Immigration intake 'good for business'
The business community has urged the Government not to cut Australia's immigration intake, despite calls from the Opposition for a 25% reduction in the coming year.
Australian Industry Group chief executive Heather Ridout said a steady flow of skilled migrants was needed to maintain economic growth.
"You can't just turn the tap on and off," Ms Ridout said.
There was still a skills shortage, which was one reason employers were reluctant to put off workers even though the economy was slowing, she said.
Opposition immigration spokeswoman Sharman Stone said that Australia's immigration intake must be cut by a quarter to help cope with the global financial crisis and relieve pressure on cities and the environment.
Dr Stone said the Government's plan for a record 190,300 migrants in 2008-09 should immediately be scaled back to the 2005-06 level of 142,930.
Immigration Minister Chris Evans said the Government would examine the mid-year economic figures and decide then whether the immigration intake should be changed.
"The program was designed in the light of the forecast for this year — strong economic growth, high inflation and a real skills crisis," Senator Evans said.
"If those parameters are changing, the Government will take a sober look at those issues and make a decision when we've got proper information."
Senator Evans said a slight increase in unemployment was expected, but the migration program was linked to the skills need in the economy.
"We've got a skills crisis at the moment. Clearly if the demand for labour comes off, you'd adjust the migration program accordingly," he said.
Ms Ridout said a consistent approach to immigration was needed if Australia was going to lift its labour force. "We've got to somehow manage through these kinds of downturns and sustain a program," she said.
Economic growth depended on both labour supply and productivity, Ms Ridout said. To maintain growth over the next decade, the labour force would have to grow by 1.25% per year on average, and the 1% would have to come from immigration.
"If we don't push ahead consistently with a solid immigration program, our growth prospects over the next decade are going to be much diminished," she said.
Senator Evans told the Nine Network that most migrants did better at finding jobs than average Australians. "They consume, they buy property and they're net positive to the budget," he said.
"So while it's easy to call for a slowdown in migration, there are actually very positive economy impacts that come from migration, particularly if you're bringing in skills that allow you to build the economy. And a lot of the skills that are coming in at the moment are in the mining sector, which has allowed us to increase our exports."