Just how many people move to Australia every year? It seems straightforward, but ANU migration researcher Henry Sherrell and Inside Story contributing editor Peter Mares find that it is anything but.
The key protagonists were Shen Narayanasamy, GetUp’s human rights campaign director, and retired general Jim Molan, co-author of the Coalition’s refugee and asylum policy and Tony Abbott’s former special envoy for Operation Sovereign Borders.
As the transcript reveals, the two speakers offered up very different numbers for Australia’s annual migration intake:
At this point, UNSW law professor and refugee expert Jane McAdam intervened in an attempt to clarify matters. She suggested that the two figures could be reconciled: Molan was referring to Australia’s annual intake of 200,000 permanent migrants, while Narayanasamy was including an additional 600,000 temporary migrants.
Neither of the two protagonists threw much light on the issue; in fact, the exchange probably only added to the level of public confusion, despite McAdam’s attempt to reconcile the figures. This was surely not the panellists’ intention. But combative, live television is not the best place to discuss statistics, particularly when they are complex. Counting the number of migrants Australia takes in each year might appear simple, but it is not really so straightforward.
All three panellists were correct in their own terms: Australia’s annual permanent migration intake is capped at just below 200,000 people (Molan’s figure) and each year around 600,000 migrants are granted temporary visas as international students, working holiday makers or temporary skilled workers (McAdam’s figure). Adding these two numbers together gives the total of 800,000 (Narayanasamy’s figure). But there are two serious problems in counting migration numbers in this way.
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