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Migration’s role in Australia’s big build

By Juliet Helmke
20 November 2023 | 1 minute read
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NSW opposition leader Mark Speakman believes that Australian international migration should be curbed because of housing constraints, but others opine that could leave the country extremely short staffed in its bid to build more homes.

Backflipping on his comments delivered just two months ago on Sydney radio 2GB, when Mr Speakman said Australia risked “invasion” unless its population kept growing”, the member for Cronulla has now called for an “immediate slowdown” of immigration levels.

According to the Liberal leader, who was quoted by The Daily Telegraph, migration needs to be curbed to allow states to “catch up” with the population’s housing needs.

“Chris Minns says he wants a bipartisan approach to housing affordability, so we’re offering to work with him quickly to settle an agreed position on immigration numbers and composition to put to the federal government,” Mr Speakman said.

“NSW has signed up to extraordinarily ambitious housing targets while Australia faces record migration levels. If we’re going to be honest with the people of NSW in reducing pressure on rents and improving access to home ownership, we need to have a conversation about what immigration levels our state can sustain,” he added.

But it’s those ambitious housing targets that housing experts say would be put in jeopardy by an immigration slowdown.

Urban Taskforce CEO, Tom Forrest, said that Mr Speakman’s comments amounted to “dog whistling” over population figures.

“The housing supply crisis did not simply appear last year – it has been a disaster that was brewing well before the outbreak of COVID. Housing supply is the answer, not killing economic growth by slashing immigration,” he said.

Mr Forrest also commented that it was “the policies of the former Coalition governments in Canberra and in Macquarie Street that landed us in the middle of a housing supply crisis today”.

Urban Taskforce asserted that immigration is integral to drive productivity in the country and contribute to economic growth. Migrants are an important economic factor in caring for Australia’s rapidly ageing population, supporting the tertiary sector and staffing various industries – among them, construction.

“We desperately need skilled trades and labourers to build our new homes, hospitals and schools. Besides a housing supply crisis, NSW is struggling with a labour supply crisis. Mr Speakman needs to reconsider his position on this matter,” Mr Forrest said.

Property Council of Australia chief executive Mike Zorbas made similar comments about the importance of immigration for Australia’s property sector earlier in the year, at the release of the Review of the Migration System report by Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil.

“The property sector in particular needs skilled workers to deliver the infrastructure and projects that are already in the pipeline, and that our nation badly needs,” Mr Zorbas said.

“The skilled migrants who come to work in Australia, and the students who come to study, are two of our greatest economic and social assets.

“Skilled migrants underpin our economic success, so often taking on jobs that businesses are desperately trying to fill in a variety of industries including construction, mining and in our caring workforce in childcare and aged care,” he stated.

Migration’s role in Australia’s big build
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Juliet Helmke

Based in Sydney, Juliet Helmke has a broad range of reporting and editorial experience across the areas of business, technology, entertainment and the arts. She was formerly Senior Editor at The New York Observer.

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