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Could Australia see a migration boom after the COVID-19 pandemic?

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sbs -After more than three months of lockdown, Greater Sydney reopened its economy on Monday much to the relief of business owners, but there was one virus-induced complication threatening to take the shine off the recovery.

Since Australia shut its international borders in March last year, business and industry have been grappling with a chronic shortage of workers.

That’s prompted calls from some leaders to swiftly reopen international borders and lift migration levels in a way not seen since World War II.

In the 12 months following the closure of Australia’s international borders, Australia’s population rose by just 35,700 people according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

The growth rate was just 0.1 per cent, a significant fall on the previous years.

The “annual natural increase”, comprising births and deaths among Australian residents, remained steady at 131,000 people.

But that was offset by a significant fall in net overseas migration, down to a negative figure of 95,300.

That’s a decrease of 334,600 people since the previous year.

“Not since wartime in Australia’s history, have we seen anything that even comes close to the demographic change that we’ve experienced during COVID-19,” ANU demographer Dr Liz Allen told SBS News.

Labour shortage

Australian businesses were already struggling with workforce shortages before the pandemic hit and now the ongoing border closures have aggravated the issue.

“Right across the board from unskilled [migrants] through to very highly skilled medical professionals, we realise how dependent we are as a state and as a nation on immigration,” Professor Jock Collins from the UTS Business School told SBS News.

There is pent-up demand from migrants looking to settle or return to Australia, but Dr Allen said it was unlikely the intake would bounce back to pre-COVID levels – where the population grew by over one per cent each year – in the near future.

“That spells a serious disaster for Australia and in the economy,” she warned.

“The basic needs of this country won’t be met because the local workforce is insufficient to meet the needs of our industry.”

It’s a quandary front of mind for New South Wales Premier Dominic Perrottet, who earlier this week spoke of his eagerness to reopen international borders.

“We need to get the borders opened up. Then we need to market to those overseas countries to get some of those skilled migrants in because if we lose this opportunity, those skilled migrants will go to other countries,” he said on Monday.

It’s a change of view from before the pandemic where his predecessor Gladys Berijiklian went to the last state election in 2019 pushing to cut immigration to the state by 50 per cent, citing growing issues with infrastructure and traffic congestion.

An “ambitious” boom?

The Australian Financial Review reported that Mr Perrottet is being asked by senior bureaucrats to set his migration sights even higher, with the figure of two million migrants over five years.

They’ve urged him to lobby for an “ambitious” immigration program, in the vein of the mass influx following World War II when Australians were given a message to “populate or perish”.

In 1945, the government was concerned the country needed a larger population to sustain its defences and economic recovery, leading to the foundation of the Federal Department of Immigration and a target to increase the population by one per cent each year.

Some 1.2 million migrants entered the country over the following 15 years, primarily from war-torn Europe, delivering an economic boost.

“These new immigrants contributed to half the job growth in the economy, half the population growth,” Professor Collins explained.

“Immigrants would arrive … straight off the boat, literally into the factory, the next day.”

He said the country was facing a similar labour shortage today – which would require a strong uptick in migration to resolve.

But a World War II-style increase would pose challenges for infrastructure and housing, with public transport, roads and the healthcare system needing to be scaled up.

“Too often in the past, governments have sort of taken the benefits of immigration while delaying the necessary public infrastructure investment to create problems down the track,” Professor Collins said.

He also cautioned against the increasing reliance on temporary visa holders to fill labour shortages, at risk of increased exploitation and wage theft.

Cultural impact

The post-war migration boom also signalled a significant shift in Australia’s cultural make-up.

The decision to take in refugees from across Europe marked the end of the preferential settlement of British nationals and the beginning of Australia’s transformation from an Anglo-centric colony to a multicultural society.

It triggered a change in perspective about migration that culminated in the removal of the White Australia Policy by the Whitlam government.

“It was the post-war immigration boom, that charted a new course for Australia. We headed away from that white monoculture … we realised that we needed to move beyond the Antipodes of our migration history and instead look to the future,” Dr Allen said.

While the post-war boom drew heavily on European immigrants, Dr Allen expects China and India to continue to contribute a sizeable share of Australia’s arrivals going forward beyond COVID.

“We will require skills in people from a range of backgrounds, labourers, professionals, and so on. [And] I suspect that we will continue to see migration from more diverse places than where we’ve historically welcomed people from,” she said.

“This moment in time, this post-COVID rebuild will be a watershed in our history.”

 

Australia

Australia election: PM Morrison’s security team in car crash in Tasmania

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A car carrying the Australian prime minister’s security team has crashed in Tasmania during an election campaign visit.

Four police officers were taken to hospital with “non-life threatening injuries” after the car and another vehicle collided, authorities said.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison was not in the car, but the accident prompted him to cancel the rest of his campaign events on Thursday.

The other driver involved was not hurt.

Tasmania Police said initial investigations suggested the second car had “collided with the rear of the police vehicle, while attempting to merge”. It caused the unmarked security vehicle to roll off the road.

The two Tasmania Police officers and two Australian Federal Police officers were conscious when taken to hospital for medical assessment, the prime minister’s office said.

“Family members of the officers have been contacted and are being kept informed of their condition,” a statement said.

“The PM is always extremely grateful for the protection provided by his security team and extends his best wishes for their recovery and to their families.”

Australians go to the polls on 21 May. Mr Morrison – prime minister since 2018 – is hoping to win his conservative coalition’s fourth term in office.

Polls suggest the opposition Labor Party, led by Anthony Albanese, is favoured to win. However, Mr Morrison defied similar polling to claim victory at the last election in 2019.

