Tapri blog

Different survey methods, different results

 

Different survey methods, different results:
What do Australians really think about immigration numbers?
Katharine Betts, 25 November 2021

This piece was originally published as a briefing note on the website of Sustainable Population Australia

Summary
Two recent opinion surveys about Australians’ attitudes to immigration numbers yielded markedly differing results. This Briefing Note analyses the reasons for this. There are important implications for survey design and interpretation of results.

The Australian Population Research Institute (TAPRI) released the results of our fourth national survey of voters’ attitudes to immigration-fuelled population growth on 14 October 2021. The sample of 2516 voters found that 69 per cent believe that Australia does not need more people and that only 19 per cent want a return to the pre-Covid levels of net overseas migration (NOM). That is, only 19 per cent want to return to a NOM of around 240,000 a year and, as the table below shows, 28 per cent would prefer nil net migration.

On 26 October 2021 Essential Research (ER) released their fortnightly survey of 1200 residents aged 18 plus. This included a question on immigration levels. They asked: ‘Do you think the levels of immigration into Australia over the past ten years have been…? Much too low; A little too low; About right; A little too high; Much too high; Don’t know.’

Overall 16 per cent said the levels had been either much too low or a little too low, and 37 per cent said a little too high or much too high. This latter percentage was a lot smaller than ER had found in previous years. (In January 2019 56 per cent had said too high, in April 2018 64 per cent, and in October 2016 50 per cent.)

Clearly the 2021 ER results differ from TAPRI’s. TAPRI found, in effect, that 70 per cent thought that a return to immigration levels of the recent past would be too high, but only 37 per cent of ER respondents can be taken to be of that opinion. Can this discrepancy be explained?

There are three key points of difference between the two surveys.

  1. Different questions get different answers
    First, the questions are different. The ER was asking respondents how they felt about what had happened in the past, TAPRI was asking what they wanted for the future.

Beyond this point, the ER question provided no background information. TAPRI’s full question read as follows:

Immigration increased sharply over the 10 years to December 2019. Over this decade Australia added 4 million extra people, more than the current population of Brisbane and Adelaide together (3.6 million).

‘Over 64% of this growth was due to net overseas migration. Up until 2020 this has been around 240,000 migrants per year.

When our borders reopen which of the following would be closest to your views?’

Table A.1: When our borders reopen which of the following would be closest to your views?

Responses offered: %
We should return to net migration of around 240,000 a year or higher 19
We should return to net migration at somewhat lower levels 22
We should return to net migration at much lower levels 20
We should keep migration low enough so that new arrivals just balance out departures 28
Don’t know 11
Total % 100
Total N 2516

The ER question ‘Do you think the levels of immigration into Australia over the past ten years have been…?’ was more laconic. While it did say ‘over the past ten years’ the October 2021 respondents might have had only a hazy impression of the numbers over that period. More than this, they could have been focussed on the last two years when, because of Covid, NOM has been negligible. Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data show that from 2009 to 2019 NOM averaged 212,252 per year. But in the year to March 2021 it was minus 95,300.

The media were relatively silent when net migration numbers were large, but have been thrown into high alert when they sank into negative territory. Nevertheless, the population grew by 35,700 in the year to March 2021. A natural increase of 131,100 had more than compensated for the negative net migration. (See ABS, Population and components of change—national, March 2021.)

Because of inaccurate media reporting, the public could be forgiven for believing that, without restoring immigration, Australia’s population would fall. For example, the ABC ignored natural increase and claimed that Australia’s population was actually shrinking, as did Your Investment Property and The Australian.

  1. Groups with different composition can have different views
    Second, the scope of the two surveys was different. TAPRI’s sample was restricted to voters. The ER sample was drawn from all adults aged 18 plus. This distinction matters.

At the 2016 census there were 18,193,865 people aged 18 plus. Of these 3,505,896 or 19.27 per cent were non-citizens and therefore not voters. If we are measuring the attitudes of Australians, attitudes which may influence elections, samples where close to one fifth of respondents are non-voters will be unreliable.

The 2016 census is five years old, but there is no reason to believe that this proportion of non-citizens has shrunk. Indeed, given the high levels of NOM from 2016 to 2019 it may well have increased, despite the exodus of many temporary migrants post-Covid.

This can be especially relevant where survey questions about immigration are concerned. Many non-citizens are anxious to acquire citizenship and thus would look favourably on the idea of a larger intake. This is especially likely for those still in Australia on temporary visas, many of whom would want to achieve permanent residency as a first step. In September 2021 there were 1,643,037 people in Australia on temporary visas of one kind or another. People keen to obtain permanent visas would be only too happy to give a big ‘yes’ to high immigration.

  1. Weighting should correct for differences between the sample and general population
    Third, the ER note on method explains that their data are weighted for age, gender, location and party ID, but makes no mention of weighting for education, that is weighting for graduate/non-graduate status.

This also matters. For example, graduates are more likely to respond to surveys than are non-graduates and, if these two groups have different views, an unweighted survey will over-represent the views of graduates. Typically, graduates are rather more likely to vote Labor or Greens than are non-graduates, and they also tend to have different views on topics such as immigration. TAPRI has found them to be more likely to favour higher numbers than non-graduates. In the 2021 survey 27% of graduates favoured a return to a NOM of 240,000 a year as opposed to only 16% of non-graduates.

Their different values combined with their stronger propensity to answer surveys were a key reason for the failure of polls to predict the outcome of the 2019 election.

An inquiry into this failure found that failing to weight for education was a big part of the problem. The report’s authors advised all pollsters to do so in future. There is little evidence that they have been taking this advice.

For example, on 27 September 2021 The Australian published a combined set of data from all of the Newspolls taken from July to September 2021. While Newspoll’s samples appear to be restricted to voters, the combined data show that, of the pooled sample of 6705 respondents, 2741 or 40.9 per cent were graduates.

At the 2016 census 22.8 per cent of voters were graduates. True, this proportion has probably increased in the five years to 2021. TAPRI’s weightings for graduate status were adjusted (using ABS survey data) to account for this increase. We arrived at an overall figure for the proportion of voters who were graduates in 2021 of 28.5 per cent. Even if this figure is out by one or two percentage points it is a long way short of 40.9 per cent.

If Newspoll is still oversampling graduates other polls are likely to still be making the same mistake.

Conclusion
The value of surveys depends on whether they represent the population of interest and whether they capture respondents’ real views. Questions should not be ambiguous and should provide essential facts that give a context to the question. On several grounds the TAPRI survey seems more likely to represent the views of Australian voters on their preferences for future levels of immigration than does the Essential Research survey.

First, the wording and presentation of the two questions were different. ER asked about the past but provided no background information, while TAPRI asked about preferences for the near future and made sure that respondents had relevant information.

Second, nearly one in five of the ER sample would have been non-voters while all of the TAPRI sample were voters.

And third, unlike the TAPRI data, the ER data do not appear to have been weighted for graduate/non-graduate status.

Dr Katharine Betts is deputy head of The Australian Population Research Institute and a patron of Sustainable Population Australia.

Feds must resist visa push from business

Opinion piece by Bob Birrell, published in  The Herald Sun, 26 April 2021

With the recovery from the Covid recession, employer interests have been pressing the government for more migrants.

This lobbying is coming from representatives of employers such as the Committee for Economic Development of Australia, and from industry associations relying on low skilled workers, including the hospitality and horticulture industries.

Federal Parliament’s Joint Standing on Migration (or at least its Coalition members) has endorsed these concerns.

These lobbyists are responding to the collapse of Australia’s annual net overseas migration intake of around 250,000 since the pandemic began.

