Apr 6, 2010

Net Arrivals – Cheap Populism and Export Destruction

Let’s talk honestly about Australian migration statistics – because, well, it would be a bit of a novelty today since everyone else is talking out the wrong orifice. The Coalitio

Possum Comitatus — Editor of Pollytics

Possum Comitatus

Editor of Pollytics

Let’s talk honestly about Australian migration statistics – because, well, it would be a bit of a novelty today since everyone else is talking out the wrong orifice.

The Coalition has been banging on about “Net arrival” numbers – a sort of special metric that you can derive by adding a few things together, subtracting a few other things from it and getting a large, scary number that you can then try to bullshit people with. That special number is “300,000” – you can see the full, dubious exercise of Scott Morrison doing Boltemetrics over here in The Oz:

To understand exactly what Morrison and other Coalition members are spruiking today and its consequences – it’s worth walking through in some detail to grasp the full silliness of it all. To get their “Net arrival” figure, what we have to do is, firstly, add together three different types of people movement coming in to the country (to get total arrivals), and then, secondly, subtract the same three different types of people movement leaving the country.

On the total arrivals side, the three categories are:

Permanent Settler Arrivals – people from other countries that are actually coming to Australia to live permanently on a permanent residency visa, New Zealanders coming to Australia to live permanently and other minor classes that have eligibility like overseas born children of Australian citizens. These are the people coming to Australia to live.

Long Term Visitor Arrivals – overseas migrants that are visitors or temporary entrants who are intending to stay in Australia for at least 12 months, but who are not staying in Australia permanently.These are people coming to stay in Australia for a prolonged period.

Long Term Resident Arrivals – Australian residents returning from overseas after an absence of 12 months or more. These are Australians returning home to live.

You can see more about the descriptions over at the ABS site.

On the total departure side of the equation, we have the same three categories, but in the opposite direction:

Permanent Settler Departures – Australian residents (including former settlers) who on departure state that they are departing permanently.

Long Term Visitor Departures – overseas migrants leaving Australia who had spent 12 months or more in Australia.

Long Term Resident Departures – Australian residents who intend to stay abroad for 12 months or more (but not permanently).

So what the Coalition is doing is adding up total arrivals, subtracting total departures and getting a “Net Arrival” figure.

If we chart that annual “net arrival” figure since 1976 – as far back as the ABS goes with this data on their site – this is the scary looking chart we end up with (click to expand)


Look – the blue line is rising!!!!

It’s alright, I’ll wait while you go change your undies.

However, these figures are extremely deceptive and, as you shall see, completely ridiculous.

If we take a look at the composition of these Coalition “Net Arrival” figures over time by breaking them down into the three “net” metrics that make them up –  “Net Permanent Settler”, “Net Long Term Visitor” and “Net Long Term Resident” figures – this is how they panned out over the last 33 years:


The big upward swing in Net Arrivals since 1997 has been nearly entirely driven by an increase in long term visitor arrivals, not permanent migration, not family reunion and certainly not boat people.

What we need to remember here is that these long term visitor arrival numbers include everyone coming into Australia and planning to stay 12 months or longer – everyone including those on student visas.

How big an impact do student visas have on these net numbers?


If we take 2005 as an example – because it’s the last year for which we have public data – during that calendar year the ABS reported that there were 209,620 long term visitor arrivals of which, 113,000 of those were foreign students intending to stay in Australia longer than 12 months!

Over 50% of the long term arrivals – the very category driving the increase in the Coalition’s “Net Arrival” numbers – were foreign students.

Now, Access Economics estimated that in 2007/08 financial year, Australia’s international education industry was worth over $14 billion, providing 122,000 full time equivalent jobs.

If Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison find 300,000 net arrivals per year a “bad thing” that needs to be reduced, then we need to ask them exactly how much of Australia’s education export industry they are willing to wind back or destroy to achieve their goal. Afterall, it’s foreign student numbers that make up the bulk of the Long Term Visitor arrivals that are driving the very growth in their specious “Net Arrival” figures.

