Political pipe dreams, but they could actually drive up unemployment in the bush.
With all eyes on Scott Morrison, The Australian reckons it knows what one of his first big plays will be – populating the bush.
The Morrison government is due to consider a plan that would require some new immigrants to settle for up to five years outside Sydney or Melbourne, as part of a yet-to-be-released landmark population policy to ease congestion in the two largest capital cities.
The Australian understands a decision on a time period for mandatory regional settlement — as part of a new migration program — had been due to go to the Turnbull cabinet last week. It has yet to be put to the new cabinet under Scott Morrison.
Two government sources have confirmed that a period of regional settlement, of up to five years, was a key plank of the population package put before the government. It came with a requirement to locate in regional areas or capital cities other than Sydney or Melbourne, where the rate of migrant settlement has reached almost 90 per cent of new arrivals.
Hmmm. Ok. So is it time to load up on regional property?
I think the idea of decentralising Australia – shifting the focus away from our big cities and spreading it all around a bit, is generally a great idea.
But it’s going to take some fairly coordinated action across state, federal and even local government lines.
Simply demanding that new migrants spend time in the bush is not going to cut it.
I mean, how do you even police that? Electronic tagging? Zapper collars?
But even assuming there was some feasibly and morally acceptable way to enforce it, sending migrants out to the bush is putting the cart before the horse.
I’m seeing it first hand in Greece right now. Greece has a population problem.
The Greek crisis drove hundreds of thousands of Greece’s best and brightest off-shore, in search of work and a better future.
Pretty much the only good thing that came from integration with Europe, in my mind, was the ability to relocate around Europe.
And so those with transportable skills, those who spoke other languages, just left.
And that might have been temporary if the crisis had been temporary. But after ten years, people started putting down roots. They started having families. They joined school committees.
So it’s going to take a lot to entice these people back. And with unemployment still running at 19%, we’re not there yet. Not by a long way.
There just isn’t the jobs.
So this is the simple economic truth of population flows. People go where the jobs are.
And so this decentralisation pipe-dream seems to be missing a key element. Where are the jobs?
What’s the point of leaving migrants stranded in the bush, stuck on unemployment benefits for 5 years?
Like, the whole drive of our immigration policy is to bring people who can make a contribution.
Why select on skills and then leave them on benefits in the bush, doing nothing?
And rural towns might like the idea now, but what happens when a wave of cheap migrant labour washes up on their shores?
If there’s a scarcity of good-paying jobs already, more labour simply drives down wages further.
And we know what’s at the end of the whole ‘migrants took my jobs’ meme.
It’s a disaster waiting to happen.
So I know this whole decentralisation thing is a political fad that gets resurrected time and time again, but it’s just sounds like a dream to me.
And I’ll take it seriously when politicians start worrying about regional economies first, and leave the population question to later.
As per the natural economic order of things.