A story from the Population 2050 Conference

Right now I am inbetween two days of conference – the Inaugural Australian Population 2050 Conference. Or something like that.

It’s a full on two day conference, with presentations on all the kinds of economic, environmental and social policy issues that arise when we consider that Australia’s population might jump from its present 22 million to 35 million in the next 40 years. We are looking at ageing, superannuation and pensions, environmental degregdation and resource use, housing, immigration, recruitment and retention of the workforce, regional and rural communities and health. Argh!

The thing is that this conference seems very much aimed at the public and private sectors, and not so much the community sector. Nearly everyone there works for some kind of government department or a private consultancy firm. The details for the conference reminded us all to wear business attire. Definitely not a conference aimed at not-for-profits! I don’t own any business attire!

After a morning session of looking at how we are going to keep the economy strong in the face of a growing and ageing population, a public servant from the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) got up to talk about the government’s thinking on migration. For some reason no one seemed to be looking very far past economic issues. All the DIAC guy talked about was how skilled migration can be really good for improving Australia’s economic growth.
“Skilled migrants add productivity!”
“Skilled migrants participate well in Australia’s economy!”
“Skilled migrants bring skills that Australia needs!”.
It was good and interesting but a little one sided.

At the end of his presentation I stuck up my hand and asked him how refugees fit into this picture. Many refugees come without skills and many of them have been through excessive trauma and have problems participating in general society, let alone the workforce. He smiled and reassured me that refugees still have a place in migration policy etc, etc. I know, I’ve heard it before, I just wanted him (and everyone else) to remember that a person’s value as a migrant shouldn’t just rest on how much they can contribute to the economy.

I didn’t realise it but my question had acted as some sort of emergency beacon, which attracted the attention of the few community sector attendees of the conference. After the end of the session it was lunch. I found myself seated beside a community worker from Belligen on the North Coast who had purple hair. She complimented my question and we got straight down to talking about how we were going to apply all this public/private sector stuff when we got back to our own workplaces. We were then joined by a guy from CatholicCare who also liked my question and wanted to talk about community issues. It was awesome. It felt just like a mini NGO conference.

Then we went back inside and it was back to the business-attired-public/private-sector thing.

But tomorrow will be better – it’s all the social policy stuff. Hooray!

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