Business Opposes Cuts To Immigration Policy

Business opposes cuts to immigration policy

Annabel Hepworth and Richard Gluyas
From: The Australian
July 22, 2010 12:00AM

PROMINENT business leaders have warned that policies to slow population growth will damage the economy.

They say that will allow governments to avoid tackling chronic infrastructure neglect in major cities and stoke inflationary wage pressures.

As debate rages over the concept of a more sustainable Australia, chief executives and company directors say immigration is crucial to overcome skills shortages.

Toll Holdings chief executive Paul Little said a “fairly significant” percentage of its employees in Australia came from elsewhere.

“I think they have a pedigree of working extremely hard and filling different roles that may be difficult to fill with Australians for various different reasons,” Mr Little said.

“I'm certainly not opposed to having an ongoing program in place that would probably need to be tempered around the recognition of suitable infrastructure to house and to accommodate many of the people that want to work in Australia . . . I think an immigration program that has some rigour and discipline built around it is a very sensible way forward.”

Business leaders said Japan's economic growth was impeded by a static, ageing population.

Wesfarmers director Charles Macek said it was “untenable” for a country as large as Australia, with its rich endowment of resources, to have such a small population – not much bigger than a very large global city.

The continent was dry, but rainfall per capita was “extraordinarily high”, and capable of supporting many more people.

“I also think there's a very long-term national security issue here,” Mr Macek said.

“The US can't afford to play the role of global policeman any more, so we have to become far more self-reliant when it comes to our own security, and a larger population is part of that.”

Mr Macek, the son of a Czech migrant family, likened the population challenge to that of Tasmania, where he has a small vineyard.

The island state, he said, was not large enough to be self-sustaining, or to support the infrastructure it needed. “This state could easily support double its population,” he said.

Business figures argue infrastructure constraints must be tackled, and some fear bottlenecks will jeopardise the country's ability to accommodate skilled migration.

Eileen Doyle, a non-executive director at OneSteel, and former chairman of Port Waratah Coal Services, said infrastructure was a major issue.

“We have such latent demand for infrastructure in just about every area . . . you can think of,” from traditional roads, and rail and ports, through to telecommunications, Dr Doyle said.

“We've had decades of under-spending on this infrastructure . . . and we desperately need” it, because “it's irrelevant to have debate about the population if you don't have the underlying infrastructure to allow that population to survive”.

Finemore Transport executive chair Ron Finemore also had concerns about infrastructure.

“Our core key infrastructure in Australia is not coping, it's not up to scratch. It's going to take a lot of years and a lot of expenditure to take it up to scratch.”


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