NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s comments earlier this week on wanting the state “to return to Howard-era immigration levels” have received much negative backlash as such a policy would mean halving migrant intake in order to limit population expansion.

“It is becoming increasingly clear that the current high rates of population growth are putting even more pressure on our infrastructure,” she said in a statement before appointing a three-member panel tasked to develop a NSW population policy to be introduced to the federal government in 2019.

According to The Guardian, however, permanent arrivals in Australia have not increased since the Howard administration wit net overseas migration mainly being driven by students, tourists and skilled migrants.

Speaking at the International Metropolis Conference in Sydney – the largest migration and multicultural event in the world – acclaimed social researcher Professor Stephen Castles argued that while refugees and asylum seekers garner more attention, they in fact only constitute a very small part of Australia’s migrant intake.

“We have to change the perceptions that economic migration is good and persecuted migration is bad,” he said stressing that such a view “is terribly short-sighted”.

With 30,000 people having to leave their homes to seek asylum, Australia only takes in about 15,000 people a year with the largest part of its migrant intake coming from skilled migration, people the country needs, with permission to work and stay permanently.

“While 28% of our population comes from overseas, it’s always been that the latest group is to blame for the problems we face on the day,” Pr Castles continued.

“In the 50’s it was the Italians and Greeks, in the 60’s it was the Vietnamese who were blamed for crime, the drug trade and so on. Migrants are being used as scapegoats by politicians as they exploit the increased feeling of vulnerability of their constituents and frustration with infrastructure.”

“Refugees have made a huge contribution to economy and society, and it isn’t fair not to recognise that. Australia used to be a leader in human rights, and now we have become a leader in violating human rights,” he concluded.