All assert the decline in overseas student enrolments is a major contributor to this collapse. All claim it is disrupting their access to both skilled and unskilled migrant workers.

They want the Commonwealth government to accelerate the inflow of students and other temporary migrants. As well, they want the abolition of restrictions on their employment, including removal of labour market testing, and the creation of new temporary visa categories which tie migrants to work within specific industries.

The Joint Standing Committee even recommends that places be reserved on flights to Australia and in quarantine facilities for skilled migrants.

Is this advocacy a prelude to major Coalition immigration initiatives? Let’s hope not, because if implemented the consequences will be ugly.

If Australia legislates to create visa which tie migrants to particular industries it will reverse one of the founding principles of our nation — that all residents should be employed on fair wages and conditions.

Also, do we want the overseas student industry to return to its pre-pandemic state, when universities acted like private corporations, maximising revenue from overseas students with scant regard for their pubic role of educating and training Australian students?

By 2018, overseas students made up 41 percent of all commencing students at Melbourne university. At Monash University it was 44 per cent.

It is true that most of Australia’s previous 250,000 NOM derived from temporary rather than permanent migrants. This is because far more temporary migrants were entering Australia than leaving each year.

The result was that by the beginning of the Covid emergency in March 2020 there were 1.5 million temporary migrants in Australia. About 541,000 of these were students at all education levels.

By late February 2021, the number of temporary migrants in Australia had fallen to the still huge number of 1.1 million, with much of the decline due to students. Their numbers had fallen to 441,000.

Do we really need more?

Let’s start with the claim that overseas students are essential to restore a flow of skilled migrants. This is a myth.

Most of the growth in university enrolments came in the business faculties, particularly accounting. These courses were dumbed down to accommodate overseas students with limited academic and English language skills. Only a minority have been able to secure professional level jobs in Australia.

For many, (especially those from the Indian Subcontinent) the value of an Australian degree was that it provided access to the Australian labour market while studying and, in time, a permanent residency.

The Australian government has facilitated this by granting two-year temporary graduate visas to all those graduating from an Australian university. This visa allows a two-year stay in Australia with full work rights.

By late February 2021 there were 102,765 of these temporary graduate visa holders in Australia, up from 96,819 in March 2020. They are in addition to the 441,000 students in Australia as of February 2021.

It will be good to see a recovery in overseas student enrolments. But if it is to occur, it should be on the basis of the quality of their training rather than the access it gives to the Australian labour market.

As to the lower skilled labour markets, a revival of temporary migrant flows, especially students, will boost the relevant workforce. But in doing so it will reinforce employers’ dependence on migrant labour.

The hospitality and horticulture industries illustrate the point. The working conditions and wages in these industries reflect this dependency. Employers do not need to offer jobs attractive to domestic workers.

The tied visa proposals from these industries will make this situation worse. The Restaurant and Catering Industry Association wants a special visa which will limit employment to the hospitality industry.

The National Farmers Federation has for years advocated a similar visa that restricts recipients to work in horticulture. In other words, both want a conscripted workforce.

Governments and employers need to be reminded how contrary these arrangements are to our labour market traditions.

The focus of government should be to put the onus back on employers to make employment in these industries attractive to locals. If this means that coffee or garlic costs a bit more, or the jobs are automated as with robot baristas, then so be it.

Bob Birrell is the Head of the Australian Population Research Institute

Why Treasury migration forecasts matter – and why they’re unconscionably high

Stephen Saunders

By no means did the 2019 federal election arrest our radical immigration economy. The Coalition was set to crank it higher. Labor and Greens would have gone higher again.

In calendar year 2017, net overseas migration to Australia was nearly 242,000. The preliminary tally for 2018 climbs to 248,000.

Now the Treasury is ‘assuming’ net migration to top 270,000 in 2019 and 2020. Yet permanent migration is dropping by 30,000, to 160,000. This apparent contradiction is partly explained by the liberal use of bridging visas.

The long haul is the biggest story. Once only since federation has Australia surpassed 270,000 in net migration. Before 2007, even 200,000 was unknown. How come the figures have gone so high? Why are they barely remarked? And should we stay the course.

High population growth is at the behest of ‘GDP growth’

Technically, net migration is a mouthful. It’s those arriving in Australia and staying (by whatever visa) for 12 months out of 16, less those (who are resident and) leave for 12/16.

This imperfect measure is the best gauge available for the ongoing ‘mass’ of overseas arrivals. Nowadays, the net student arrivals swamp the net permanent arrivals. Net student arrivals also outnumber the net arrivals of temp-workers plus visitors. But note, about half of each year’s permanent-migrant tally is already onshore, on student or other visas.  

In Treasury estimates, natural increase plus net migration equals population growth. Population is set to grow 1.7 per cent in 2019 and 2020, mostly from net migration.

These estimates appear as Appendix A ‘parameters’ in Budget paper no. 3. Australia’s natural increase, births minus deaths, is fairly low and predictable. The cursory explanation in the appendix is unobjectionable, though some may query the projected rise in fertility.

More problematic is the non-explanation of net migration. This setting has a signal effect on voters’ lives and effectively underwrites our high population growth. The appendix merely notes that the population ‘estimates’ hinge on the net migration ‘assumptions’. 

In another sense, it’s no real surprise, if the appendix is uncommunicative. As above, the three main parties are rusted on to mass migration. The Treasurer and Treasury are under no pressure to explain themselves to the public.

Sure, the Budget migration ‘assumptions’ are roughly related to more recent trends. Even then, they’re higher than any actual outcome recorded ever since 2009. Why would Treasury vault the 2019 and 2020 assumptions another 20,000-30,000 above the large and unsustainable 2017 and 2018 outcomes? The Budget papers make no effort to clarify. Yet the answer can be in no doubt. It’s at the behest of the GDP statistic.

Over this past decade, population growth has underpinned more than half of our real GDP growth. The 2018-19 budget prescribed 1.6 per cent population growth for 3 per cent GDP growth. Budget 2019-20 downgraded the 3 per cent, to 2.25 per cent. It seeks 1.7 per cent population growth. This is for 2.75 per cent GDP growth. Which looks unlikely.

Perennially, Treasury is forecasting resurgent GDP growth. It’s not happening. More reliably, population growth powers whatever GDP growth we do get. That’s why Treasury migration and population estimates are so high. ‘GDP growth’ will have it no other way. 

GDP growth is a tolerable measure to begin with, perhaps, in the advanced OECD nations with stable or slow growing populations. Such nations express little interest in imitating the continuing ‘miracle’ of our mass-migration economy. More appealing is the mystique of our migrant Points Test. Which doesn’t really select for skills in demand. Or the mystique of our Strong Borders. Which shutter the sea-lanes, yes, but not the air-lanes.

Measures like real GDP per capita, real wages per capita, and real wealth per household, begin to paint a more realistic picture of the Australian economy as it is experienced by ordinary people. The rich are getting richer as home ownership craters.

While the Budget cashes in its pro forma GDP gains, the Australian states carry the real-world infrastructure and service burdens of steeply rising population. Budget 2019-20 promised a sweetener of ‘$100 billion’ in infrastructure and ‘congestion busting’ over 10 years. Even if it were to be fully realised, still, it’s not enough.

A dominating lobby demands extremely high migration

New Zealanders measure and discuss migration in terms of net migration. Thus we can gauge readily that Labour isn’t meeting its clear 2017 commitment to cut migration. 

By contrast, Australian politicians contest permanent and temporary migration, especially the relatively small humanitarian (or refugee) intake. Net migration is not on the agenda.