The other large component of the Long Term Visitor Arrivals are skilled working visas – if the Coalition become hesitant about cutting our export education industry, perhaps they can explain why they want to exacerbate skilled labour shortages and pump up wage inflation by culling those numbers.

They’d have to do one of those, because boat people, family reunion and permanent settlers have sweet FA to do with the growth in their nonsense Net Arrivals figures.

(Visited 1 times, 1 visits today)


Leave a comment

37 thoughts on “Net Arrivals – Cheap Populism and Export Destruction

  1. rabitoh

    Thanks Broggly – it just seems counterintuitive to me that overseas student numbers grew by 113,000 in 2005 and by amounts of a similar magnitude over most of the years of this decade.

    Where are they all??

  2. Broggly

    Rabitoh, the number of students coming to Australia is not constant. If the net long term visitors number is positive, that indicates that the number of students (and other visitors) arriving in Australia is increasing ie the number that arrived this year is greater than the number who arrived 3 years ago and are leaving now they have their degree. The increase in net long term visitors shows that the rate at which the this number is growing is positive.

  3. rabitoh

    Ok – am having (I think) a similar confusion as PeeBee – if we are considering the NET long term visitor numbers ie. arrivals minus departures, and in general all overseas students leave, then how is their net contribution to the long term visitors not theoretically zero? That is, if 111,300 foreign students arrived in one year, wouldn’t have a similar number say from the previous year, have left?

  4. Politics, News, Eggs and Link Spam - tales from urban dilettantia

    […] over at Crikey has written a good piece on politicking, bad statistics and immigration: Net Arrivals And finally there’s been much said recently on the topic of the institutionalised protection […]


    Morrison was on radio this morning trying to connect the dots from his ‘simple observation’ of 300k net migration to a population of 50 million! Either he’s the simpleton doing the observing, or he’s intentionally distorting reality, because as Poss has shown above, that cohort of stayers are NOT permanent additions to the population and will not contribute to our demographic expansion over time. They go home (mostly).


    PeeBee, the Opposition is ‘implying’ that there’s a year on year increase of 300,000 net arrivals who are permanent, but the component that Poss identifies is really “Long Term Resident” and NOT marrying and settling and therefore contributing to future population growth. Does that clarify it?

  7. PeeBee


    What you said about churn ‘relatively fixed number’ … except they aren’t here to breed generation upon generation, as they seem to imply, but are a relatively fixed number over and above the permanent population (one that ‘churns’, in effect).

    Contradicts the point Poss makes above ie that the majority of increase in population is due to an increase in “Net Long Term Resident” figures.

    On another issue of churn, perhaps it isn’t as great as is made out, with overseas students staying on studying in those skills shortage areas of hairdressing and hospitality for many years until their PR comes through. In the meantime, they are contributing to “Net Long Term Resident” figures.


    imacca, it’s a somewhat better performance from Gillard than poor Leigh Sales’ attempt with Morrison last night. Sales launched off with the ABS numbers and Poss’s question about killing off foreign student numbers (err, sorry Melbourne, not like that!), and Morrison snowblinded her with some fuzzy logic about how it didn’t make any difference that they weren’t really here permanently! No, except they aren’t here to breed generation upon generation, as they seem to imply, but are a relatively fixed number over and above the permanent population (one that ‘churns’, in effect).

    At least Gillard is really across the issue and wouldn’t let Jones cut her off. Oh, ain’t she the Power Fox?

  9. imacca

    Ha! Watching Julia Gillard on Lateline. Stongly suspect she has read this piece by Poss.

  10. Tad Tietze

    Hey Poss,

    Another fantastic post. In fact there have been several good Crikey pieces in the last two days. But those of us who don’t want to buckle under the anti-population/anti-immigration hysteria face two challenges that these stats are only the first word on.

    First, most of the defence of immigration has been run on the basis of economic benefits, which is the tack you take here. The problem is that we have gone through a prolonged period of economic growth where the perception has been that economic benefits to business have not been shared by ordinary punters. Rising income inequality, increased pressure at work and increased indebtedness to keep up with the Joneses form the basis for this belief, IMHO. My wife works in higher education, and I can tell you that she’s been on strike because her vice-chancellor is certainly not happy about letting those “export industry” dollars trickle down to the workers!

