Sunday, October 23, 2016

Time to fix visa laws, cut Australia’s permanent migrant intake

The government’s unjustified satisfaction with our immigration policy settings was on display last month when Scott Morrison delivered yet another headland speech.

The theme this time was the importance of foreign investment, trade and immigration to Australia’s economic prosperity. In fact, the grouping of these matters is not self-evident — after all, the free flow of goods, services and capital can act as a substitute for the flow of people.

High levels of immigration are obviously associated with a bigger economy. But the assessment of the economic benefits of immigration must be made in per capita terms and it is here that the estimated economic gains are in fact very small and are highly dependent on the model used.

The Productivity Commission thinks gross domestic product could be 7 per cent higher in 45 years because of our immigration program.

But let’s be clear, this is a tiny gain across a very long period. Moreover, no account is taken of the impact of immigration on congestion, environmental pressures or housing affordability.

Notwithstanding the government’s overt contentment with the immigration program, there are some serious faults in the selection procedures as well as the conditions attached to the various visa categories. There is also is a distinct possibility that the annual (permanent) immigration program is too high and has been for some time. The annual intake of permanent migrants, excluding humanitarian entrants, is 190,000. To think that immigration is responsible for at least one-half of our annual population growth surely would surprise many people — 10 or 20 per cent perhaps, but more than 50 per cent?

The Treasurer was very keen to emphasise the dominance of the skilled visa category (about two- thirds of the permanent intake) as a strength of our immigration policies. But there are serious questions about the reliability of the list of occupations deemed to be in short supply and that qualify migrants for points under the skilled visa entry.

It also should be noted that it is only the primary applicant whose skills are assessed. Secondary applicants (and children) are almost always less skilled than the primary applicant and they fare less well in the Australian labour market compared with their partners.

A more recent phenomenon has been the high percentage of temporary migrants — mainly university students and 457 visa holders — who become permanent residents through the skilled visa program. A fair proportion of these migrants then bring in secondary applicants from their original countries, even those who may never have visited Australia.

The reality is that the setting of the permanent migrant intake numbers is partly driven to suit the higher education sector. Selling courses and the potential for permanent residence in Australia is a much more attractive package than selling courses alone.

Also look at the botch that the government has made in respect of the working holiday maker visa program and the rate of taxation that should apply to these valuable workers — just ask the farmers desperate for help to pick crops.

It was a complete brain snap to think the government could impose a 32.5 per cent tax rate from the get-go on these working holiday maker visa holders and that there would be no supply response or attempts to avoid it altogether — via cash payments, for instance.

And what was the logic of imposing a 15 per cent withholding tax on temporary migrants entering under a similar program, the seasonal agricultural workers scheme, on the basis that these migrants are taxpayers in other countries and not apply the same thinking to working holiday makers? The government hopes that it has solved the working holiday maker problem by imposing a 19 per cent tax and — wait for it — a 95 per cent tax on the superannuation payments made on their behalf. Morrison is surely having a lend of us if he thinks this is good policy.

Make employers pay 9.5 per cent of wages as superannuation for their working holiday maker workers and have the government confiscate virtually all of it because superannuation is designed for the retirement of Australian workers, according to Morrison.

The ­obvious solution is to liberate employers from making the superannuation contribution in the first place.

But this sort of distorted thinking is what happens when the Treasurer declares that the government needs the money. Read it here: repairing the budget can never be achieved through defective policies such as the compromised working holiday maker tax arrangements.

And when he says young people won’t be attracted to Canada or New Zealand because they can earn more here — because of our high regulated wages — what he is really saying is that he is more than happy to impose high costs on employers that typically rely on working holiday maker visa holders. There’s no free lunch here, Treasurer: employers and consumers lose out, in particular.

Mind you, the small amount of additional money that will be raised through the higher taxation of working holiday makers will be dwarfed by the additional costs of the temporary parent visa that is being contemplated by the government as a blatant exercise in vote buying in certain electorates.

The Productivity Commission has already belled the cat on the astronomical cost of the contributory parent visa. For a sum just under $50,000 each, the parents of migrants are able to enter the country and, after a period, are fully entitled to every benefit available to those born in Australia, including the Age Pension.