Again, the Budgets set the tone. Usually, Budget papers 1-3 avoid the population issue. Their spotlight is on jobs and growth, and the deficit or surplus. As discussed above, the so-called net migration and population ‘parameters’ tiptoe into their appendix.

Budget 2019-20 changed tack somewhat. Upfront, the Treasurer highlighted the Prime Minister’s new population plan (the Plan) and its permanent migration ‘cap’ of 160,000. But, in postwar terms, even that is an extremely high number 1. While the number that really matters is net migration, topping 270,000 in Appendix A. 

In Budget Reply, Labor could have reasoned, you won’t ever cure congestion, with a mass-migration medicine. Quite the contrary. They were keen to up the dose.

With Greens support, they comprehensively outbid the Coalition on migration, promising virtually open-ended migrant-parent visas. Which could only have led to much higher net migration. As it transpired, voters weren’t buying. Not even in the obvious metro (Labor) seats with higher concentrations of migrant voters.

Reflect on the happy implications for the returned government. Opposition telegraphs to government a very wide discretion on migration and population policy. But the government can likely elicit an opposition response, if mooting changes to refugee and asylum policy.  

An analogous point applies to the mainstream media. They scrutinise refugee policy more diligently than migration policy. When the budget was released, generally, the media recycled the budget highlights and migration cap. Rare was the reporter who would write up the migration blowout lurking beneath the cap.

At a societal level, in advanced OECD nations, so-called left-modernism discourages the open discussion of immigration and population. In Australia, the cross-party cheer squad for high migration unites political parties, state and city governments, developers, media, academics, and unions. The Treasury assumptions sync with this Big Australia lobby.

Less enfranchised parties calling for lower migration and population are the electorate (in repeated surveys) and the environment (in repeated State of the environment reports). 

High population growth is both obsessive yet intentional

The government wouldn’t presume to supervise natural increase. As above, it is in any case fairly low and predictable. But the government does supervise net migration. And thereby supervises our turbo-charged (by OECD norms) population growth.

Let’s look at the current ‘Appendix A’ presentation, which debuted in 2009. Up to 2017, budget-night migration and population estimates (carrying time lags of some months in available data) may be compared with end-of-year outcomes.

Over this period, assumed net migration 2 ranges from 175,000 to 246,000. Actuals 3 seesaw between 169,000 and 264,000.  The average annual error of the estimates is 40,000 plus, or 20 per cent plus. Estimated population growth varies from 1.5 to 1.8 per cent. Actuals 4 range from 1.4 to 2.0 per cent. Average annual error grazes 0.2 per cent. 

Comparing the budget-night estimates to the end-of-following year outcomes, assumed migration varies from 180,000 to 250,000. Average error is under 20 per cent. Estimated population growth runs from 1.4 to 1.8 per cent. The average error just tops 0.2 per cent.   

The Department of Home Affairs, it is to be noted here, carries onerous duties to manage diverse visas and their long queues. It has no control over people’s movements out of Australia. Also, it lacks real-time net migration data.

Despite the daunting logistics, Home Affairs is landing the short-run Treasury migration estimates with quite passable accuracy. Yet the common assessment is that visa processing is reprehensibly ‘chaotic’ or ‘out of control’. To the extent that this is true, wouldn’t you think about lowering migration, to relieve the pressure? Not in Labor or ‘progressive’ circles. 

Turning now to the long term, here also, we manage our population. It’s not an accident.

Sure, at 25 million, already we’ve busted the 1998 ABS population forecast for 2051. But those extras didn’t fall from the clouds like rain. Repeatedly, our sovereign government has accelerated net migration, counting GDP gains and largely discounting collateral costs.

Former Prime Minister John Howard and former Opposition Leader Kim Beazley were me-too high immigration men. The latter, during the mining boom, readily acquiesced to ballooning permanent migration and steeply rising 457 visas.

By way of thanks, the miners gelignited Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s 2010 tax on super-profits. Their boom damaged our overall competitiveness. In a Coalition phase pre GFC, and Labor-Coalition phase post GFC, we’ve hugely increased overseas student numbers and deregulated visa pathways. At cost to systemic quality and local aspirants.         

So it’s not that ABS couldn’t do the maths. The government decisively upped the population momentum. Our average net migration over 2007-2017 — at 220,000 plus — considerably exceeds two multiples of the quarter-century net migration average up to 2006.

With overseas-student numbers possibly peaking, how could net migration ever top 270,000? One analyst has suggested this would rely on a strengthening economy, plus extra chip-ins from working holiday makers, visitors changing status, and the new temporary parent visa. Once again, so much for the spin, around migration and skills in demand. 

On the other hand, net migration might slump, should the economy weaken. But we’ve trumped 170,000 net, every year since 2006. To bolster migration and ‘jobs and growth’, the government could speed up visa processing, tweak visa rules or categories, intensify student drives in India or other markets, or unleash the migrant-parent visas.

Through to 2018-19, Australia trumpets ‘28 years of uninterrupted economic growth’. Surfing on net migration, the government and the Treasury may yet ballyhoo 30. Ordinary households and wage-earners would be left wondering, did they really ‘burn’ for us?

For the long term, the Treasury Intergenerational report assumes 215,000 annual net migration. Again, this is more than twice the average over 1982-2006.

Similarly, today’s ‘illustrative’ ABS projections will admit of nothing but high migration, at levels of 175,000 (call this, lower high), 225,000 (medium high) or 275,000 (very high).

In effect, the Budget is adopting the ‘very high’ ABS option. The Plan, meanwhile, hews to the ‘medium high’ ABS option. Even under these assumptions, Australia’s population would top 37 million, around 2050. By which time Sydney and Melbourne might hit 8 million.

To complete what is a less-than-virtuous circle, governments (notably their urban and transport planners) like to pretend that these brimming ABS numbers are ‘independent’ projections that will need to be accommodated.

Breaking ranks momentarily, even the NSW Premier briefly espoused a ‘breather’ of halving migration into NSW. She had a point. Once again, if you honestly want to ‘bust congestion’, you wouldn’t start off with full-throttle migration, pouring into Sydney and Melbourne.  

Routinely, governments declare, we’ve got a fix, for these self-inflicted crushes. Behold then the Alan Tudge scheme to channel booming population away from big cities. Finally now, our stressed infrastructure will be able to ‘catch up’. Postwar history undermines such claims. As government itself says, few nations are so urbanised. An unyielding 40 per cent of the population occupies two sprawling and increasingly unequal cities.   

When taken as normal, a 37 million in Australia by 2050 skates around unsustainable land clearing, habitat loss, water consumption, and greenhouse emissions. Yet the official Sydney and Melbourne urban plans both take as read a future 8 million. These ‘vibrant’ mega-city vistas are geared to elite economic interests. Not to the ordinary people.        

Never mind the Canberra bubble. Focus on the population bubble. As government prolongs it, so also they prolong the implausible ‘congestion busting’ and ‘decentralisation’ fixes. Thus might they perpetuate our houses and holes (consumption and extractive) economy and its iron-coal-and-students trade. Net migration would better serve the national interest and the voter preferences, if managed at more like its 1980s-1990s levels.

In conclusion

Net migration, the Treasury population lever, is adjusted with little explanation or scrutiny. 21st century government has more than doubled it. Political parties defend this as normal:

* Though the permanent migration ‘cap’ would eventually bite into the migration ‘net’, the latter remains the best year-on-year measure of our true migration levels.

* The net migration tally renders more visible the habitual boosts to immigration, not for the welfare of residents, but for the sake of ‘GDP growth’ and the Big Australia lobby.