    I think this scepticism about the “economic benefits” line is the rational kernel behind the willingness to accept irrational xenophobia among those so predisposed. Imagine how much more of a hearing the lunar Right will get if times get tougher (*shudders at visions of big votes for Australia’s version of the BNP*). Sadly our country has a history of it.

    The second challenge is around the environment and climate. The “increased population equals environmental disaster” crew are having a field day because now “respectable” commentators and politicians are spouting similar rubbish to what they have been going on with for years. You can imagine that in my political neck of the woods I’ve had to put up with a lot of smug “I told you so’s” from the overpopulation hysterics. And it rapidly translates into a soft “green” version of migrant-bashing.

    Sadly it seems some Senators who should know better have decided to run with the population/migration issue also. Perhaps population is the way that some on the Right want to wedge not just Rudd but the Greens?

    I think a more workable response will have to involve (a) proving direct benefits of migration to ordinary people, not just to business, (b) challenging the superficial environment v population arguments, and (c) portraying migrants much more as “people like us” who are just looking for a decent life rather than mere economic statistics. Otherwise we’ll have a lovely discussion among us well-meaning wonks but one that won’t get a wider hearing.

    Thanks again for the great work.

  11. Yaz

    I know you’d hate the job, Poss, but someone’s got to say it…

    “Poss for Prime Minister!”

    Put the statisticians in charge, I say. At least they know when they’re lying!

  12. Gary Bruce

    Poss, I hope you don’t mind but I sent this e-mail off to Dennis Aitkin –
    Are you serious about getting to the truth of things re the Coalition’s “Net arrival” numbers?
    Have a look here. It absolutely debunks their claims.
    Gary Bruce]
    And received this positive response from Dennis –
    [Thanks for that, Gary
    I’m a big fan of Possum’s work – he’s right, as usual. I’ve got to write about Malcolm Turnbull tomorrow but I’ll see if I can use that sometime this week.
    Best wishes and regards

  13. col in paradise

    Pee Bee…Now I used to back in the old days you seem to,love go and do some fuit picking – Oranges, Cherries , Grapes around the Riverina – and even then in the 70’s back packers, students and the unemployed used to roll up..and Potatoes up around Dorrigo…Now firstly it was hard work and good times but in regards to potatoes it was more not that wages made them go to cheaper machines – It was more that a machine was invented that didnt cut them up to much when extracting – so the farmers of course then got the machines a picker (or plucker when it comes to spuds out of the mud) the wages were small..the farmers got most of it back renting and feeding you – the rest at the local.

    Now one problem apart from as someone said the unemployed are in different regions is that we have unemployment down near 5% – hence some skills shortages – now in a modern historical context this is about as low as you can go I think for the Australian economy – and some of it is due to ABS definitions and data collection..but economic text books talk about say 3% as the equivalent of zero when it comes to unemployment as you always will have a minimal level of people who for various reasons at a given time are unemployed…yes there are still probably some old style dole bludgers out there…but its very small these days (Centrelink paperwork etc is damn annoying and accurate – compared to when you could surf up and down the coast and lodge at Post offices and pick up cheques…5% is for Australia close to as low as you can get….we have abooming resource sector – a now about to boom energy sector (LNG CSG etc) and plenty of big projects coming up – plus the required infrastructure and housing etc and businesses that feed of thses kind of developments and growth..and we dont have enough workers….so whats the solution??? stop breeding – stop immigration – haveing more Unemployment and going back to picking spuds again..dont think so..

