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More immigrants would aid economy

AS the immigration debate pitches like a rusty trawler in the Indian Ocean, one fact shines clear – Australia needs more people to reach its economic potential.

One of the key arguments against immigration is that migrants take the jobs of Australians – a claim most economists refute.

Migrants need to set themselves up with housing, cars and the like, so their initial impact on the domestic economy can be high.

Studies show those migrants that have technical or business skills give the quickest boost to the economy.

People drive the domestic economy – something Australia needs to strengthen to develop the goods and service-based industries it craves.

When these industries have a ready domestic market to supply them, they can become more competitive on price internationally.

Strong domestic demand has helped countries such as the US to become an economic superpower.

The Reserve Bank of Australia’s recent Statement on Monetary Policy says a strengthening domestic economy helped Australia to ride out the effects of the post-September 11 global slow-down.

That domestic growth was driven by new home starts.

Historically, high periods of Australian GDP growth have been linked to periods of high immigration.

The Australian economy is considered small by international standards – largely due to its small population.

This small domestic economy has been a drogue on Australian industry since Federation.

On February 22, the deadline closes for submissions on the 2002-2003 Migration and Humanitarian Programs that will help determine Australia’s population future, the size, balance and composition of the migration program and the economic and social objectives of immigration.

It will also help determine Australia’s humanitarian program.

Last year, Australia took in around 109,000 migrants.

At the beginning of the year, the Federal Government had allowed 85,000 places in its migration program, with the bulk of those to be skilled people.

The country has a population of around 20 million and some experts believe that should be raised to 50 million by 2050.

To reach that population target about 500,000 people – about the population of Tasmania – would need to come in each year.

However, there are others who believe that 20 million is already too many for an arid country such as Australia to sustain.

There is a third view – that Australia’s population should increase, but that the bulk of those people should be either skilled or business-savvy people.

On a more local basis, immigration has historically been even more important to WA because of the State’s low population base.

However, WA has a relatively fast-growing population because it takes higher than the national average in immigration.

It normally draws people from other States too, although last year net State migration turned negative for the first time in many years.

And while Australia’s population is ageing, WA’s population remains younger than the national average.

While the State relies on its resources and agricultural products for the bulk of its income, the domestic economy is growing in importance.

However, WA has been losing people to other states in the past year. Traditionally, the State has been a destination for people from other parts of the country.

Unlike Queensland, people usually come to WA for economic reasons and the State’s recent poor economic performance is being blamed for the trend.

BankWest senior economist Alan Langford said big projects going online – such as Woodside’s fourth Liquefied Natural Gas

train – would bring people back to WA. “And many of these will be high-wage jobs which will flow down through the economy,” Mr Langford said.

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