In evaluating policy, the first question must always be: does the government have any business regulating in this area'? When it comes to immigration policy, it's clear the federal government has a duty to conduct security checks on individuals wanting to live in Australia. They are also justified in demanding a minimum level of physical health to ensure migrants don't become a liability to the taxpayer by abusing public healthcare. But where both Liberal and Labor have gone wrong is in limiting the number of economic migrants who can enter Australia.
Stringent controls on migration are said to be needed because many migrants are welfare abusers. However, there's scant evidence that welfare abuse by migrants is a problem. As one 2003 OECD report notes, "The rapid decline in average welfare recipient rates in the period after immigrants arrive, to levels below those for Australian-born, suggests there is no overall problem of welfare-dependency incentives among immigrants".
Most migrants are decent hard working people who relocate to make use of the opportunities on offer in a developed country, not to take advantage of our generous social welfare system. Many go on to bravely serve in our armed forces, start successful companies or pioneer advances in science and technology. They bring experience and skills that generate prosperity in the long run.
Immigrants bring with them money which they spend on Australian products. They pay money into the tax system, and so help fund the services Australians use. They also bring savings that contribute to overall investment levels in Australia.
One need only look to America prior to World War I, when thousands of arrivals set up an economic backbone of small businesses. Even if some immigrants - such as refugees - aren't highly skilled upon arrival they are nevertheless a source of untapped human capital and can eventually make a valuable contribution to society.
In the past 60 years, more than 660,000 refugees and displaced people have been resettled in Australia. But we can do more. It should be made easier to permanently reside in Australia.
First, the present points system should be abolished. A better method might be to implement economist Gary Becker's suggestion of a one-off immigration tariff as the only barrier (apart from health and security checks) to permanent residency. The fee could be set at approximately $50,000. This fee would become a source of revenue and would fund any additional public expenses created by immigration inflow.
Second, the current policy of mandatory detention must be reformed. Asylum seekers placed in detention should be allowed to be released into the community on bail. This is consistent with the principles of natural justice and is a more sensible way to deal with the problem of unauthorised arrivals. Sponsors within Australia should be allowed to put up bail money.
The only catch' is that new migrants should be denied some welfare entitlements. This is a dynamic approach and asks refugee groups and businesses to essentially put their money where their mouth is'. If individuals or groups in Australia can pay the immigration fee and support self-reliant arrivals, they are welcome to sponsor as many permanent residents as they wish. There should be no absolute limit on intake numbers.
Because labour is an important input into the production process, businesses need a reliable supply of workers. Enabling Australia to reach its economic potential necessarily involves enabling the freer movement of people. It's not the role of government to decide which professions are most needed in Australia; this should be left to businesses not bureaucrats. The global labour force should be opened up to business, so they can choose the most qualified employees without having to deal with arbitrary government quotas.
For most looking to permanently migrate to Australia, this would be good news. Such a policy would be especially helpful to international students seeking permanent residency. The major losers are likely to be immigration lawyers, who will find less work as these proposed reforms would simplify the current system.
No doubt there will be opposition from vested interests who will claim that freer immigration takes away local jobs. In reality, increased immigration would probably create jobs. A study by economists Richard Vedder, Lowell Galloway and Stephen Moore found that American states with the highest rates of immigration during the 1980s also had the highest rates of economic growth and lowest rates of unemployment. On net, after calculating costs and benefits, most studies suggest immigration is economically beneficial.
Thus, freer immigration is a humane and economically sensible policy.