  14. col in paradise

    Hi folks…thanks very much poss for the breakdown and analysis…actually when coalition bloggers on other cites have been banging the drum on this I have posed several questions relating to break down and numbers and precentage…of course they generally just come back with personal abuse or just nver ever the below I sent out to a few sites – Not one answer except fact one major newspaper with a right wing bias of course didnt put it up on a few articles hammering home the Abbott/Morisson soundbites and mantra on it…then of course run articles against Conroys filtering citing censorship as main a issue..they censor all the time anyone with a different view or some facts…but many thanks for that and for some folks a extract of my questions on this…

    “Back to politics Milne of course is on the population and immigration tact (Sha na na still staring in hope at polls – what a looser)…and re the 36 Million by 2050 – this is a population forecast based on current and projected growth rates etc – you know simple statistical forecasting I pose these questions to the LNP Milne cheer what would Abbotts 2050 target we have a current base population that exponentially grows and we okay have immigration pick up the last 12 months and working of immigration projections – more babies are born in Australia per year than immigrants that arrive (legally or the tiny thousands illegally) what is the numbers of that growth from exisiting Australian population – whats this as a percentage of the growth in comparison to that of new immigrants over the coming years and their population growth..I think it would be a major component and high percentage. Now what would the LNP base their projections off..even without any new immigrants if Tow Boat tows them all away and stops even those on planes – to get say zero immigration the number would be trending towards 36 Million. Now what do they propose to stop child per family like the Chinese (how communist totalitarian of them) or would it be real neo nationalistic right wing policy like sterilisation – how would their Revolutionary leader Abbott keep the natural population growth down – you know ZPG…also how come a few years back we had LNP Howard Costello et al saying we needed more true blue Australian babies so we could meet the skilled worker (made me laugh then as thought of kids down coal mines) and tax requirements to support our ageing population (which also doesnt exist now and is just Rudd picking on pensioners according to Tone) …and introduced the baby bonus (or as I call it the Bogan bonus) as we needed to populate…lotsof snaps of Costello et al hugging babies…so a major reversal here in policy and facts…amazing..,. the issue is with our natural population growth how we can create the required housing and infrastructure and improve productivity – especially in agriculture and water so we can eat and drink.. thats the task at hand not playing politics re population growth and xenophobia re immigration…not just for Australia but the whole planet”

  15. ltep

    It appears Australians Against Further Immigration have taken over the Liberal Party.

  16. Possum Comitatus

    PeeBee – using the unemployed has been tried and doesn’t work.

    Firstly because the unemployed aren’t where the jobs are, secondly the jobs are only temporary at any given location (meaning that relocating the unemployed isnt really a sustainable solution). The lower the unemployment rate gets, the bigger problem it becomes.

    Hence, the fruit doesnt get picked, prices get driven up until they’re high enough to lure people to pick the fruit. But as a result, prices of fruit and veg are permanently higher.

    We see it in action every year in some industry where a shortage of labour pops up – but we really notice it at the supermarket every couple of years or so.

    You can’t mechanise all agricultural labour in every industry either – and in those industries where it’s possible, it still is often only possible for one part of the process.

    But even if we could mechanise all factors – it then comes down to a cost/benefit balance for each farmer (does the cost of the mechanisation balance against the returns) – which often doesnt stand up unless the price of fruit and veg significantly increases.

    As for the “ideal” carrying capacity – that depends on how you define “ideal”. All sorts of personal preferences will come into play there.

    What we do know is that the environmentally feasible maximum population limit for the country will always continue to grow because of technology advances.

    Let’s say we took this view of “we’ve reached our population limit” in the 1970’s.

    In terms of who ultimately gets disadvantaged – it get’s spread around more than you might think. One of the consequences would be that when you get older and start consuming larger quantities of healthcare, with a smaller population the quality of that health care would be lower, yet the rest of us would have to pay for more tax each to provide that lower quality of care.

    The prices you pay for most goods and services would currently be higher than they are for a great many reasons, some complicated and some as simple as a smaller population reduces the ability of economies of scale to be utilised in any given domestic industry.

  17. PeeBee


    What you should be saying is if you don’t pay a decent wage for hard work, you don’t get the fruit picked. There are probably a million people unemployed in Australia, surely a few of them would like to earn some decent money picking fruit.. we don’t need imported labour.

    And should this lead to bigger prices at the stores? Not really. When I was younger, there were huge numbers of people bending over picking potatoes off the ground and putting them in bags (at a 10 shillings a bag). When the price of labour kept increasing, farmers invested in potatoe picking machines – result more efficient production and at lower prices.