* Treasury’s high-migration assumptions scaffold this GDP growth. Dismissing environmental cautions, ratcheting population continues to prop up sputtering GDP. 

* Net migration is geared to 270,000, a high exceeded once before, with population growth at 1.7 per cent, last observed in 2013. It makes a mockery of ‘congestion busting’.

* The true migration and population plans, despite their importance to voters, are by party consent absent from politics. Thus, they default to the Treasurer and Treasury.

* Post-election, Labor continues to brand as a high-migration party, contesting if anything refugee and asylum policy. Not every commentator can fathom the electoral logic of this.

Stephen Saunders (stephen@saunders.net) is a former APS public servant and consultant. A brief version of this article has appeared on Independent Australia. Thanks to Bob Birrell for the original idea and for the comments on this version.


1 It is like catnip to ‘progressive’ commentators to eagerly accept the spin that 160,000 permanent migrants is a sizeable reduction. Again, it’s net migration that matters. Also, if you’ve just had a decade of record high permanent migration, you don’t have to try very hard, to induce a ‘10 year low’ the following year.

2 Net migration and population estimates to 2017 are from Appendix A (B for 2011) of Budget paper no. 3 in Archive of budgets at https://archive.budget.gov.au. Annual percentage population growth estimates are no longer published, as they ought to be. The reader must compute them, from published population estimates.

3 Net migration for 2018 is available as a preliminary figure. Net migration (final) for the years 2009-2017 is read, from each following December’s ABS 3101.0, Australian demographic statistics. The December 2018 issue, now containing the final migration figure for the year 2017, was only released in June 2019.

4 Annual percentage population growth for the years 2009 through 2017 is read from each December’s ABS 3101.0. The figure for 2011 is adjusted here.

 


Australian universities’ dependence on overseas students: too much of a good thing

Bob Birrell and Katharine Betts
(This post is republished from John Menadue’s site, Pearls and Irritations, 27 December 2018.)

In November 2018 we published an analysis of the higher education overseas student industry. It was framed around the remarkable growth in the share of commencing overseas university students to all commencing students over the years 2012 to 2016. This share increased from 21.8 per cent in 2012 to 26.7 per cent in 2016.

Since publication, higher education statistics for 2017 have been released. They show  that the share of commencing overseas students to all commencing students have increased to 28.9 per cent. In the case of the Group of 8 (Go8) universities, by 2017 this share had reached well over 40 per cent in the University of Sydney, ANU, and the University of NSW (Table 1).

The following brief summary indicates why such extreme reliance on overseas students should be of concern. We then explore another issue, not canvassed in the November report. This is the implications of the rapid growth in overseas student commencements for access to higher education on the part of domestic students.

This a highly topical matter because in December 2017 the Coalition government announced that it would henceforth cap the level of domestic higher education enrolments. Since that time, Australia’s universities, including the Go8, have mounted an offensive against this decision on the grounds that it limits opportunities for domestic students. Yet the enrolment data examined below indicates that, at least since 2012, the Go8 have effectively enforced just such a cap on domestic enrolments.

A summary of the November report’s findings
The November report argued that the overseas student industry was in a precarious state because of its increased reliance on overseas student enrolments. The share of overseas commencing students to all commencing students at Australia’s universities increased from 21.8 per cent in 2012 to 26.7 per cent in 2016.

We concluded that the tail was wagging the dog. That is, such was our universities’ reliance on overseas students, that most were prioritising the health of the overseas student industry over the educational needs of domestic students. In the case of research, the universities’ focus was primarily on basic research. This is because it is this that is relevant to their aspiration to achieve a place in the top 100 institutions in the global university ratings systems. As documented in the November report, research of this kind is the most likely to be accepted by the top international journals that drive the ratings system. Research focused on local priorities wouldn’t make the cut.

Australia’s overseas student industry is split into two distinctive markets. The first includes most of the Go8 universities, where overseas students were charged some $40,000 a year, mainly for courses at the undergraduate and post-graduate-by-coursework level in business and commerce. Most of the students are Chinese. Indeed, between 2012 and 2016, the total increase in overseas student commencers at Go8 universities was 13,738 . Of these 12,198 were Chinese.

Students’ (or parents’) willingness to pay for such high priced courses can be attributed to the fact that they deliver credentials from a university rated in the international top 100. (This includes almost all of the Go8.) Qualifications from these universities appear to be highly regarded in the Chinese labour market. Relatively few of these Chinese students stay on in Australia after completing their studies.

This enrolment pattern helps explain the universities’ focus on basic research. In order to maintain enrolments from China, they have to promote such research because it scores best on the metrics used by the international ratings systems.

The second market is composed of almost all the other universities. The number of overseas students enrolling in these universities also increased significantly between 2012 and 2016 (though at a slower rate than occurred in the Go8). However the countries of origin were primarily located in the Indian subcontinent. Most of these students were attracted to Australian universities because of the access their enrolment gave them to the Australian labour market and thus to the potential of a permanent residence visa.

We concluded that the overseas student industry was in a precarious state. In the case of the Go8, overseas enrolments were vulnerable on three points.

First is the risk of reputational damage on account of the poor quality of the education overseas students are receiving. In the business and commerce faculties at the Go8, where Chinese students often constitute the majority, such courses have had to be made less demanding so that the many Chinese students with relatively limited English language skills can cope with their requirements. Then there is the risk from geopolitical tensions that threatened Chinese enrolments. And finally there is the risk of competition from other countries.

For the other universities the main issue is current changes in the rules governing overseas-student access to the Australian labour market and to long-term employment contracts. This means that their chances of obtaining a permanent residence visa are contracting. As a consequence we argued that these changes would diminish the attraction of enrolling for higher education at a non-Go8 Australian university.

Table 1: Per cent share of commencing onshore* overseas students to all onshore commencing students, Go8 universities and all Australian higher education institutions, 2012, 2016 and 2017

2012 2016 2017
Group of eight:
University of Melbourne 27.3 36.2 38.7
University of Sydney 22.8 39.2 42.9
Monash 24.0 36.5 39.8
ANU 28.8 36.5 43.1
University of Queensland 27.4 31.8 37.0
University of NSW 30.2 38.7 42.9
University of Adelaide 28.5 28.3 31.4
University of WA 19.1 20.8 25.1
All Australian higher education institutions 21.8 26.7 28.9

Source: Department of Education and Training, Higher Education Statistics, Table 1.10, Commencing Students by State, Higher Education Provider, Citizenship and Residence Status.
* The term onshore is used to distinguish overseas students being educated in Australia from those in Australian campuses set up overseas. The latter are not included in these figures.

Higher education opportunities
Australia’s universities repeatedly assure the Australian public that increased enrolments of overseas students are not damaging the prospects of domestic students aspiring to a university education. Rather, they state that the two sets of enrolments are independent of each other; opportunities for locals are not being crowded out.

How could this be? Well, according to a 2014 policy document from the Go8, international students actually ‘directly facilitate domestic participation in higher education’. This is achieved, the document claims, because revenue from overseas student fees contributes to the costs of domestic education. It asserts that international student fees ‘subside each domestic student by around $1,600’.

This might seem plausible given that domestic enrolments have increased since the removal of enrolment caps for domestic students in 2009. Over the years 2012 to 2017 (years in which overseas enrolments expanded rapidly) the number of commencing domestic students at Australia’s universities increased from 370,314 to 416,371.

The result is that a very high share of the cohort of university age are currently enrolled as higher education students. In fact, university competition for potential domestic students is such that some universities have seen a drop in their domestic enrolments over the past couple of years. Concern that this enrolment scramble had gone too far (and was costing the Commonwealth government too much in funding) prompted the Coalition government in December 2017 to announce that it would re-impose enrolment caps in 2018 (caps which Labor promises to withdraw should it win government in 2019).

