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Migration warning as South Australians stream interstate

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South Australia lost 5000 people to interstate migration last year – the highest number in more than a decade – prompting an SOS from an industry expert warning that the current trend will cripple the local economy.

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Migration agent Mark Glazbrook says recently released Australian Bureau of Statistics data paints a bleak picture for SA, with the state’s population growth for the last calendar year at 0.7 per cent – well below the nation’s average of 1.4 per cent.

Glazbrook has written to Investment and Trade Minister Martin Hamilton-Smith “out of concern for SA’s ailing population growth”, requesting an urgent meeting and calling for a radical revamp of the state’s visa programs to help provide an economic stimulus.

“In 2012, our population grew by 16,500, whilst in the 12 months to December [last year] our population growth fell to 11,200,” Glazbrook writes.

“Unless action is taken now, based on current trends it is likely that SA’s population growth will continue to fall below 10,000 people in 2017 – which will have long-term, ongoing economic ramifications.”

He said the problem, while severe, was “simple and easy” to remedy, with the introduction of a state-based semi-skilled migrant program, “as well as changes to the student visa program, temporary graduate visas, business visas and other long-term temporary visas”.

“One thing is abundantly clear – the current structure of Australia’s migration program does not meet the unique and individual needs of South Australia,” he tells Hamilton-Smith.

He cites the example of a UK family who want to join relatives living in SA, but the mother is not eligible to migrate because, while working as a qualified hairdresser, she does not hold a required bachelor degree.

“She does, however, satisfy the eligibility criteria to migrate to the Northern Territory and as such – despite having a job in demand in South Australia, significant experience and very strong family connections – it is likely that she will migrate to the NT,” Glazbrook says.

“We need to make it easier for skilled migrants with family connections and significant experience to migrate to SA where their occupations are deemed to be in demand statewide.”

The ABS data released in June shows regional migration – which includes SA, Tasmania, the NT and the ACT – contributed only 19,400 of Australia’s total population growth of 326,100, with NSW, Victoria, Queensland and WA growing by a combined 306,700.

The ACT recorded 1.4 per cent population growth last year – double that of SA.

Glazbrook said based on the latest figures, “it takes South Australia approximately 10 years to experience the same level of economic growth and development in construction, new jobs and consumption expenditure that Victoria experiences every 13 months”.

Moreover, the jump in net interstate emigration follows an average of 3262 people departing across the border every year since 2004.

Glazbrook says last year’s figure was “the highest number for decades” and “a significant concern”.

He told InDaily there was a direct link between population growth and jobs growth, with Premier Jay Weatherill’s recent acknowledgement that the state’s population target will be scaled back a tacit acceptance of slower employment growth.

“The more people that leave, the more jobs you lose,” he said, arguing his own research indicated that “between 1.3 to 1.6 jobs were created for every migrant worker that came and lived in a rural or regional area [and] worked in a job that no-one else wanted to do”.

He said there were enormous opportunities for rural businesses to expand but “people aren’t leaving Adelaide to work in the regions”.

“Unless these farmers can actually grow and produce, they’re never going to maximise those opportunities,” he said.

“We need those migrants coming into the country [areas] to create the jobs that the Holden workers will move into, because very few [of those] will go to Renmark or Murray Bridge or Lenswood to pick apples.”

Glazbrook wants the State Government to introduce greater flexibility, “including the individual assessment of the potential benefits that a skilled migrant would bring to SA when they are unable to meet current published guidelines”.

He says SA should “actively participate” in the Safe Haven Enterprise visa and seek inclusion in the regional classification guidelines, amend its relationship register guidelines for spouse visas and its work experience provisions for state nomination to include recognised volunteer work.

“A carefully targeted migration program does not take jobs, it creates jobs,” Glazbrook tells the minister.

“Every job undertaken by a migrant in SA creates another due to consumption expenditure.”

Hamilton-Smith’s office told InDaily in a statement: “We are familiar with Mr Glazbrook’s work as a private migration agent and received his latest email correspondence on Wednesday.”

 “South Australia’s population growth has averaged 1 per cent per annum over the past decade and by the standards of most Western countries, this is very solid population growth,” it said.

“To give some perspective, the population growth rate of the European Union is currently 0.3 per cent per annum.

“Our state and Australia benefits from strong levels of skilled migrants arriving to a new life and opportunities, along with a strong birth rate by developed country standards.  The SA Government’s focus on supporting local business, encouraging trade and investment, diversifying our industries and generating benefits from major projects are all important levers to promoting economic growth. 

“This focus will help mitigate net interstate migration losses and help maintain and improve population growth over time… we continue to promote South Australia as an attractive destination for both skilled and business migrants, as this remains critical to enhancing our educated, skilled and business savvy populace.”

Hamilton-Smith also held the Investment and Trade portfolio as a shadow minister in the Liberal Opposition, before he quit the party to join Weatherill’s frontbench.

In the Liberals’ 2014 policy document on migration, which Hamilton-Smith co-authored, he said “since Labor has been in Government we have lost more than 34,000 net migrants interstate”.

“This is 34,000 people who are not employed, studying, buying houses, eating at restaurants, or educating their children in our state,” the document said.

“Attracting people to work and live in South Australia takes more than painting blue lines on Bank Street… it takes a targeted, strategic approach to population growth to which this Government has been unwilling to commit.

“The State Liberals understand that sustainable population growth is key to our plans to put SA back on track.”

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