    What worries me is that there is no limit to the ‘populate or perish’ people. If someone could stop and tell me what the ideal carrying capacity of Australia is they may have an argument, but they don’t. As I said it is a ponzi scheme where a few benefit but the majority of the people already here are dissadvantaged.

  18. Possum Comitatus


    If you don’t get backpackers to pick fruit, the fruit doesn’t get picked.

    That means the prices you pay for fresh fruit and vegetables increase substantially until the point is reached where the price rises provide farmers enough cash to lure people out to pick the fruit.

    Ultimately, you pay.

    It is true that you are already paying more for water, electricity and transport – but for the first time in your life you are paying closer to the true cost of those services today then ever before – as more environmental externalities get folded into the cost, and less government subsidisation is involved.

    The people that came before you had to pay for upgrades of infrastructure to give you your quality of life. Why do you think the inter generational investment in future living standards should stop with you?

  19. PeeBee


    If that what happens when you reduce population increase (which has yet to be proven to me – fruit pickering is not a skills shortage), then the answer is ‘yes’. You see, I don’t get anything out of those particular benefits, while I personnaly continue to suffer the downside of high immigration.

    If it was a short term thing, I would consider it, but the only solution to the problems of increased population is more migration. this is totally unsustainable and giant ponzi scheme. I am already paying more for water, electricity, transport, stuff I have already paid for after a life time of taxes, and now I am being asked to fork out again to ‘upgrade’ infrastructure to cope with an increase in population. If there are organisastions benefitting from the increase population, let them pay for the increase in infrastructure required to service the increase.

  20. calyptorhynchus

    “I’d prefer to build more infrastructure and expand the size of smaller cities.”

    And I’d prefer to live in a world where the laws of physics and ecology don’t operate and it would be possible to have an endlessly growing population in a finite world.

    However, we don’t, and it’s up to us to start making moves to address the population issue, which is connected, of course, with global warming and other ecological crises.

    Of course I reject absolutely the racist Coalition tricks that focus on immigration and fail to mention Australia’s domestic birth-rate, which is the real issue.

    And of course, Australia restricting its population growth and turning it around into a population that declines to a sustainable level and then stabilises, won’t do anything for the global problem (in the same way that stabilising Australia’s CO2 emissions won’t do anything for the global problem). However both would send a signal, which is all we can do.

  21. Possum Comitatus

    So PeeBee, you’d be happy winding back a massive high end export industry for Australia in the process? Happy to live with the higher prices that come with skill shortages?

    I’d prefer to build more infrastructure and expand the size of smaller cities.

  22. PeeBee

    I am still alarmed by the increase in Australia’s population, even if it is due to ‘net long term visitor movements’. I cannot tell while I am in a traffic jam if the fellow in the next car will leave Australia in 12 months or is a permanent resident. Do I really care the house prices and rents are sky-rocketing because of demand is created by a person who will leave Australia sometime in the future? Nope, the fact is the infrastructure is straining under the population increase (whatever the cause) and something should be done to slow it down.

  23. Andrew Bartlett

    Bobswinkle @2 “the trend suggests it went down since Rudd was elected. No actual real reason for this whatsoever as far as I can see, but funny how much the opposition seems to be able to have its cake and eat it too at the moment.”

    Most of the downward trend – in the red line on Possum’s graph – would be due the reduction in 457 visa holders (temporary skilled workers). This dropped in the last year or so, mostly because demand dropped due to the economic downturn, plus because the government tightened the criteria somewhat, partly to ensure it better met the purpose of the visa and partly to keep some of the more protectionist unions happy.

    I expect student visa number will reflect a significant drop in the next year or two as well – partly due to cleaning up some of the dodgy providers and perverse incentives that were encouraged in the Howard years, partly due to a drop from those coming from India as a result of the negative publicity, and partly due to increased competition from elsewhere (including as a result of the stronger Aust $).

    One statistic which didn’t get much attention over the last decade was the steady rise in long-term and permanent departures from Australia. As some commenters suggest, the GFC may have halted this for a little while, but I expect it will increase again in coming years.