The universities have responded to these caps by insisting throughout 2018 that they amount to a reduction in opportunities for domestic students. According to Margaret Gardiner, Vice Chancellor at Monash University, the cap acts as a funding freeze which ‘will limit the share of highly-skilled well-paid jobs in our economy that can be done by qualified Australians in the decades ahead’. Or, in the words of the newly appointed (in June 2018) Chief Executive  of Universities Australia, the reinstating of caps puts an end to the ‘unearthing and unleashing’ of talent that has occurred since the caps were removed, starting in 2009.

If expansion of overseas student enrolment was helping to create opportunities to increase domestic enrolments you would expect that more domestic students would be gaining places in Go8 universities. Over the period 2012 to 2017, when there were no caps on the number of domestic students that any university could enrol, domestic student commencements at Go8 universities barely moved. They were 87,939 in 2012 and 87,930 in 2017. By contrast, over these same years the number of overseas student commencements at the Go8 increased from 30,320 to 56,363. (The data are drawn from Higher Education Statistics releases, various years.)

Given that there were no caps in place, the Go8 could have taken more domestic students over these years. Many more thousands of these students would have jumped at the opportunity to attend a Go8 university. They were precluded from entry by the high ATAR  entry thresholds imposed by Go8 universities. Such is the Go8 universities’ prestige that they attract the best domestic performers in secondary school exams. Like the overseas students, domestic students know that a credential from a Go8 university gives them a competitive advantage in the labour market (in this case within Australia).

The stabilisation of domestic enrolments was not because the Go8 lacked the capacity to increase their student load. They did have the capacity, but all of it has been taken up by increased enrolments from overseas students.

Clearly, the Go8 universities preferred to enrol overseas students. In effect, the benefits of the allegedly superior education that these universities offer went to overseas students rather than to local students. This was not because overseas students had superior potential to take advantage of what the Go8 offers. The contrary is the case. The Go8 do not preference high performing overseas students. There are minimal entry barriers to their enrolment other than the ability to pay the huge fees required.

Conclusion
Australia’s universities, especially the Go8, are caught in a vicious circle as their reliance on overseas student revenue deepens. This reliance means that they cannot prioritise teaching which benefits the vocational needs of their domestic students, to expand enrolment opportunities for domestic students or to focus on research activities relevant to Australian industry or the well being of Australian citizens.

Report authors
Bob Birrell (mobile 0413 021 126) is the Head of the Australian Population Research Institute (TAPRI), an independent, non-profit research organisation. Katharine Betts is deputy head.
This paper is based on two TAPRI research reports:
Australia’s higher education overseas student industry revisited, December 2018  and Australia’s higher education overseas student industry: in a precarious state, November 2018.

Why do we have a ‘big Australia’?

Stephen Saunders

This post is based on the research paper, ‘Why do we have a big Australia’?

Pruning migration is low-hanging policy fruit compared with reducing greenhouse emissions.
Bill Shorten wrote to Scott Morrison recently proposing a “bipartisan approach” to population policy not the “politics of division”. In my jaded interpretation, he meant: Let’s not budge on Big Australia. Instead, let’s keep making unattainable promises on infrastructure and decentralisation.
Is Australia’s high population growth a logical fixture, endorsed by all, for the good of all? Tilting at these assumptions is the Australian Population Research Institute’s Report Why do we have a ‘big Australia’?, released last month.
I define big Australia as an inordinate appeal to high migration and high population growth, as headline and future economic tools, with larger regard for GDP growth and smaller regard for the environmental and social consequences.
Put that way, no such program could have emerged in the aftermath of World War II. The global ascent of GDP was in its infancy. Neoliberalism was decades away. Rather, defence and development guided Arthur Calwell’s pro-Briton “populate or perish” program. He wanted 2 per cent population growth; half would be natural increase, half immigration.
Higher population growth accompanied the 1950s boom in Australia. From the 1970s to the 1990s, net overseas migration dipped; it averaged less than 100,000 a year. Population only grew about 1 per cent a year. But GDP growth, though volatile, was commonly 3 to 5 per cent. It was a period of economic reform.
From 2000, however, John Howard decided to crank up immigration. By 2005, the mining boom was being used to justify this surge. Howard and then Opposition Leader Kim Beazley clicked as self-described “high-immigration men”.
In effect, the Gillard government’s A sustainable population strategy for Australia, released in 2011, rubber-stamped Howard’s policy shift. The official migration intake is now off its peak of 190,000. But net overseas migration is still running well over 200,000, a level never attained before 2007. Population growth is 1.5 per cent and more. That’s much higher than most rich OECD nations – or even India.

Above trend
This record population growth is largely removed from the party-political contest. But public opinion has shifted in recent years. Various polls (TAPRI, Essential, Newspoll, even this year’s Lowy) now find 54 per cent or much higher majorities that favour lowering immigration or population growth. A couple of polls still find for a (very substantial) minority instead.
If the will of the people was ever going to count, why not on the number of migrants? Or, should the people defer to those in the growth lobby, who are confident they know better?
And who is in the growth lobby anyway? Most of the influential interest groups you can think of – except the electorate.
The groupthink begins with the three main political parties. With varying emphases, all celebrate Big Australia for its “jobs and growth” and “multiculturalism” or rejection of racism. Professed public interest motivations also apply to academics and professionals, and to unions, social or religious organisations.
The vaunted multiculturalism has its own racial signatures. India and China have now overtaken Britain as our top migration nations, but significant constitutional and policy arrangements remain decidedly pro-British or pro-Christian. Politicians launch incendiaries against refugees and “African” or “Muslim” immigration, though all three groups are statistically small segments.
The European migrant cultures are more respected now, lionised even. For the original Indigenous Australians, however, respect is a sometime thing. There are the gains of land rights and native title. Against that are high incarceration rates, remote work-for-the-dole schemes and cashless welfare cards. The Indigenous consensus on constitutional recognition was rejected out of hand.
By default, the Treasury is our key population agency. To help perpetuate the 27-year “miracle” in GDP growth, it quietly limns each Budget with high net overseas migration and high population growth.The Reserve Bank, unlike the Productivity Commission, pushes the supposed demographic rejuvenation from high migration. Well over half of all migrants, and well over three-quarters of skilled migrants, go straight to Sydney or Melbourne. The RBA, however, suggests that “zoning restrictions” push up city house prices.

This post originally appeared as an article in The Canberra Times,
6 November 2018

Australia’s population ponzi scheme


By Stephen Williams

(Stephen Williams is a freelance journalist. He has done paid work for Sustainable Population Australia. This post first appeared in Independent Australia. )

Australia is running an ‘investment’ scam that relies on an ever-increasing number of punters to join in.

IF YOU ARE LOOKING for discord between policies that the major parties offer and what most people actually want, it is hard to beat population policy.

OK, OK – the major parties don’t actually have population policies – they have immigration policies that, as the Productivity Commission says in its 2016 Migrant intake into Australia report, work as de-facto population policies.

But let’s start with what most people actually want.

MacroBusiness’s Leith van Onselen has been relentless in his coverage of the population issue in the past few years, and he summarises the recent opinion surveys here.

Van Onselen misses the first Sustainable Population Australia (SPA) survey of 2015, which I spearheaded, although Adjunct Associate Professor Katharine Betts did most of the work. I also had a minor role in The Australian Population Research Institute survey of 2017 that built upon the 2015 SPA survey.

