Time to stand out and welcome migrants

AUSTRALIA’S contradictory and muddled migration policy position is at the the heart of issues being felt in the region.

As the Federal government continues to dog whistle around migration, refugees and foreign aid, it is similarly enmired around a clear direction for regional development, businesses, farmers, businesses and small towns in the region are crying out for workers. It was interesting to see bipartisan political support for the release of the Regional Australia Institute’s migration policy this week that basically promulgates communities and governments working together to identify priority towns to receive migrants to fill skill shortages.

While at first glance the plan seems to be at odds with the Federal government’s rumblings about reducing migrant intakes, it is a ray of commonsense in a debate that often serves as an echo chamber for racial stereotyping and a nameless fear that “they’re coming to take our jobs”.

It can only be hoped that revelations this week that there are 1000 job vacancies across the region could put that fear down.

Looking more closely at these 1000 vacancies is revealing. Around 80 per cent of the vacancies are for “labourers”, with stand-out shortages such as dairy hands and meat and livestock workers. 

Set this against the release of key economic data earlier this month that shows Warrnambool’s unemployment rate is 4.1 per cent, the lowest of any Victorian regional centre. And that our population of 34,555 grew by 310 last year. More than 200 of these new residents were migrants.

Necessary questions begin to emerge. Is it simply the case that the collective “we” have decided that we will no longer labour to live? That jobs such as agricultural labouring, meat processing and the like – jobs that require us to get our hands dirty – are beneath us? And if so – in fact evidentially so – why then are we not targeting skilled and unskilled migrants and placing them in areas of need?

Demographer Bernard Salt is quoted in Saturday’s paper as saying small towns in the region are resilient, tend to expand and contract but somehow manage to survive.

This is testimony to the tough working hearts of country folk. But they cannot do it on their own. The region needs to stand out and call for more migrants to help fuel growth and our unique position as Victoria’s most liveable area and most valuable agricultural producer.