Topics: Migration and Planning for Australia’s future population
MARK BRAYBROOK: The Immigration Minister who was at the announcement today and went through the reasons why is joining me now. David Coleman, Minister, good afternoon.
DAVID COLEMAN: Good afternoon Mark.
BRAYBROOK: 15 per cent cut. 190 thousand down to 160. On the surface it doesn't sound like a huge cut. Is it enough?
COLEMAN: Yeah, we think it's the right amount Mark. Basically what we're seeing is the needs for immigration are very different in different parts of Australia. So you've got big congestion in Sydney and Melbourne especially, parts of South East Queensland as well. And then we've got a situation where in South Australia, in Tasmania and a bunch of other places around the country, they're actually calling for more immigration. So what this enables us to do is put a reduction on the program, to pause it at that 160k level, and also to provide more places to the regional areas that really need them to help grow their economies. So it will take the pressure off the big cities and give some more people to the regions that are looking for more people.
BRAYBROOK: And regional includes big cities, or what we would consider big cities: Adelaide, Darwin, Hobart - lovely parts of the world - Newcastle, I would imagine here in Queensland as well some of our regions would be screaming out for people also.
COLEMAN: Yeah exactly. So, basically the way it works is the only places that are outside of regional Australia are Brisbane, Gold Coast, Sydney, Melbourne, and Perth. Outside of that it's regional Australia under these definitions. So for 23,000 people as of next year, we'll be saying: if you want to come to Australia, you'll need to settle in a regional area and work in a regional area. If you do the right thing and you stay in that regional area for three years, at the end of three years you've got an opportunity to become a permanent resident. And of course the big thing that people who are migrating to Australia want is permanent residency, so that's a really, really strong incentive for people to stay in the regions. They can move around within the regions, so someone could go from Newcastle to Ballarat to Adelaide, wherever within regional Australia. But importantly what they wouldn't be able to do is go to Brisbane or Sydney or Melbourne because we do have issues with the congestion and population growth in those areas.
BRAYBROOK: Four year cap - the Prime Minister says it's a pause. Is it enough though? I mean infrastructure is so far behind our population growth - how much time do we really need to catch up?
COLEMAN: Well look, we're as a federal Government putting records spending into infrastructure right now, and Alan Tudge, the Minister, was talking about that today - $75 billion is the federal investment in infrastructure. You're right in saying that in many parts of Australia infrastructure hasn't kept up with population growth. I'm from Sydney and because of the failure of Labor governments over a long period of time, our infrastructure has been well behind. Through the investment of both the federal government and the state governments we're turning that around. But it takes a while. You can't do infrastructure overnight. So this plan is about increasing the level of infrastructure whilst at the same time putting a pause on that population growth and reducing population growth in the big cities to allow the infrastructure to catch up.
BRAYBROOK: If people go to the country areas where some areas are screaming out, infrastructure's got to be built there as well. So aren't you just, in some respects, moving a problem that could be an issue, say for Newcastle, or say for Adelaide or Hobart five, six years down the track?
COLEMAN: Well, I think the issues are pretty different in those locations. So, let's take South Australia for instance. So, under this definition, Adelaide is a part of regional Australia and the South Australian Government and the business community down there and the broader community are literally crying out for more people. They don't have the same sort of congestion issues that we have in the bigger capital cities. They've got a lot of unfilled skilled jobs and they're saying: we really want to increase the number of people coming down here to help grow our economy. So, the biggest infrastructure and congestion issues are in that South East Queensland pocket, Sydney, Melbourne, Perth; and outside of those areas congestion is, frankly, much less of an issue. So, we think it's sensible to shape the program so that more people can go to these regional areas that actually want more immigrants and at the same time, yeah, taking the pressure off the big cities.
BRAYBROOK: With regards to infrastructure, it's not just about roads though, is it? We need a whole range of infrastructure built - I read today calls for, you know, the fast train between regional areas and capital cities as well. There is so much to be done though Minister. How long is all this going to take?
COLEMAN: Yeah, well, you're right. I mean, high speed rail is an issue that has been on the agenda for some time. It's not just about roads; it's about public transport and the whole suite of infrastructure measures. As you know, there's a lot going on in Queensland at the moment that Alan Tudge as the Infrastructure Minister is overseeing. But, yeah, as I said, it doesn't happen overnight. We all know that. Infrastructure takes a while and the reality is that because of the failure of investment of previous Labor governments, more has needed to be done. But a part of making sure that congestion pressures are reduced is also taking off some of that population pressure, and that's what this plan does because it basically says: let's not keep forever increasing the rate of population growth; let's take a step back, let's pause at this somewhat reduced level, continue the investment in infrastructure, and help grow these big parts of Australia that are looking for more people.
BRAYBROOK: Are there enough jobs there?
COLEMAN: Yeah, absolutely. So, the way the regional plan works, there's two categories. One is what's called employer sponsored, where employers ask for particular employees - that's about 9000 spots under our plan, and in the pipeline we can see already quite a lot more than 9000. The other element of the plan is where the states and territories actually nominate the number of people that they want to go to their areas, and that part of our plan is 14,000 spots. And once again, we can we can see that number being filled quite clearly, basically because you've got some states - South Australia, Tasmania in particular - calling for quite significant increases. So yes, we feel confident that that 23,000 is achievable. And importantly - this is an important part of this plan - once those people come to the regions, they can't sort of just, you know, turn around and move to Brisbane two weeks later. If they want permanent residency, they need to commit to regional Australia, they need to stay for the three years. And that's a good thing because it gives regional Australia that certainty of investment and it enables us to address those congestion problems in the big cities.
BRAYBROOK: Is there ever going to be a time when we say there's no room left at the inn in these cities? I mean, I moved out of Sydney 25 years ago; a lot of my listeners have also moved north from both Sydney and Melbourne and couldn't imagine going back with the traffic, the buildings, the apartment block after apartment block changing the way people live in those cities as well. Is there ever going- and heaven forbid we ever have it here in Brisbane - is there ever going to be a time when we say there's no room left at the inn?
COLEMAN: Well look I think we'll always obviously need a migration program, because there'll always be skilled vacancies that can't be filled, including in the big cities. But what we've seen particularly in Sydney and Melbourne in recent years is a real increase in those congestion issues, rapid population growth. I mean, my own electorate in Sydney has got parts of the St George and Bankstown areas, and it would be one of the more congested electorates in the country. And so this is an issue that my constituents and I have been talking about for quite a few years and it's part of the reason why the Government is making these changes, because we're conscious of these congestion issues. But, you know, we've always had a migration program in Australia, including in the big cities. We always will have one, we'll always need one, but we've got to be smart about it and we've got to say: well, what's the right level, what's the right distribution, and recognise that it's not one size fits all. The needs are really different around the country and so the program has to be smart enough to deal with that.
BRAYBROOK: Thanks very much for your time.
COLEMAN: Thanks very much.