At the very least these surveys show a clear voter dissatisfaction with our high population trajectory as our major cities become crush-loaded.

Do we have ‘high’ population growth?

The Australian Bureau of Statistics releases a quarterly report that summarises our population numbers.

As you can see, Australia is increasing its population by almost 400,000 a year: natural increase is about 38 per cent of that and net overseas migration in about 62 per cent.

The increase is 1.6 per cent per year. To the non-statistician that might not sound like much, but it means we would double our population every 44 years at that rate of increase. We are now 25 million, so that would be 50 million in 2062.

To put that in context, the shit hit the fan in October 2009 when then Treasury head Ken Henry expressed concern over our projected population of 35 million people by 2050.

That led to prime minister Kevin Rudd’s baptism of fire when, like a boy scout enthusiastically collecting kindling at his first jamboree, he chortled his enthusiasm for a “big” Australia.

Yes, we could all get nice and cosy around Kev’s big bonfire and toast some marshmallows!

But the public backlash was fierce, with Julia Gillard eventually distinguishing herself from Rudd with the empty phrase ‘sustainable’ Australia rather than big Australia.

Back to reality, comparable countries to Australia have much lower population increases, and Japan even has a decrease.

The federal government largely determines our population numbers, both through spruiking pronatalism, as former treasurer Peter Costello did in 2004, or through adjusting net overseas migration, with former prime minister John Howard turbo-charging it in about 2006.

(Do not confuse our refugee intake with our overall migrant intake: the former tends to be between 3 and 5 per cent of the latter.)

Such high-population increases, mostly through net migration, then allowed successive governments to smugly say the Australian economy was the envy of the world, with a record-breaking run of ‘economic growth’.

Translation: GDP keeps increasing because you keep adding lots of new people.

Growth sounds good, doesn’t it. It is the opposite of death, decay or stagnation. But growth can also be a cancer, or a ‘population Ponzi’ scheme.

As I have argued elsewhere, there is good evidence that Australia has gone from economic growth up to the decade of the 1970s to uneconomic growth as the costs of expanding the economy become greater than the benefits.

Expanding the economy wouldn’t be so bad if it led to full employment in good jobs and equitable wealth distribution, with reasonable commute times in efficient public transport, but I could sell you a nice big harbour bridge if you believe we are heading in that direction.

Australian governments have conducted a number of inquiries that were largely, or partly, into our population numbers: the Menzies government’s Vernon report (1965); the National Population Inquiry (Borrie report, 1975); FitzGerald report (1988); Withers report (1992); Jones report (1994); Sobels report (2010); and the already-mentioned Productivity Commission report on migration (2016).

Space does not permit an analysis here, other than to say that governments generally ignore those reports that tend to highlight a lack of objective or scientific justification for ever-increasing high population increase in a country with Australia’s limited water resources; limited arable land; unpredictable climate; exposure to natural disasters; and sensitive biota with record extinction rates.

Indeed, the Australian Academy of Science has been concerned about our population numbers for decades, although you will rarely, if ever, hear population boosters mention this. As the academy said in 2010:

‘The Academy has consistently advocated that a large increase in Australia’s population should not take place without a full analysis of the consequences for the environment, in terms of land, water, sustainable agriculture, pressure on native flora and fauna, and social issues.’

People advocating business as usual – or even higher rates of population increase – almost never mention the natural environment, probably because they know next to nothing about it and its life-support systems.

On the other hand, people who express concern about our population trajectory often have scientific or environmental credentials, or are at least environmentally literate: contributors to the regular Fenner Conference for the Environment are good examples.

No, it is largely the business community, its think tanks and its big accounting firms that push for a big Australia, with the mainstream media being largely complicit in not challenging base assumptions that the growth agenda is built on. For instance:

  • What would be an ecologically sustainable population for Australia?
  • What would be an optimal population for Australia?
  • Does expanding the size of the economy always lead to increased wellbeing?
  • Who are the winners and losers from the current neoliberal growth strategy?
  • What are the costs and benefits of increasing our population and what weight should we give to these costs and benefits?
  • Why do many successful societies have relatively small populations?
  • What can Australia realistically do to help an overpopulated planet that is still expanding by 80 million people a year?

The population boosters trot out questionable arguments about the dire consequences of an increase in the proportion of older Australians; alleged skills gaps in the native workforce; and fatuous ideas to do with ‘dynamism’.

Meanwhile, we have almost 2 million people who want more work and can’t get it; full-time jobs are disappearing; wages have stagnated; private-sector debt has skyrocketed; and wealth has concentrated at the big end of town.

What sticks in my craw is the seeming capitulation of both the once-great environmental movement in Australia, and the progressive left in general, to the notion of demographic inevitability and neoliberal orthodoxy.

In fact we have a choice, if only we would exercise it.

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Why voters are ignored on immigration

Katharine Betts
This article originally appeared in The Herald Sun, 10 May 2018

For more than 10 years Australia’s population has been growing fast, mainly through immigration, and most of the new arrivals have found their way into Sydney or Melbourne.

As these cities buckle under the weight of numbers voters are shifting from discontent to anger. They resent crush-loaded trains, jammed roads, clogged schools and hospitals, outrageously expensive housing, and an eroding natural environment.

Despite stressed infrastructure and growing evidence of voter resistance both Coalition and Labor maintain their bipartisan commitment to even more years of high migration.

In 2016 the Australian Election Study (AES) found that 42 per cent of voters wanted immigration to be reduced. By August 2017 The Australian Population Research Institute (TAPRI) found that 54 per cent wanted lower immigration (and at an April 2018 Essential poll this had risen to 64 per cent).

Why do political elites continue to ignore voters’ unhappiness?

One answer is that politicians ignore voters because they can. They believe that voters have nowhere else to go, except for minor parties such as Sustainable Australia or One Nation.

The 2016 AES Candidates study provides evidence for elite indifference. Sixty per cent of election candidates wanted even higher immigration, including 67 per cent of Labor candidates. (Labor candidates were much closer to Greens candidates and Greens voters than to their own supporters.) An elite indifference driven by special interests leaves voters sidelined.

But there is a second answer to the question of why voters are ignored. Taking their concerns seriously risks breaking a rule stronger than politeness. It risks courting immorality.

This makes the division of opinion between political elites and voters more comprehensible. It stems from elite origins in the growing class of university graduates, a class imbued with progressive values.

A clear majority of professionals working in the media want even higher immigration, as do 49 per cent of university academics and teachers. Politicians and professionals are drawn from a similar pool of graduates, many of whom embrace progressive values including enthusiasm for cosmopolitanism, globalism, diversity and social justice.

Within this world view scepticism about high migration easily equates to racism. For example, Greg Jericho writes in the Guardian Australia that ‘because there are many desperate to hate – [the subject of immigration] must be treated with extreme care by politicians and journalists’ (24/2/18).

If scepticism about immigration is fueled by racist hatred, voters asking for reductions should not be taken seriously; their pleas are nothing more than poorly sublimated racism.

Beliefs of this kind have been held in elevated circles for some time. Politicians and their close associates are aware of them, and many share them. An in-group culture remote from the average voter, attention from well-heeled lobbyists, and a co-dependent relationship with media elites all contribute to creating an insider class. On the immigration question they live in a world remote from that of most Australians.

The TAPRI survey confirms that many progressives think that immigration sceptics are in fact racist. It also found that 65 per cent of voters know that this belief is widely held and that nearly half are inhibited by it.

