Michael Pascoe in yesterday’s Crikey is correct to say that immigration is a sometimes difficult topic, but it isn’t so difficult as to justify some of the strained logic displayed in his piece.

Firstly, he gives a run to the “migrants will stop Australia meeting our greenhouse targets” line which is the latest favourite from the minority Hansonite wing of the environment movement. Now, if ever there was a global, as opposed to just local, environmental issue, it is greenhouse emissions. I have yet to see a single piece of scientific data suggesting carbon generated by migrants to Australia is more damaging than carbon generated if they had stayed in their home country. Reducing global population growth will certainly help reduce total greenhouse emissions, but it makes no difference which country people are in when they contribute to greenhouse emissions.

Pascoe also seems to suggest it is a bad thing that mechanics can currently earn more doing other jobs, such as truck driving. His logic seems to be that rather than have people switch to a job where they can earn more, we should be keeping migrants out in order to limit the supply of mechanics, enabling the resultant shortage of mechanics to push up their wages — thus saving them from needing to switch jobs. What isn’t explained is the inevitable flow-on effect in the shortage in truck drivers, due to mechanics not switching jobs for the higher pay.

Pascoe gives it away with his comment that there are “good mechanics from third-world nations” happy to come here and work. Quite why it is a bad thing that we have good mechanics coming from “third world nations” isn’t made clear, but I guess the one thing that has changed since the same arguments were run in the “Australia for the white man” days of the 19th (and 20th) century is that people have learned not to be quite so blatant.

The simple face is that the 457 visa program is growing because it is demand driven. If sufficient mechanics could be found from amongst Australia’s current labour force, there would be barely a single employer interested in bringing one from overseas, whether from a “third world” country or elsewhere. If some of that shortage is because local mechanics can earn more money elsewhere, it isn’t solved by blaming or blocking (mostly temporary) migrants from filling the gap.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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