached housing with large numbers of young resident and migrant households. Tax advantages together with high levels of immigration-fuelled population growth have meant that there has been only one way prices could go; that is up.
The Greater Sydney Commission along with the Grattan Institute and the Reserve Bank (as well as most planners and commentators) assert that the solution to the affordability crisis is to abolish zoning constraints on medium-density housing in existing suburban areas.
They all ignore the migration factor. Yet net overseas migration (NOM) is responsible for about 64 per cent of Sydney’s household growth, and thus 64 per cent of Sydney’s growth in demand for dwellings, and 54 per cent of Melbourne’s.
This study indicates that the abolition of zoning constraints will not solve the affordability problem. This is because the price escalation for detached houses has simultaneously pushed up the site costs for potential new medium-density housing. The result is that developers cannot produce affordable family-friendly units or town houses on these sites.
In the recent past, in both Sydney and Melbourne, zoning constraints in established suburbia have been relaxed. However, the study shows that this has not led to significant increases in medium-density housing, for precisely this reason. We argue that a further relaxation of zoning rules will not work in the future.
The encouragement given by both the NSW and Victorian state governments to the construction of high-rise apartments has also not worked to solve the affordability crisis. This is despite the jump in the number of such apartments in both cities over the past few years. This supply has not solved the problem because apartments do not meet the needs of most new resident and migrant households, needs which are primarily for family friendly housing.
A cut back in migration has to be part of the solution to Sydney and Melbourne’s housing affordability crisis.
Research report, 8 May 2018
Katharine Betts, Immigration and public opinion in Australia: how public concerns about high migration are suppressed
In 2016 the Australian Election Study found that 42 per cent of voters wanted immigration to be reduced. By August 2017 The Australian Population Research Institute found that 54 per cent wanted lower immigration (and at an April 2018 Essential poll this had risen to 64 per cent).
This paper asks why political elites continue to ignore voters’ growing discontent. One answer is they ignore it because they can. Bipartisan support for continuing high migration from the Coalition and Labor parties means that there are no mainstream parties for unhappy voters to turn to.
A second answer lies with the belief among cultural progressives that opposition to high migration is racist. TAPRI’s research shows that 65 per cent of voters are aware that this belief is widely held and that many are threatened and inhibited by it.
The progressive culture finds its best home in universities and the vast majority of politicians today are graduates. They are not only influenced by growth lobbyists, many share with other graduates the belief that accommodating immigration is morally right, and opposing it disgraceful.
Opinion piece based on this report in The Sydney Morning Herald, 25 September, Let’s stop whispering about migration
Research report, 13 March 2018
Bob Birrell, Australia’s skilled migration program: scarce skills not required
Immigration advocates have taken to justifying Australia’s record high permanent-entry skilled migration program on the grounds that it is delivering scarce skills crucial to Australia’s economic growth. This report shows that this is not the case. The selection system for the skill program does not take account of whether or not applicants have occupations that are in short supply in Australia. Since 2010 the selection criteria have been revised precisely to avoid taking this factor into account. One result is that the skill program is visaing large numbers of professional migrants whose occupations are in oversupply (including engineers and accountants). As a result most of these recent migrants cannot find professional level employment.
Research report, 25 October 2017
Katharine Betts and Bob Birrell, Australian voters’ views on immigration policy
TAPRI’s survey of 2067 Australian voters finds that 74 per cent?say that Australia does not need more people and?54 per cent want a reduction in immigration. Over 65 per cent say population growth puts ‘a lot’ of pressure on housing, hospitals, roads and jobs. Among supporters of the major parties, Liberal voters are the most concerned about the effects of population growth and immigration.
See also the recent (8 December 2017) blog post on TAPRI’s results and those of the recent Scanlon report compared.
Research report, 9 August 2017
Bob Birrell, The Coalition’s 457 visa reset: tougher than you think
The Coalition government announced a reset of the 457 visa on April 19, 2017. It stated that the 457 visa would be replaced from March 2018 by a new Temporary Skills Shortage (TSS) visa. The stated purpose was to give ‘Australian workers priority for Australian jobs’.
Initial media commentary judged the reset to be cosmetic. This was because it did not stop employers from continuing to sponsor migrants on short-term employment contracts.