The survey also found that, while many graduates can be termed ‘guardians against racism’, many other graduates feel threatened. They fear the slur. Because of this they are reluctant to speak their minds. After all they were likely to be working with other graduates imbued with progressive beliefs, and may even value such people as friends. Saying openly that immigration is too high puts them at risk of public shaming as well as exclusion from social groups that they care about.

TAPRI’s findings and those of the AES show that voters who are not university graduates are much more concerned about high migration than are graduates. Those who are the most concerned are non-graduate business managers, closely followed by a broad group of technicians, tradespeople, machinery operators, drivers and labourers. These non-graduates are less likely to fear ostracism but are also less likely to be in positions of influence. They can however say what they think in anonymous surveys such as those run by the AES, TAPRI and Essential Research.

They can also make their dissatisfaction felt at the ballot box. This, of course, is provided that there is at least one mainstream party courageous enough to stand against progressive opinion and the vested interests of the business lobby.

Taking a strong stand against racism is a core principle of progressive identity. And rightly so. The problem lies in the ill-informed reflex that is too quick to equate any discontent with high migration to racism.

This reflex helps to silence critics. It also gives the business lobby a free pass to enjoy the benefits its narrow constituency gains from population growth. As property developers bank their profits they can claim to be on the side of virtue or, if that is too far a stretch, they can safely deplore any opponents as xenophobes.

Katharine Betts is deputy head of The Australian Population Research Institute and author of ‘Immigration and public opinion in Australia: how public concerns about high migration are suppressed’, released this week on tapri.org.au.

How do Australian voters view the level of immigration? TAPRI and Scanlon compared

Katharine Betts and Bob Birrell

Republished from John Menadue’s site, Pearls and Irritations

There has been growing controversy about Australia’s level of overseas immigration. In the year to March 2017 Australia’s population is estimated to have grown by a massive 389,100, some 231,000, or 60 per cent of which was due to net overseas migration. For the last few years around two thirds of the net growth in migrants have been locating in Sydney and Melbourne.

The consequences are becoming obvious and are being reflected in increased public concern about urban congestion and other quality of life issues.

But are these consequences resulting in increased opposition to high migration? In order to explore this issue The Australian Population Research Institute (TAPRI) commissioned a national online survey of Australian voters in August 2017 ( ‘Australian voters’ views on immigration policy’.)

The survey found that 74 per cent of voters thought that Australia does not need more people. Furthermore, 54 per cent wanted a reduction in the migrant intake. TAPRI also found that big majorities think that population growth is putting ‘a lot of pressure’ on hospitals, roads, affordable housing and jobs. Thus it seemed reasonable to conclude that these concerns were manifesting in concern about migration levels.

This conclusion has been challenged by the 2017 Mapping Social Cohesion report from the Scanlon Foundation, which surveyed Australians at about the same time as the TAPRI survey. Scanlon reports that only 37 per cent thought immigration levels should be reduced (up just three percentage points from 2016).

When interviewed by David Marr on these findings, the author of the report, Professor Andrew Markus, said: ‘On one level, we’re doing really well as a society… There are all these stories about overcrowding, public transport, housing and everything. That could have gone negative on immigration and so on, but it hasn’t’ .

Who is right? The answer is of major consequence for Australia’s political class. In Western Europe concern about immigration levels has manifested in anti-migration parties gaining 15-20 per cent of the total vote. Is Australia an outlier, immune to sentiment of this sort?

Australian political elites appear to believe that they have little to fear on this front. This is because their main source of information about public opinion on the issue has been the Scanlon Foundation.

For instance, Labor’s shadow Deputy Treasurer, Andrew Leigh, has recently asserted that Australian attitudes to migrants are warm and ‘becoming warmer over time’ (Choosing Openness). According to David Marr, ‘more than almost any people on earth, we are happy for migrants to come in big numbers’ (The White Queen ). Both sources draw these conclusions from successive Scanlon reports.

This remarkable outcome, at least by comparison with the anti-immigration protests across Europe, has prompted a special report in The Economist magazine. The report notes recent efforts, as by Dick Smith, to sound the alarm about Australian migration levels. Yet, so the magazine judges, relatively few Australians seem to be concerned. The authors’ main source, once again, is the Scanlon Foundation. The Economist states that:

Regular surveys conducted by the Scanlon Foundation, which works to integrate immigrants, show that the sense that immigration is too high has fallen substantially since the 1990s.

Why the difference in results?

The TAPRI survey was completed online by a random sample of 2057 voters, (with quotas set with a 10% leeway, in line with ABS distributions for age, gender and location). The sample was drawn from a panel of 300,000. Thus TAPRI used the same methodology as is now employed by Newspoll and by Essential Media.

It is true that, despite the demographic weighting, the panels in question may not be representative of the overall population of voters. For example, the TAPRI sample had a higher representation of graduates than that of the voting population as a whole. This means it probably underestimated the opposition to migration since we found that only 41 per cent of the graduates amongst our respondents favoured a reduction in migration levels, compared with 61 per cent of non-graduates.

However, there are at least as many problems with probability samples done by telephone. The Scanlon poll was based on a telephone sample of 1,500 Australian residents drawn from the entire population of residents. It therefore included many respondents who are not citizens and therefore not eligible to vote.

Citizenship requires a four-year stay in Australia, at least one year of which must be as a permanent resident and, of course, the desire to make the application. As the TAPRI survey conformed, Australian-born persons are much more likely to take a tough line on immigration numbers than are overseas-born persons (unless they are UK-born).

There are also significant issues concerning the reliability of telephone interviews when probing  sensitive issues. As the highly credible Pew Research polling organisation has indicated, respondents may be more likely to provide socially undesirable responses in the relative anonymity of the internet.

Research by Scanlon supports this point. The 2017 report got quite different answers to the question ‘Is your personal attitude positive, negative or neutral towards Muslims?’ when the question was asked in its telephone survey and when asked in a separate online survey that Scanlon funded. In the telephone survey 25 per cent said ‘negative or very negative’, while 41 per cent responded this way in the online survey .

Similarly, Scanlon found a much larger share of respondents favoured a reduction in immigration numbers in a different online survey that it funded which used methodology similar to that used by TAPRI. In the telephone survey 37 per cent said that immigration was too high.  In contrast, 50 per cent of this online sample agreed that the immigration intake was too high, rising to 53 per cent when the findings were limited to those who were Australian citizens.

This result is almost identical to the TAPRI finding. It may well be that because attitudes to immigration numbers, like attitudes to Muslims, are sensitive, voters responding online feel freer to express negative opinions.

If TAPRI’s and Scanlon’s findings when using panel methodology are reliable they have great political significance. The TAPRI report found that 57 per cent of Liberal voters and 46 per cent of Labor voters thought that the immigration intake should be reduced.

If the immigration issue were to be contested at the next federal election both parties would be vulnerable. One Nation or any other party with a fierce low-migration agenda could draw voters from both the Liberal and Labor parties. Alternatively, should the Liberal party stake out a low migration agenda, it could draw votes from the Labor Party.

Katharine Betts and Bob Birrell are with the Australian Population Research Institute, a non-profit think tank.

Australian voters’ views on immigration policy

Katharine Betts and Bob Birrell,  26 October 2017
Australia’s population grew by a massive 384,000 in the year to March 2017, some 217,000, or 60 per cent, of which was due to net overseas migration.

Immigration is the dynamic factor in this population surge, reflecting a record high permanent migration program and generous settings for temporary-entry visas.

The consequences are becoming obvious and are being reflected in increased public concern about quality of life and questions concerning ethnic diversity.

The Australian Population Research Institute (TAPRI) commissioned a national survey of Australian voters in August 2017 to assess the extent of this concern and its causes.

