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.

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