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Major party deals with India to blame for Australia’s ‘Swiss cheesed immigration policy’, economist says: ‘Not a serious country’

A leading economist has blamed free trade and immigration deals with India made by both major parties for Australia’s inability to control the level of migration and the type of migrants they now claim are needed by the construction industry.

Leith van Onselen wrote in Macrobusiness on Tuesday that the Free Trade Agreement signed with Delhi by the Morrison Coalition government in April 2022 “baked in the importation of yoga teachers”, after it was revealed that Labor’s Jobs and Skills Australia consultation list prioritises those workers ahead of skilled migrants supposedly needed to build homes.

According to the document, yoga instructors, martial artists and dog handlers can be fast-tracked into Australia while plumbers, bricklayers and cabinetmakers are not on the core skills list.

The Morrison FTA put 1,800 yoga teachers in a special category along with chefs, allowing them to stay for more than four years.

“The yoga instructor visa farce was basically a gift to India, alongside the recently signed migration pacts that gives greater rights to Indians wishing to work and migrate to Australia than other nations,” Mr van Onselen wrote.

“Through its various dumb migration deals, Australia has effectively Swiss cheesed its immigration policy, reduced its ability to control migration numbers and quality, and reduced Australia’s sovereignty in controlling its borders.

“We are not a serious country.”

Labor has announced an ambitious target of 1.2million new homes by the end of the decade, but is facing a shortage of at least 90,000 construction workers to do so, due to its insistence on bringing in hundreds of thousands of new immigrants in every year, despite a housing crisis.

Opposition leader Peter Dutton has promised to reduce permanent migration, but only by 25%, and Skills and Training Minister Brendan O’Connor said on Tuesday that the Coalition’s plan would cause so-called skills shortages in the construction sector.

“I need to point to the gaping holes in Peter Dutton’s proposition to help industry through the persistently tight labour market. In his budget reply, the central pillar was to cut migration – and to cut it significantly,” according to excerpts of Mr O’Connor address to the Sydney Institute released in advance.

“He provided no detail about how he plans to do that, or which areas of migration he plans to ­target. International students? Nurses? Construction workers? He provided vague window dressing about prioritising skilled tradies from overseas to help ­battle the housing crisis.”

Mr van Onselen described Mr O’Connor’s claims as “hilarious, given that migrants are massively underrepresented in the construction industry”.

The Opposition leader has promised to reduce Australia’s permanent migration intake from 185,000 to 140,000 for the first two years before increasing it again to 150,000 in the third year and 160,000 in the fourth.

Labor revealed in its 2024 Budget that more than 1 million new immigrants are expected to be allowed into Australia by mid-2028, and revised its forecast for this financial year to almost 400,000.

In December last year the government predicted the 2023-24 intake would be 375,000, up from 315,000 in last year’s budget, but according to treasury papers released Thursday this figure has been revised upwards to 395,000.

Next financial year 260,000 are expected, 255,000 the year after that, and 235,000 in 2026-27 and 2027-28.

Added to the 528,000 net overseas migration number last year, this would mean a total net intake of 1.9 million between 2022 and 2028, assuming the forecasts are accurate.

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