    And further to Possum’s point about economic benefits of migration, it is also worth noting other findings of Access Economics which show the significant avenue net gain to federal revenue which almost all classes of permanent migrant provide within a very short space of time after arrival (although not as much as the 457 workers do, which isn’t surprising seeing they are not entitled to much by way of government support).

  24. Cuppa

    Is there a lie that the Lieberals wouldn’t tell?

    “We are the superior economic managers.”

    “We keep immigration low.”

    “WorkChoices is about paying higher wages.”

    “Climate change is absolute crap.”

    You pick the issue, and the Fiberals are out there twisting and spinning it.

    Doesn’t say much for the discernment of their supporters …


    So, you’re telling us that the Coalition pick an issue, want a certain outcome to scare the punters with, and then throw any old numbers together to give them the scary number?

    No, really?

    (Irony aside, nice work once again Poss, and further proof, if any was needed, that the MSM is a pack of lazy innumerates.)

  26. Population debate « Translations

    […] and like Possum said, the politics of this is going to be tricky for everyone. Unless they resort to […]

  27. Gary Bruce

    Excellent work Poss.

  28. fredex

    The contrasting severity of the impact of the GFC on 4 of my family living and working overseas led them to return from overseas to the relative security and prosperity of Oz.
    Many of their friends and colleagues did the same.
    London pubs in particular noticed the loss in revenue.

  29. Socrates


    Also interesting to note the change in “Net Australian Resident Movement” in 2008 and 2009. This number went up to almost 50,000 returnees from OS last year, which goes a long way to explaining why the net total for last year was closer to 300,000 than the former 200,000 level. so the number of PR and study visas is not going up, but the number of Australians returning to work in Oz rather than UK or USA is increasing. This might turn around naturally as the USA economy improves.

    I think it is worth the government explaining this distinction. They aren’t issuing more visas – the increase is due to a lot of peopel with pre-existing rights of return or entry coming back for a job since Australia fared comparatively well in the GFC.

  30. Eratosthanes

    Wonderfull work Poss. Wonderfull.

  31. dave

    Thanks Poss.

    Lets see how long it takes the msm to arrive at an accurate analysis of the oppositions 300k

  32. imacca

    HAAAA! Boltemetrics or what! This is exactly the kind of scarey, dodgey numbers that the Coalition survive on, and use to scare people like my old mum. I love her but her politcs are driven by this kind of headline. Thanks Poss for the breakdown of the numbers. They tell a story very much at odds with the one the Libs are trying to market.

  33. fredex

    Thank you Poss.

  34. Supersmirk

    Once again Poss, well done debunking the myths. However, the problem with scare campaigns is that they work, especially when emotive issues are involved. Doesn’t matter if the scare is based on lies, or dodgy stats or whatever, they work.

    Also, doing “Boltemetrics” seems to be contagious, and spreading within the MSM.

  35. Stephen Wood

    Honestly, Possum, you’ve got to stop with this data-driven destruction of Coalition talking points. What are the poor dears going to do if they’re revealed to be talking rubbish?

  36. bobswinkle

    Possum, I will never cease to be excited when my RSS feed informs me you’ve posted a new article. And it’s exactly this sort of analysis which I enjoy so very very much.

    Even though it’s not a bad thing at all (I’m at university and know all too well how much it needs the injection of money overseas students provides) isn’t it also funny that all the increase appears to have happened under Howard, and the trend suggests it went down since Rudd was elected. No actual real reason for this whatsoever as far as I can see, but funny how much the opposition seems to be able to have its cake and eat it too at the moment.

  37. Tweets that mention Net Arrivals – Cheap Populism and Export Destruction – Pollytics --

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Pollytics, Lesley Dimmock. Lesley Dimmock said: RT @Pollytics: Cheap Populism & Export Destruction How a $14 billion export industry drives Abbott's "Net Arrival" numbers […]

Leave a comment

Share this article with a friend

Just fill out the fields below and we'll send your friend a link to this article along with a message from you.

Your details

Your friend's details