Population Strategy

26 May 2010 archivespeech

This speech is to move that the Environment, Resources and Development Committee undertake a review into South Australia's population strategy.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (16:54): I move:

That the Environment, Resources and Development Committee undertake a review into South Australia's population strategy, specifically:

1. the usefulness of the population targets as set in the State Strategic Plan;

2. the capacity of existing energy, water and arable land sources to provide for these projected targets;

3. the impact of the implementation of the 30-year plan on stressed habitats;

4. projections of the ability of South Australia's workforce to provide adequate skills for future demands and what changes to the mix of migration are required to address future needs, including for regional South Australia;

5. barriers to the retention of overseas skilled migrants;

6. limitations of existing data collection regarding skilled migrant trends; and

7. any other matter.

The issue of a population strategy for South Australia and, indeed, Australia has been playing on the minds of many peopleā€”to use that wonderful expression, 'the barbecue stopper'. It was brought home to me over the new year period while I was at the shack with my in-laws, when they and their friends reacted to the issue of a big Australia and to the South Australian government's plan for two million people.

I am not reflecting in any way on my in-laws and their friends, but I think it would be fair to characterise them as baby boomers, who have vigorous opinions on many things not necessarily on the conservation greenie side, as is my inclination, so I was quite surprised that they expressed some concern. In some ways I should not be surprised because South Australians have become acutely aware of our natural resources through water shortage and the ongoing drought and the impact that is having on the River Murray.

For many South Australians, that issue has come much more to the fore. It is not so much the old hysterical Hansonite view that we do not want people coming to our shores but more about an awareness that we have finite resources and that perhaps we ought to be a bit more careful about increasing the number of people living in this country. Australia is largely an arid centre with a coastline, with not a huge proportion of the land that can be lived on.

Further to that is the issue of food security, which a number of people are quite concerned about. Even looking across the South Australian metropolitan area, a lot of the areas that used to be farmed to produce food and grapes are now covered with houses. We have had various bills, such as the one which the Hon. Robert Brokenshire introduced last year, and which we supported, in relation to the Willunga Basin. It is also an issue in Mount Barker, with the expansion of development, and in the Barossa. Those areas that we recognise here as critical to our food security may potentially suffer the same mistakes we might have made here by building all over the old farms in Athelstone and those sorts of areas.

The other side of this debate is the issue of skilled migration and the mix we have. The federal government recently announced that offshore migration has been suspended pending the introduction and outcome of its new skilled occupation list. I note that a local group of employers has formed the Skilled Migration Growth Group (SMGG), which has made submissions to DTED. It was reported extensively in The Advertiser of 11 May.

The SMGG is no fly on the wall in terms of expertise in skills and understanding skills shortages. It includes the MBA, the PIA, the CCA, the ANF, the AHA, the Planning Institute of Australia, Engineers Australia and so on. It collectively represents probably over 50 per cent of employment in South Australia. It is chaired by Mark Glazbrook, who has written quite an extensive paper on this matter. He states:

Changes to Australian immigration policy, including the general skilled migration (GSM) program, is seeing a shift in focus away from traditional GSM and temporary employer sponsored 457 visa applications to permanent employer sponsored migration and State based skilled migration programs.

The SMGG is looking at ways to address the gap being experienced from within the local labour market. We have identified both existing and ongoing protected skills shortages and are looking at how skilled migration can fill the gap. Fundamentally, this requires State Government to consult with and listen to local employers, industry and association groups in order to create additional and more focused opportunities. This also requires a commitment from the State Government to make recommendations on behalf of local employers, industry and association groups to the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship and to push for the creation of programs where there is clear evidence that such will directly benefit and increase South Australia's migration outcomes. Currently there are no existing Government Departments conducting such relevant research nor any other industry groups established with the sole focus encapsulated by the SMGG. The existing list of approximately 400 occupations is being replaced with a list of about 40. It will then be up to individual states and the territories to compile their own lists of occupations in demand. Our concern is that skills shortages, affecting local businesses, will result in many interstate businesses and companies taking a lot of opportunities away from local businesses. While competition in the marketplace is good, many local businesses simply cannot compete with interstate companies when we are talking about total capabilities.

We are at a very critical time in terms of determining what those priorities should be for skilled migration. I also note that a media release issued a couple of days ago by the ABS states that South Australia continues to lose overall migration to other states, and this has had an impact on our South Australian population growth. For the target of two million to be set and used as a default by every department in the South Australian government really indicates that they may not be working with the right tools or working on the right numbers, which is going to have an impact on infrastructure planning and a whole range of different areas. With those words, I commend the motion to the council.

Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. J.M. Gazzola.