The survey found that 74 per cent of voters thought that Australia does not need more people, with big majorities believing that that population growth was putting ‘a lot of pressure’ on hospitals, roads, affordable housing and jobs.

Most voters were also worried about the consequences of growing ethnic diversity. Forty-eight per cent supported a partial ban on Muslim immigration to Australia, with only 25 per cent in opposition to such a ban.

Despite these demographic pressures and discontents, Australia’s political and economic elites are disdainful of them and have ignored them. They see high immigration as part of their commitment to the globalisation of Australia’s economy and society and thus it is not to be questioned.

Elites elsewhere in the developed world hold similar values, but have had to retreat because of public opposition. Across Europe 15 to 20 per cent of voters currently support anti-immigration political parties.

Our review of elite opinion in Australia shows that here they think they can ignore public concerns. This is because their main source of information about public opinion on the issue, the Scanlon Foundation, has consistently reported that most Australians support their immigration and cultural diversity policies.

How could Australia be so different from other Western countries? It has long been argued, including by the Scanlon Foundation, that Australians were insulated from the economic shocks of the Global Financial Crisis in 2008-2009. This means that we have a lower share of angry ‘left behinds’ than in Europe and the US, that is, people suffering from economic stress who can be mobilised around an anti-immigration banner.

This is why Labor’s shadow Deputy Treasurer, Andrew Leigh, can assert that Australian attitudes to migrants are warm and ‘becoming warmer over time’ and that ‘there is solid support for the principle of non-discrimination’. It is also why, according to prominent writer David Marr, ‘more than almost any people on earth, we are happy for migrants to come in big numbers’.

The TAPRI survey refutes these findings. It shows that 74 per cent of voters believe that Australia does not need more people and that, at the time of the survey, 54 per cent wanted a reduction in the migrant intake. This includes 57 per cent of Liberal voters and 46 per cent of Labor voters. This result is far higher than the 34 per cent of respondents wanting a lower migrant intake reported in the last Scanlon survey (in July-August 2016).

Australian voters’ concern about immigration levels and ethnic diversity does not derive from economic adversity. Rather it stems from the increasingly obvious impact of population growth on their quality of life and the rapid change in Australia’s ethnic and religious make-up.

Such is the extent of these concerns that they could readily be mobilised in an electoral context by One Nation or any other party with a similar agenda, should such a party be able to mount a national campaign. If this occurs, the Liberal Party is likely to be the main loser.

The full text of the report is here.

Victoria: Parasite State

Victoria: Parasite State
Bob Birrell

Australia’s affluent lifestyle depends on huge imports of manufactured goods, particularly hi-tech electronic goods – for the simple reason that few of these products are made in Australia. In the official statistics these goods are labelled as Elaborately Transformed Manufactures (ETMs). In 2015-16 Australia exported $20.8 billion worth of ETMs and imported $190.3 billion. The resulting deficit was $169.5 billion.

This deficit was largely covered by the export of primary goods, mainly minerals and fuels. There was an Australia-wide surplus of $129 billion in 2015-16 in exports over imports of these primary goods. Victoria contributed a tiny $1.3 billion to this surplus in 2015-16.

At first sight, this is not a pretty picture. Victorians’ life style appears to be dependent on commodity exports, most of which originate from Western Australia and Queensland.

But surely Victoria makes a contribution to the export of ETMs? After all, Victoria has been in the lead in promoting advanced manufacturing and other innovative industries since the early 2000s, when Bracks and Brumby led successive Labor governments.

At that time, there were concerns about the consequences of the Hawke/Keating governments’ reforms of the 1980s and 1990s, which included drastic reduction in tariff levels. These opened Australian manufacturing industry to global competition. The fear was that Victoria’s legacy of protected manufacturing industries was at risk.

Bracks and Brumby embraced Keating’s reforms. Victorians were told not to worry about this risk. This was because Labor was putting in place initiatives that would promote hi-tech advanced manufacturing in Victoria. These initiatives, voters were told in 2002, would ‘make Victoria one of the world’s most innovative and international focused economies’.

Bracks and Brumby set out an Agenda for New Manufacturing. The Labor government promised to provide some financial support for innovation. But the trump card was its determination to turn Melbourne into an exciting destination city that would attract the best and the brightest from around the globe. Docklands and various iconic buildings like Southern Cross station were part of this. Labor claimed that these bright newcomers would enhance Melbourne’s already strong base in science and technology research.

The strategy included plans to boost Victoria’s population – labelled Beyond Five Million. The goal was to grow the states’ population from around 5 million in 2004 to 6 million in 2025. It actually reached 6 million in 2015, with Melbourne increasing its domination of the state’s population, despite the plan’s stated aim to decentralise Victoria’s population.

However the Labor leaders took no chances. Their new planning scheme, Melbourne 2030, provided for massive growth in Melbourne’s population by rezoning much of inner Melbourne and all of the city’s major transport and shopping hubs for high rise apartments. In addition, a huge swathe of Melbourne’s fringe was rezoned for new housing.

Labor’s initiatives were rewarded with the accolade of the world’s most liveable city in 2002. With so many ‘creative’ people expected to be attracted, the Labor leaders promised that Victoria would become ‘a world leader in the 21st century drivers of prosperity’.

Now let’s turn to the real world. How has Victoria performed since these promises were made? Victoria’s contribution to Australia’s meagre exports of ETMs has actually declined since the early 2000s. In 2004-05 Victorian enterprises exported $7.2 billion worth of ETMs. In 2015-16 they exported $7.3 billion. This is less in real terms than in 2004-05, because the Australian dollar was worth far more a decade ago than today.

There have been a few hi-tech success stories in Victoria, notably CSL, but these gains have been more than offset by the losses stemming from the demise of protected manufacturing industries, including the motor vehicle industry, which was the leading exporter of ETMs from Victoria in the early 2000s.

Meanwhile as Victoria’s population swelled and its residents’ affluence has grown, the state’s appetite for ETM imports has surged. As noted, some $7.3 billion of ETMs were exported from in 2015-16. In the same year, Victoria imported $52.5 billion worth of ETMS. The result was a deficit on international trade of ETMs of $45.2 billion.

And it’s getting worse. Victoria’s deficit on international trade in ETMs is deepening along with its growing population. Just a few years ago, in 2012-13, Victoria’s deficit on ETM trade was $34 billion.

Victoria is a parasite state. In 2015-16 Victorians, who made up 25 per cent of Australia’s population, were responsible for 28 per cent of the national deficit in ETM trade of $159.6 billion. Furthermore, as indicated, Victorian made only a tiny contribution to Australia’s surplus in the trade of primary products that largely finances the national ETM deficit.

Victoria is relying on the rest of Australia to provide for its import intensive life style. Melbourne, of course is driving this dependence because of its increasingly dominant role in the state’s economy.

In Melbourne, this dependence is ignored. Why worry when the economy appears to be booming. However the boom is being driven by employment growth in the health, social assistance and education industries that are largely financed by the commonwealth and state governments and a boom in the finance and property industries fuelled by a massive increase in mortgage investment debt.

The current Labor government is basking in Victoria’s national leadership in job creation, the continued award to Melbourne as the world’s most liveable city and the evidence of cranes on every horizon.

This is a mirage – where not a word of the truth, as summarized above, is allowed to intrude.

Bob Birrell is the head of the Australian Population Research Institute

An edited version of this text was published in The Herald Sun, on Monday the 28th of August 2017, page 20.
It was accompanied by an article by John Masanauskas, Bailed Out: Victoria dubbed a parasite state as imports trump exports by $51 billion a year and followed by an editorial, 29 August 2017, Livability clouds gather.