Opinion: Migration system not working for South Australia

What works for the eastern states doesn’t always work for South Australia and that appears to be the case with the Federal Government’s decision to make it harder for skilled migrants to come to Australia.

While Sydney and Melbourne are bursting at the seams causing major infrastructure headaches, South Australia’s population has gone backwards in some regional areas and is growing at a glacial pace elsewhere.

We need more people, not fewer, so anything which makes it harder for businesses to attract the people they need to grow to generate much needed economic activity is a major concern.

When businesses have tried and failed to source local employees, they have no choice but to turn to the skilled migration system.

Our city and regional populations are ageing and fewer people are living in our country towns so we need a sensible migration program not just to plug the gaps but create new opportunities.

The Government has stated that the changes will not impact on businesses genuinely suffering skills shortages and we hope this is the reality as the new system rolls out while the move to keep a more up to date list of occupations is potentially a positive step, provided it is truly reflective of shortages.

But what South Australia needs are policies to turbo charge our population growth.

The notion that more people means fewer jobs isn’t supported by the data or the experience of cities where populations are growing. Every new South Australian needs a roof over their head, 1.5 square metres of retail space, a minimum 15 square metres of work space, food, clothing, insurances, cars and more. Just a few extra children in a regional town can mean the difference between a school remaining open or shutting its doors.

All of this means new jobs. Construction jobs, retail jobs, hospitality jobs, teaching jobs and so on. It’s not fewer jobs for all but more jobs for everyone.

We have a golden opportunity to seek the brightest and best from Europe where wages are falling and unemployment is high. We could even borrow an idea from the US and hold a migration lottery, accepting 45,000 people over three years. Those that meet a set strict of criteria could nominate and commit to living in South Australia for a set period of time.

There are those that argue that providing special incentives for people to come to South Australia makes us appear desperate but when people overseas only know about larger cities such as Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, organisations such as StudyAdelaide argue that such incentives will simply ensure that South Australia will at least be considered. We couldn’t agree more.

Population growth along with maintaining, growing and attracting businesses are what South Australia needs to prosper. We have the liveability part mostly right; now we just need a migration system that encourages more people to live here.

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