The real cost to the Australian taxpayer is between $335,000 and $420,000 per visa holder. In net present value terms, this amounts to between $2.6 billion and $3.2bn for every annual intake of migrant parents. If Morrison were really serious about budget repair, he would be doing something about this scheme.

But there’s more. For some migrant groups, the cost and conditions attached to this parent visa category don’t suit them. So the government is proposing to introduce a five-year parent visa category, outdoing Labor’s election campaign pledge to introduce a three-year visa category.

In theory, those entering under this new visa category will be required to have private health insurance but, as is the case with international students, this requirement is impossible to police. (International students lob up at emergency departments of public hospitals and are not denied treatment even if they can’t or won’t pay. There is also no integrity in relation to the use of Medicare cards.)

And does anyone honestly think the government will insist on 80-year-old granny being deported when her five-year visa period expires?

There is no point talking about the importance of families and free babysitting for these migrant groups. These are private benefits that shouldn’t be subsidised by the taxpayer. And let’s face it, many Australian families don’t live close to grandparents.

The bottom line is this: self-praise for our immigration program by the government is no recommendation. The number of planned permanent immigrants is too high and has been for some time — it should be scaled back immediately to closer to 100,000 a year. The list of occupations in short supply also needs to be reviewed, again with some serious scaling back required.

The tawdry compromise on the taxation of working holiday makers also should be reconsidered and the absurd expropriation by the government of the superannuation contributions made on behalf of this group should be scrapped immediately.

And as for the proposed temporary parent visa category, just don’t do it. We can’t afford it, it will cause resentment and it’s just bad policy.


Sport and Recreation Centres: NSW government explores privatisation

The state government has held confidential talks with commercial operators and organisations that have Christian mission statements, as part of a controversial outsourcing proposal for Sport and Recreation Centres used for thousands of school camps every year.

Leaked documents show government-appointed consultants have held "market sounding" discussions with eight organisations, including NGOs, the multinational PGL group and organisations linked to the Christian Community Churches of Australia and the Crusader Union of Australia.

Labor has questioned the suitability of Christian groups to deliver services at the camps, which are used by 70,000 students each year, many from public schools.

The Crusader Union's website says it has "proclaimed the gospel to school students since 1930". The group did not return a request for comment by deadline.

Opposition Sports spokeswoman Lynda Voltz said the government had resisted requests to release the documents under freedom of information laws.

"It is not surprising that the Baird government has kept this report secret," Ms Voltz said. "It is hard to argue [these] are suitable organisations to run camps delivered to NSW public schools."

But the state government said the discussions were no indication the organisations had been deemed suitable to deliver services at the camp. The government said it was only seeking initial market information on how to improve the camps.

"Market testing is under way to investigate how services at Sport and Recreation centres can be improved for school, sporting and community groups," said Sports Minister Stuart Ayres. "Sport and Recreation centres are available to all community members in NSW and will continue to be so."

The government has previously confirmed it is considering changing the operators for eight of the 11 camps across the state.

But Mr Ayres ruled out selling the camps and said investigations would be complete by year's end, after which time the government would consult camp users.

Another organisation to have signed a non-disclosure agreement before entering talks with the government, Lutanda, aims to "introduce the Jesus of the Bible".

But a spokesman said the organisation ran a mix of camps, including those where schools used the organisation's facilities but ran their own programs.

Under a leasing plan prepared by the consultants, the government would hand over control for more than half of the camps' operations.

But the plans would have the state government jointly develop a camp's programs with the government; any provider would have sole responsibility for delivering programs.

Ms Voltz also queried whether the state government had approached organisations with large volunteer networks to keep down labour costs, which account for nearly two-thirds of the camps' costs.

The camps now run at a net cost of about $2.6 million a year. The consultants' report finds attendance is uneven and utilisation of the camps averages 50 per cent.

Ms Voltz said that the camps' net loss represented only about $15 for each student using the camps.