This assessment was mistaken. The reset will significantly reduced the number of migrants eligible to apply for a TSS visa (relative to those now eligible for a 457 visa). Also, barely a third of the temporary foreign workers now eligible to be sponsored by their employer for a permanent-entry employer-sponsored visa will be eligible to request their employer to do this for them from March 2018.
Research-based policy document, 11 August 2017
Don Edgar, Patricia Edgar, Bob Birrell,* Katharine Betts,* Briony Dow and Chris Lovell, The New Middle Age: ways to thrive in the longevity economy
This paper calls for a new policy framework for ‘a middle-ageing Australia’. It offers ideas for policy reform across the areas of work, education, health and community-building regarding the growing middle-aged demographic. There are seven million Australians aged 50-75 years who are facing an extended life expectancy in a volatile and rapidly changing economic and political environment. The authors argue that Australia and its political leaders have an opportunity to take the lead in bringing the nation round to a more positive approach to longer life expectancy. Every political party should actively and consistently counter the currently pervasive negative view of ageing and instead recognise the growing middle-aged population as a valuable resource, both in economic and social terms.
* TAPRI members
15 December 2016
Mike Moynihan and Bob Birrell, GP Oversupply — ignoring the evidence
The Coalition government has presided over a surge in the number of GPs billing on Medicare, particularly in Australia’s metropolitan areas. The dominant source of these extra doctors is overseas-trained doctors (OTDs) who have completed their compulsory period of service in undersupplied locations.
Most subsequently move to the major cities and regional centres. These OTDs are the main source of the rapid growth in the per capita provision of GP services in the cities. This is partly because of the surge in their numbers and partly because they bill for far more services per year than their Australian-trained doctor (ATD) counterparts.
Meanwhile, in regional areas, the government is allowing employers to sponsor OTDs to replace those who have served their required time in areas defined as in shortage. Employers continue to sponsor more than 2,000 replacement OTDs on 457 visas each year (2,320 in 2015-16). This is more than the 1,529 training places for local graduates beginning their careers as GPs in 2015.
The result is a cycle leading to ever larger numbers of doctors relative to Australia’s patient load and ever higher GP Medicare costs.
This paper explores why the Australian government has allowed these outcomes to occur and why it has ignored the advice provided by its own Department of Health to reduce Australia’s reliance on overseas trained GPs.
Anna Patty, ‘Forecast oversupply of doctors to hit this year amid calls to halt imports’, Sydney Morning Herald, 7 January 2017
Bob Birrell, GP Oversupply and medical migration, 17 January 2017
Research report, 1 December 2016
Bob Birrell, Ernest Healy, and Bob Kinnaird, Immigration overflow: why it matters
This report highlights two issues.?The first is the high and increasing numbers of IT?professionals being granted 457 visas. They constitute by far the largest occupational group within the 457 program. Most are Indian nationals who are sponsored by Indian IT service companies. These companies have been successful in winning a major chunk of Australia’s IT consulting work on the basis of 457 visa holders. They have succeeded in part because they are paying their professionals much lower salaries than the market rate for IT professionals in Australia.
The second issue is that the Australian government has persisted with a record high annual permanent migration intake of around 205,000, despite the weakening of the Australian economy since the end of the resources boom in 2012. This permanent intake is the major source of Australia’s very high rate of population growth. It is having a disastrous impact on Sydney and Melbourne where just over half of the migrants settle.
Migration advocates argue that this urban impact is being offset by the influx of ‘highly trained’ skilled migrants in occupations which are in short supply in Australia. These claims are not true. Any relationship? that there was between skills recruited under the points-tested visa subclasses and shortages in the labour market has eroded. This is in part because the Skilled Occupation List (SOL) that is supposed to remove occupations that are oversupplied in Australia from eligibility for the points-tested visa subclasses, no longer does so.
John Masanauskas, Thousands of foreign IT workers flood Australian markets as locals struggle to find work, The Herald Sun, 2 December 2016
Leith Van Onselen, Immigration overflow: the systematic rorting of Australia’s visa system, 2 December 2016, MacroBusiness, 2 December 2016
Anna Patty, Proportion of Indian IT workers on 457 visas on rock bottom pay triples, The Sydney Morning Herald, 3 December 2016, and The Age, 3 December 2016
Peter Dinham, Surge in foreign IT workers entering Australia, Aussies struggle to find jobs, ITWire.com, 4 December 2016
Nidhi Mehta, As Indian IT workers on 457 visas flood Australian Market, local IT graduates languish, bharattimes.com, 4 December 2016