The Lowy Institute has proposed opening Australia to workers from Pacific nations including Fiji, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands as a way of easing some of the shortages predicted as a result of changes to the backpacker tax and as a way of helping workers from those nations far more powerfully than could foreign aid.
The Institute's report, The development benefits of expanding Pacific access to Australia's labour market, says allowing a relatively open market could boost the incomes of those who migrated by around $33 billion, "around 40 times Australia's current aid budget to the region".
The report says the average income in the Pacific is round $3900, a mere fraction of Australia's. It says an "uncapped" program, which would allow unlimited entry from most Pacific nations and limit entry from Papua New Guinea to 5 per cent of its population, would boost the incomes of those who came by 87 per cent and add an extra 900,000 to Australia's population by 2040.
Over time, between one fifth and one third of the populations invited might move to Australia, about the same proportion as moved to the United States from North Pacific nations under similar arrangements.
"In total terms, over a period of almost 25 years, this would not represent a huge increase in overall migrant numbers," the report says. "Obviously, in the context of the current fraught debate about migration in Australia, gaining support for even this increase will be difficult, but we do not think it would be impossible."
The post-war migration boom lifted Australia's population by 25 per cent in 10 years. The uncapped Pacific Islander program would boost population by just 2.5 per cent over 25 years.
The report's co-author, Jonathan Pryke, said the uncapped program would help ease looming labour shortfalls. "In the aged care industry alone, the workforce is set to expand from 201,600 as at 2011 to over 500 000 in 2040," he said. "It seems unlikely that the workforce, under current projections, will meet this need in its entirety."
Detailed analysis suggested the extra migrants would affect average wages little.
A less-ambitious proposal, which would limit migration to 10 or 5 per cent of the nation's populations, with the positions allocated by lottery, would boost Pacific islanders incomes by seven or three times the value of Australia's existing aid program.
Even a limit of 3 per cent of the Pacific's population would benefit Pacific islanders by more than the current aid program.
The story Open Australia to workers from the Pacific, says Lowy Institute first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.