David Leyonhjelm once said he would be happy to 'let police bleed to death'

The senator who sparked a furious debate on gun ownership this week once said he would be happy to let police "lie on the side of the road and bleed to death".

Video has emerged of Liberal-Democrat senator David Leyonhjelm speaking at a rally outside Queensland's Parliament in late 2013, where he complained about new laws potentially denying affiliates of outlaw motorcycle gangs their gun licences.

Senator Leyonhjelm was introduced to the rally as a senator-elect who had resigned from the Liberal Party "in disgust" over the Howard-era gun laws. 

"The police and the public, at least the motorcycle riding public, are on a collision course and they wonder why no one comes to their aid when they are in trouble," he said at the rally.

"For myself, I am never going to help someone who thinks it's OK to pull me up, search me and threaten me with jail if I don't answer their questions, merely because I ride my motorcycle in company with a couple of other people.

"If that's what they think, they can lie on the side of the road and bleed to death."

The rally crowd, which had been enthusiastically cheering the speech, laughed nervously in response to the comment.

On Friday, a spokesman for the senator said he was a "libertarian who wishes no ill will on anyone, with the possible exception of authoritarians who would treat law abiding people like criminals".

"He is fed up by governments all over Australia that tell people who are doing no harm to others how to live their lives," the spokesman said.

Comment has been sought from the Queensland police union.

Senator Leyonhjelm ignited a civil war within the Liberal Party this week when he announced the government had been prepared to horse trade on gun laws to get its industrial relations legislation through the Senate.

He produced an email from August 2015 which outlined a deal between the senator and Justice Minister Michael Keenan and Immigration Minister Peter Dutton to end an import ban on the powerful Adler shotgun.

Former prime minister Tony Abbott denied any knowledge of a deal and tweeted his concerns, before doubling down in an interview with the ABC.

Mr Turnbull was forced to publicly contradict Mr Abbott's claims in Parliament and said he was "satisfied that the Minister for Justice acted in the full knowledge of the Prime Minister's Office at that time"

Last year, the Police Association of New South Wales called for Senator Leyonhjelm to be sacked from a law enforcement committee after he criticised police for their treatment of A-League fans at a Western Sydney Wanderers game.

"There is a saying amongst them that all cops are bastards," the senator said in November last year.

"The cops have earned that label, they have to un-earn it.

"The police are not our masters. They are our servants and I think they should remember that."


Light railroaded

Well aren't we glad that we figured that out.  Canberrans have decisively voted for a light rail! This is a prominent interpretation of last weekend's ACT election result. But the better lesson is that governments can easily ignore facts and bamboozle the electorate to support useless projects. Because the projects are infrastructure. And infrastructure is good.

Never mind that the project cost  has already blown out, and may blow out more (as all infrastructure projects do). Never mind that the total cost, relative to the size of the ACT economy, is estimated to be 6 to 12 times larger than the NBN. Never mind that there were alternatives with a much greater benefit-cost ratio, such as improved bus infrastructure, according to the ACT Government's own analysis. The government's decision to ignore the greater benefit of buses has been criticised at length by the Productivity Commission. But trams are more exciting than buses... don't we understand?

Never mind that the need for more public transport is not clear, given  many Canberra bus routes are currently oversupplied. Never mind the environmental degradation caused by the construction of the supposedly environmentally friendly project. It is apparently okay for Greens-inspired projects to cut down more than 860 trees even if they are being replaced -- but good luck mounting the same argument with your local council. And a busway arguably has lower not higher greenhouse emissions than the light rail.

Never mind that the proponents argue the project will create heaps of jobs, while ignoring the people who leave other jobs to work on the rail project. Never mind the benefits being heavily dependent on dubious assumptions about non-transport benefits such as economies of scale and increased tax revenue, assumptions that have also been questioned by the ACT Auditor-General.

Don't worry about all these issues. The ability to do a snow job on the electorate has helped win an election again.

Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).    For a daily critique of Leftist activities,  see DISSECTING LEFTISM.  To keep up with attacks on free speech see Tongue Tied. Also, don't forget your daily roundup  of pro-environment but anti-Greenie  news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH .  Email me  here

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