Academic journal article Journal of Australian Political Economy

Globalisation, Immigration and the Second Long Post-War Boom in Australia

Academic journal article Journal of Australian Political Economy

Globalisation, Immigration and the Second Long Post-War Boom in Australia

Article excerpt

Australia has a long history of immigration. From the Moccasins who traded with indigenous peoples in the far North West hundreds of years ago to the last person to fly into Sydney by 747 Qantas Jumbo Jet with a permanent or temporary entry visa, immigrants from all over the globe have called Australia home, particularly since the end of the second world war. While there have been many post-war immigration nations, the USA, Canada, New Zealand and Australia were different because of their focus on immigrants as settlers, as new members of society and its labour force. Among these settler immigration nations, Australia has had, in relative terms, the largest intake, and its profile of ethnic diversity is as great as that of the USA and Canada.

Australian immigration policy must be understood within the broader context of globalisation and national political economic concerns. Post 9/11, issues of security have preoccupied immigration policy makers, with attempts to control 'illegal' immigration entry, particularly those undocumented immigrants who arrive on Australian shores by boat. Meanwhile an international 'long boom' has generated sustained economic growth with strong employment growth, particularly in the services sector. Unemployment rates are generally at low levels while labour shortages have emerged in the professional, technical and skilled segments of labour markets. Western capitalism has been knocking louder on the door of the international reserve army of immigrant labour. Most of this immigrant labour heads for global cities like New York, London, Paris--or Sydney. This has led to a fine-tuning of Australian immigration policy in order to fill identified areas of labour shortage or occupations in demand, with the increase in the size of skilled intake in recent decades achieved through a relative decline of the family intake and of the humanitarian intake. Labour shortages in regional and rural labour markets have also led to initiatives in immigration policy, attempting to redirect permanent immigrants away from large Australian cities such as Sydney and Melbourne. Moreover, globalisation has been accompanied by an increase in the size of permanent departures of Australian residents seeking employment in other countries as part of the new, globally-mobile workforce.

While globalisation has not freed up international labour/people flows as much as it has freed up capital and trade flows, more people are now moving internationally, either permanently or temporarily, than ever before. Immigrants in Australia are remarkably diverse. They may be documented immigrants on permanent, temporary or tourist visas or undocumented visitors. They come from all corners of the globe, with diverse religious affiliations and cultural practices and network. Many immigrants also eventually leave Australia, their stays in Sydney, Melbourne or Griffith having been but one stage in a process of global labour circulation.

The big story, though, is the increase in the size of the temporary immigration intake. This increase has taken place without the debate or controversy that accompanied permanent immigrant intakes. Overall Australian immigration numbers have increased to levels not seen for forty years, partly explained by an enduring second post-war long boom that has delivered some 17 years of strong economic growth and driven the registered unemployment rate down a 30 year low--4.3% in the first quarter of 2008. The pro-cyclical nature of the appetite for immigration has returned, though the characteristics of the immigration intake have changed.

This article explores how immigration to Australia has served to sustain the second long boom during the post-1945 period. This requires a look at the numbers, the category of entry, the visa of entry, and the education, skills and birthplace characteristics of today's immigration intake compared to a decade or two ago, and how these numbers have changed over the past two decades. …

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