Mr Morrison’s Liberal-National coalition holds 76 seats in the House of Representatives – the minimum needed to retain power.

Political observers say the cost of living, climate change, trust in political leaders, and national security will be among key issues in the campaign.

In recent weeks, the prime minister has faced accusations of being a bully and once sabotaging a rival’s career by suggesting the man’s Lebanese heritage made him less electable. Mr Morrison has denied the allegations.

Mr Albanese stumbled into his own controversy this week when he failed to recall the nation’s unemployment or interest rates.

Read from: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-61103987

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Sydney airport warns delays could last weeks on third day of travel chaos

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Long queues at Sydney airport’s domestic terminals have continued for a third day, with some passengers missing international connections, as the airport warns delays resulting from a surge in travellers and a shortfall in security staff could continue for weeks.

Chaotic scenes were reported in the departure halls as early as 4.30am on Saturday, with some frustrated travellers, many of whom heeded the pleas of airport chiefs to arrive at least two hours before their domestic flight was due to take off, claiming only one security line was operating.

While the queues that formed early on Saturday are understood to have cleared later in the morning, the airport apologised to affected travellers.

“Traffic numbers are picking up and the close contact rules are making it hard to fill shifts and staff the airport. We appreciate your patience,” Sydney airport said on its Twitter account.

A wave of families travelling as the term two school holidays begin this weekend, combined with close contact rules that are understood to be taking out about 20% of security shifts in any given day, are driving the problem.

Certis, the company that Sydney airport contracts for its security operations, is desperately trying to recruit personnel, while the airport has reallocated back office, IT and retail workers to the departure hall to comb queues so they can prioritise passengers at risk of missing their flight.

“We are working around the clock to resolve these issues and have teams in the terminals bringing passengers forward in order of priority,” a Sydney airport spokesperson said.

He added that the airport is “anticipating it will [be] busy right through the school holiday period and peak over the Easter and Anzac Day weekends, in some cases at 90% of pre-Covid passenger levels”.

“We’re deeply grateful to passengers for their ongoing patience and we’re sorry to everyone who has been inconvenienced,” the spokesperson said. “We would also like to thank passengers for getting to the airport early and treating staff and each other with kindness and respect.”

The Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce was forced to clarify comments he made on Friday that passengers were “not match fit” and that those forgetting to remove laptops and aerosols from their bags at the security check contributing to the delays.

“Just to be clear, I’m not ‘blaming’ passengers,” Joyce said. “Of course it’s not their fault,” he said.

Qantas shed thousands of staff during the pandemic, and outsourced ground crews in a decision that was challenged in court.

On Saturday, Qantas also apologised to a Melbourne family left stranded in Sydney, after domestic flight delays caused them to miss an international trip.

Javiera Martinez, her partner Daniel Capurro and their three children were supposed to be flying to Chile on Friday to visit relatives they had not seen in three years.

But after their 8am Qantas flight from Melbourne was delayed by half an hour, baggage handling and airport transfer delays in Sydney meant they couldn’t make their 11.30am LATAM Airlines flight to Santiago.

Martinez said the airline’s procedures at the airport were chaotic.

“We think Qantas didn’t behave appropriately. I got berated by the person at the counter – they never apologised, they never assumed any responsibility at all,” she said. “It was a rude conversation. We have been mistreated badly I would say.”

The PCR tests they need to travel have now expired and they will have to take them again as they wait for seats on the next flight to Santiago from Sunday.

The airline has apologised and paid for a night’s accommodation in Sydney.

“We sincerely apologise that the family missed their connecting flight on another airline due to delays moving through Sydney airport on Friday,” a Qantas spokesperson said.

The family is among many affected by hold ups amid the busiest travel period in two years, with Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane airports warning passengers to arrive two hours before domestic flights.

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Grace Tame says caller ‘threatened’ against criticising PM

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An Australian of the Year and sexual abuse survivor has said she received a “threatening” call warning her not to criticise the prime minister.

Grace Tame made the allegation in a speech on Wednesday, where she said she’d been called by a “senior member of a government-funded organisation”.

She added she was asked to promise not to say anything “damning” about Scott Morrison.

The government has denied knowledge of the call and said it will investigate.

On Tuesday, Mr Morrison made a formal apology to former political staffer Brittany Higgins more than a year after the young woman went public with the allegation that she had been raped by a male colleague in a ministerial office.

Her story sparked national anger, and an inquiry into parliament’s culture which found more than a third of workers had been sexually harassed.

Both Ms Higgins and Ms Tame have been heralded this past year for prompting a national conversation about abuse, power and gender inequality.

On Wednesday, the pair delivered a highly anticipated joint address at the National Press Club in Canberra.

Asked by journalists if she could name the threatening caller and their organisation, Ms Tame said: “if I was willing to name either, I would have put them in the speech”.

But she said the caller had been concerned about what she would say on the evening her successor as Australian of the Year was named.

She said the caller had described her as an “influential figure” and that Mr Morrison would “have a fear” about what she might say “with an election coming soon”. Australia is due to hold a general election before 21 May.

“Sound familiar to anyone? Well, it does to me,” Ms Tame said, before drawing a comparison with her former abuser – a teacher who had raped her as a child and pressured her to stay silent.

Mr Morrison’s office said it had not been aware of the call before Ms Tame’s speech, adding “the individual should apologise”.

“The PM and the government consider the actions and statements of the individual as unacceptable,” a spokesperson said.

But Ms Tame said launching a probe “misses the point entirely”.

“Stop deflecting, Scott. It’s not about the person who made the call. It’s the fact they felt like they had to do it at all,” she tweeted.

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