Census data tells immigration story: experts

Census collectors walk the streets of Sydney for the 2011 Census. AAP

Increased participation in the workforce, a boost in people with a postgraduate degree and more community and personal service workers can all be linked back to Australia’s immigration program and rapidly growing population says demographer and population researcher Ernest Healy.

The latest data from the 2011 Census reveals Australia’s unskilled workforce is on the decline, there’s been a 52.8% jump in people with a postgraduate degree since the 2006 Census, and more Australians are employed in the health care and social assistance industry than ever before.

Dr Healy, who is a research fellow in the Centre for Population and Urban Research at Monash University, said all of these trends could be linked back to Australia’s immigration program.

“Even in the face of serious economic decline, the Rudd Government broke with the historic pattern of Australian governments (in difficult times) and pushed net overseas migration to extraordinarily high levels,” Dr Healy said.

He added that immigrants as a group were more skilled than the general Australian population.

“The skill level of the population in general is signficantly due to the selection process for immigration,” Dr Healy said.

International migration is likely to be a factor in the jump in people with a postgraduate degree said Nick Parr, associate professor in demography at Macquarie University.

“Migrants into Australia have tended to have higher levels of education than the already resident population,” Professor Parr said.

The data also showed an increase in workforce participation, particularly among older women.

“Participation rates have gone up significantly more in the later working ages than the younger working ages,” Professor Parr said.

“This more even balancing of the participation patterns of older and younger working age people should help to reduce the extent to which population ageing is a concern,” Professor Parr said.

Dr Healy said the participation rate contributes significantly to the growth of the labour force and needs to be taken into account when the government sets the scale of the immigration program.

He added that the Census data told a story of “immigration begetting immigration”, with an increasing population creating skills shortages in some areas that then creates an argument for further immigration.

Dr Healy said Australia was becoming economically dependent on a growing population, locked on a “treadmill” that didn’t necessarily result in a more knowledge-intensive or productive economy.

“Once you become economically dependent on this pathway of development for growth it’s hard to adopt a different direction without serious dislocation.

"It’s in our interest to look at ways to reorient our economy and get off the treadmill.”