Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s call to drastically reduce Australia’s migrant intake has been denounced as “lazy” and “contrary to economic research” by some commentators—and not just because Abbott himself is an immigrant from the UK.
In a speech delivered at the Sydney Institute, Abbott called for migrant intake to be reduced from 190,000 to 110,000 annually. He argued that doing so would improve living standards, boost housing affordability, stimulate wage growth, and relieve pressure on infrastructure.
But Liz Allen, a demographer and social researcher at the Australian National University (ANU), said Abbott’s statements are contrary to the facts.
“The economic benefits of our migration intake are clear,” she told news.com.au. “Based on research, our current migration program in Australia is a demand-driven program. Evidence shows that the optimal level for Australia, given the population characteristics, is between 160,000 and 210,000.”
A migrant intake of over 210,000 will produce diminishing returns while an intake below 160,000—which Abbott is advocating for—will negatively impact economic growth.
There is very little evidence to suggest migrants have a diminishing impact on the economy.
“If we were to look at the net effects of the contribution to the economy, Australia benefits and gains more from migrants than migrants draw from Australia,” Allen said.
While the issues that Abbott has raised—strained housing affordability, clogged infrastructure, rising inequality, and stagnant wage growth—are valid, they cannot be blamed solely on immigration, according to Gavin Fernando, a journalist with News Corp.
“[These issues] reflect a failure in government policy over decades and an inability to make long-term investments,” Fernando said.
Fernando further pointed out that when it comes to housing affordability, Abbott once expressed a desire for house prices to continue increasing.
“As someone who, along with the bank, owns a house in Sydney, I do hope our housing prices are increasing. I want housing to be affordable but nevertheless, I also want house prices to be modestly increasing,” Abbott said back in 2015.
As prime minister, Abbott ruled out changes to negative gearing and capital gains tax breaks for investors—policies which have been criticised for triggering growth in house prices. Abbott also abolished the National Housing Supply Council.
“To now turn around and feign concern for young Australians priced out of the housing market, simply because it’s a convenient opportunity to hit out at immigrants, is a stinging hypocrisy,” Fernando said.