By Mehroz Siraj
Australia’s leading business group, the Australian Industry Group and leading lawmakers are calling upon the Abbott government to lift the nation’s annual immigrant intake in next year’s federal budget.
The Chief Executive of the Ai Group, Innex Wilcox said that Australia’s annual intake of permanent residents should be increased to 220,000 from the current figure of 190,000.
This according to him would help Australian businesses in overcoming and addressing many areas where the national economy is continuing to experience a high volume of skills shortages.
“The Australian Workplace Productivity Agency has identified that Australia will need an increase of about 2.8 million people with quite specific skills over the next decade to fill some of those gaps,” he told ABC Radio.
He said that at the current rate of economic growth, there would be a net reduction in the number of workers within the national economy as older Australians continued to retire in large numbers.
This, according to him, would add more pressure on the national exchequer as the government’s income tax receipts would continue to decline whilst welfare payments made to the retiring Australians through Centrelink will increase annually.
“We need to replenish our ageing workforce stocks,” he said, adding that immigration would keep the workforce young and would generate more revenues and profits for local businesses and the governments.
Wilcox also remarked that the greatest ongoing economic challenge for the country’s business community was about retraining the Australian workforce.
Migrants with ready-to-utilize skills would be able to simultaneously address Australia’s skill shortages and train local Australians in many required professional fields and trades, Wilcox said.
“We have a two-pronged challenge here. We need to bring in the labour to fill gaps now and we need to train our workforce for the future,” he said, arguing that Australian businesses and governments would have to invest in the retraining of the local workforce.
Similar views were espoused last week by Sam Dastyari, of the NSW Labor.
He told The Australian newspaper that both sides of politics needed to embrace the idea of a ‘big Australia.”
“A population of 35 million by 2050 should not be feared, it should be embraced,” he said, adding that a bigger population would mean more jobs and business opportunities for all Australians.
“This is not an easy issue for Labor or the Coalition, but we must embrace immigration as a big idea for Australia’s future and win support for it in the community,” he said.
He further added that migrants would make Australia more wealthy as their economic contributions would create more jobs and raise more revenues for the governments.
An immigration boost would also help in building and establishing new multi-billion dollar infrastructure projects across the country, he said.
Dastyari’s statements came just days after the opposition in the South Australian parliament tabled a plan to double the state’s intake of overseas students to about 10 percent of the overall number of students arriving into Australia annually.
South Australian Opposition Leader Steven Marshall called on the federal government to work towards increasing Australia’s intake of temporary immigrants as well.
South Australia currently attracts an average of 28,000 overseas students annually and Marshall called on the concerned authorities to work towards raising this figure to 40,000 per annum.