How immigration can help Australia become more innovative

A robot typing on a keyboard

Like so many others in Australia, I’m a migrant. I jumped through all the rigorous hoops to live, work and settle in Australia.

While a part of me will always be fond of my birth country, I’ve adopted Australia as home. I believe most rational Australians are perplexed by the current debate about immigration. What puzzles me most is the lack of understating of what is actually going on.

The simple reality is that we, as a country, have priced ourselves out of many markets: manufacturing, mining, business location (tax) and even domestic tourism. It’s a well-documented fact; we have low productivity, a high cost of living and the highest company tax in the region.

This combination has forced Australia to move quickly to stay competitive; the economy is making some big moves to ensure survival, and it is starting to hurt many.

Automation – robots – are taking over many aspects of our lives. Think back to 20 years ago: you had to wind down a car window, we turned a knob on a radio to tune it in, we sent letters and accepted delayed response.

We now take for granted even the most basic of actions that have become automated. In 2016 automation is taking over further – have you bought a robotic vacuum cleaner yet? The stark reality: automation is coming to you faster than you think and that means change.

Airbus recently launched a program to use drones – flying robots – to conduct aircraft inspections. This will see a two-hour task, with a group of highly qualified people, move to just 10 minutes, with a significant increase in the quality of the outcome. The current program is ‘mildly risky, slow and laborious process (sic)’ and of course, that cost ends up in the traveller’s pocket.

The airline industry has already seen automation occur – a cockpit used to have a flight engineer. Automation (removing the human) has seen flight safety increase.

Farming, the backbone of so many regional Australian economies, is undergoing major changes too. With significant cost pressures placed on food production by us, the consumer, farmers are finding new ways.

Australian-based Swarmfarm has taken a leading global role in increasing food production for a growing population at a lower price. As farmers find workers harder to source in the major growing areas, robots are solving that problem. In Cambodia and Vietnam, the source of low cost labor for many major sporting brands, we’re seeing jobs disappear to robots and moved back onshore.

Automation is a positive advancement for our standard of living, but we must embrace the change.

For Australia, we must mitigate the risks and ‘skill up’.

Some Australian organisations are already embracing the opportunity; a major Australia company now has one person to manage 25,000 email accounts 24/7 nationally – five years ago that would have been a team of people.

A major mine operator has driverless haul trucks operating 24/7 with a small team managing the operation from a control room. Many roles and functions in Australia are already redundant and could disappear tomorrow. Many seem unwilling to make the change, believing they can fight off automation. In the end, this approach will see people losing rather than diversifying their skills.

Immigration is not the problem anyone needs to worry about – automation is more likely to take your job (you can even enter your occupation in the ‘Will a robot take your job?’ site by the BBC to discover the likelihood).

Immigration is critical to Australia; we need more people, more diverse ideas, more demand for goods and services. We need new businesses selling their knowledge to the world from Australia.

The reality is we need immigration. We need millions and millions of people to come and live in this very large and empty country. Population growth is critical to the sustained economic growth of Australia.

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Neil Glentworth is the founder of Glentworth, a business grown from a kitchen table into a national professional services company. Neil is now the Executive Chairman of Glentworth, working with clients each day to solve the most complex of business problems through data and information.
  • Margit Alm

    Neil: I too was not born and raised in this country. I came when the population (10 – 11m) was just right, when people were cooperative, friendly, accommodating, far less greedy than today, honest, hard-working – I could go on and on. Most of all there were the right numbers which Australia, the oldest and driest continent, could carry. Do you know that the carrying capacity for humans in this land is not more than 10 million? Do you know that only 6% of the land are usable for human habitation/agricultural use?

    I agree with you, we need automation, AI – and it will come. Robots will be the new ‘slaves’, will do the menial and dirty jobs. We need fewer people on that basis, but smarter ones.
    In fact, the whole world needs fewer people, less than 2 billion, more like 1 billion.
    And we have to wean ourselves of this ridiculous overconsumption. We have to return to quality from the current quantity, a love for nature, nurturing nature. Nurturing nature will require many people. Indeed, yes, we need more scientists, not more sporting and pop celebrities or welfare recipient.

    So, please turn your inventive and innovative mind how we can reduce population, reduce consumption, enhance quality, be happy and prosperous.

  • Jonathan Page

    Neil, you’ve told us how wonderful robots are and how they are an unstoppable force for the future.
    You then conclude with a completely unrelated point, that population is needed and you devote precisely zero logic to why this is so; there are precisely no facts or logic explaining why a growing population is good for Australia, yet there is ample evidence that it is harmful to Australia’s environment and city amenity, and that “more demand for goods and services” is in fact destroying the planet.
    Ancient Greece and Rome had a tiny fraction of the people we did in Australia and look at the ideas and innovation they came up with. I’m not suggesting we need slavery to emancipate the best minds from drudge work to concentrate on new technology; we already have plenty of numbers for that, so why the rush to add more minds?
    If you are going to be such an advocate for change, why don’t you tell us what happened to all the cashiers who lost their jobs when self-service checkouts became the norm at supermarkets?
    Did futurists and economists ensure these people didn’t get left by the wayside? What are your mitigating strategies for people who suffer the most from automation? Presumably not everyone will have a job in the future so what safety nets do you propose?
    Please put some more thought into your next article, you seem like an intelligent bloke…