Neither a Labor nor Liberal government will look to increase the number of permanent migrants allowed into Australia as a potential solution for the ongoing skilled worker shortage if they win this month’s election.
When asked at a National Press Club debate on Wednesday, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and his Opposition counterpart Jim Chalmers danced around a question about why neither camp is campaigning on a raise to Australia’s permanent migration cap.
The annual permanent migration cap was lowered from 190,000 to 160,000 in 2019.
“Skilled migrants perform an absolutely vital role in our economy helping to address some of those workforce shortages,” Frydenberg said.
“Whether it’s engineers on mining sites, whether it’s IT programmers in our telecommunications companies, or whether it’s people working in our hospitality industry.
“But it’s not just about skilled migrants,” he added, saying there was “no silver bullet” for a lack of workers in many aspects of the economy that Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) governor Philip Lowe linked to surging inflation in his Tuesday speech announcing a rise in the Central Bank’s cash rate.
Chalmers agreed, saying a higher migration intake wouldn’t fix the problems for employers brought about by low levels of unemployment and high demand for workers.
“Bringing people in even in sensible ways should never be a substitute for training people as well,” he said.
“Too often in the public conversation about skills and migration people pretend it’s one or the other when in reality, of course, it’s a mix of both.”
When it comes to training, both the Treasurer and his Shadow pointed to their parties’ respective policies.
The Coalition said another term of government will see it finalise a new National Skills Agreement for Skills and Workforce Development after a 2020 Productivity Commission review found employers were increasingly dissatisfied with the quality of the existing vocational education and training (VET) system.
Labor wants to throw $1.2 billion at TAFE courses in industries facing a skills shortage and has promised 400,000 fee-free TAFE places should it form government.
A lack of local skills has long been a source of frustration for employers looking to hire IT professionals for innovation and digital transformation projects.
In the latest annual Digital Pulse report, the Australian Computer Society (ACS) projects that Australia will need at least 60,000 new IT workers each year but can expect only 7,000 domestic degree graduates.
Skilled migration is one way to address that shortfall but, as Airtasker CEO Tim Fung argued this earlier year, Australia needs to be an attractive place for technology talent to work and live.
The global talent scheme was a program designed to attract highly skilled workers who command large pay packets and saw 1,140 applications lodged in its first two years.
The government is trying to meet demand for skilled migrants by moving available visas from the family stream to the skilled visa stream, increasing the total proportion of skilled migrants allowed into the country.
More than 70,000 skilled migrants have come to Australia since it re-opened borders for skilled workers and students in November, according to Frydenberg.