DAVID SPEERS: Well let's go to our guest this afternoon, the Immigration Minister David Coleman joins me from Sydney. Minister, thanks very much for your time this afternoon. Do we need to reduce permanent migration or temporary migration?
DAVID COLEMAN: Look, I want to firstly address Tanya Plibersek's comments David, which were just absurd. I mean, under Labor we saw a huge increase in temporary migration through 457s; the system was out of control. We put in place the Temporary Skill Shortage Visa under which there are about half as many people coming. And importantly, the average salary is about $15,000 a year higher so that has achieved the goal of controlling the rate of migration but also ensuring that they're more highly skilled individuals. Now in terms of your broader point about permanent and temporary visas, as the PM acknowledged last night, the reality is we do have significant population pressures in Sydney and in Melbourne. We've got the substantial majority of people going to those places and we do have the tax on people that is congestion and that's why the government's so focussed on reducing congestion. So these issues do have to be addressed. The PM said last night, he did make his remarks about the permanent program, but he also said that the temporary program is important too, and all of these things are interrelated. So you're right to raise the importance of the temporary program. But Labor raising temporary visas is just absurd given that they were the world champions of 457s.
DAVID SPEERS: Alright. Let's just leave Labor to one side. You've been in government five years now. Let's look at what you're going to do. Just to be clear on this, do you think there's a need to reduce the permanent migration intake?
DAVID COLEMAN: Look, I think that we have seen, as I said, significant congestion problems particularly in Sydney and Melbourne. I know in my own electorate in Sydney, congestion is a huge issue and the fact is that migration does contribute to that. What the PM said last night David was that although the permanent ceiling number is 190,000, the actual number for the last financial year is 162,000 and his comments were along the lines of saying that he anticipates that the permanent cap may more closely align with the actual. So yeah, that makes absolute sense. We'll have an orderly process, talking to the states and territories and others about their views on where the number should be because we can't have a situation where the states who are of course responsible for so much infrastructure delivery aren't as involved as they could be. And historically that has been the case. So we want to fix that, we're going to fix that through the COAG process that the PM's outlined. And the broad goal…
DAVID SPEERS: Okay. Just on that point Minister, sorry to interrupt. Just on that point. The states already do make annual submissions on what the immigration number should be.
DAVID COLEMAN: Yeah they do. But the reality is David that that consultation process hasn't been as detailed or as specific or frankly, granular as it should be. It's not about just pulling a number out of the air.
DAVID SPEERS: Well you'll have a longer conversation with them. But ultimately, you will still make the decision, is that right?
DAVID COLEMAN: That is right. It is a Federal responsibility and we'll make the decision. But as the PM said, he wants to hear from the states about what's your carrying capacity of people - not just in the cities, but in the regions too. Because we do have this anomaly David, at the moment, where we've got very high levels of growth and congestion Sydney, Melbourne, South East Queensland and then I've got people in my office pretty much every week David from regional Australia saying - we want more migration. So at the moment, we're looking to do a deal in Warrnambool and at a range of other places David. So there's a disconnect.
DAVID SPEERS: And this is what we've heard from the government through much of this year that you want to try and get people out into the regions and away from Sydney and Melbourne - the big population centres that frankly are very congested right now. So, you seem to be shifting the debate though now to actually: no, no, no, we're actually going to cut the migration intake. When you say a 30,000 cut in the permanent migration intake would be appropriate; are you talking about the skilled migrants, are you talking about the family reunions or are you talking about humanitarian?
DAVID COLEMAN: Yeah well look obviously David, we're going to work through those issues and that is something that the government will have more to say about in the future. But I would say a very important point David - skilled migration has been very positive for Australia, very positive. And it is very important that the ability of the country to bring in skills when needed to add to the economy stays strong and anything we do in this space will have a very, very sharp focus on skilled migration. If you go back 20 years, admittedly a long time ago, the program used to be family focussed…
DAVID SPEERS: So you won't- do I read that to be you're not going to touch skilled migration, you're going to tackle family reunions or humanitarian visas?
DAVID COLEMAN: Well no, I don't think you should read that in specifically David. But what I would say is that we will have a very sharp focus on the economic benefits of the program to Australia. At the end of the day, immigration is effectively a recruitment exercise for the country and we need to be able to say this is positive for the country, it is positive for the economy. I mean, one in three small businesses in Australia David, is run by a migrant.
DAVID SPEERS: Are refugees and family reunions positive for our economy?
DAVID COLEMAN: Well I mean, look, family reunions are really important, David, and as I say, we'll have more to say in terms of the composition on this program after we complete the consultation process. But skilled migration is - it's about 70 per cent of the program now David. So it's not revolutionary for me to say that this is very important. It's the bulk of the program already, and it's really important that we maintain that focus. It's really important that we look at the different elements within the skilled program, because it's not just one skilled program; there's a range of different elements within it. And at the end of the day, we need to be able to say that we have created the program which is in the best interest of Australia. It's our program. It must reflect our choices. One of our choices under this Government has been to have a strong economic focus. That has been very successful and we'll continue to have a strong economic focus.
DAVID SPEERS: But coming back to Scott Morrison's own words just this year: a permanent cut to the permanent intake. It's very hard to look at the data and see that that's actually the problem. Do you agree with Scott Morrison on that - that it's temporary migration that's the problem?
DAVID COLEMAN: Well I think that both need to be considered, as I said David. But as you pointed out in your intro, within the temporary program the biggest category is students. Now, really important to understand how significant students are to our economy - third largest export industry, $31 billion a year to Australia. Put that in perspective - beef exports per year, $7 billion, education, 31. So this is a really big deal - the Australian education sector - and the income that they generate is very substantial. They generate a six-figure number of jobs, which tend to be high wage, high skill jobs; good for the economy. And so, to sort of - it's right to focus on temporary, but you've also got to say: well, what are the specific issues within temporary? And education, which is the biggest category within temporary, is a very good thing for the country.
DAVID SPEERS: So you're not going to touch that? Is it, as you point out there very well, it's a hugely important market for Australia. Can I just clarify - you're not going to cut the number of foreign students coming to Australia?
DAVID COLEMAN: Well, again David, full points for the question but I'm not here to announce the outcome of the process today. We'll work through that in an orderly way, but I'm very happy to send an unambiguous message, that the international education sector is extremely positive for the Australian economy. It has had a very strong track record in this nation. It's our third largest export industry and it underpins high wage, high skilled jobs; very important. So, all of these factors we need to take into account.
DAVID SPEERS: I think we get your message. Okay, no fair enough. But can I just ask on the process, I mean, Tanya Plibersek said it's five minutes to the election; she's kind of got a point, right? You've been in office five years, an election is just around the corner; when are we going to see some detail on this?
DAVID COLEMAN: Yeah well, Tanya Plibersek, as is often the case, David, is wrong on that. Every year, there's an annual program around the migration number and a consultation process. It's typically announced around the time of the Budget in the second half of the financial year. What we're saying this year is that we're also adding this important layer on this broader population question, and you know, Alan Tudge is doing great work in looking at this broader population question - the infrastructure, the internal migration, a range of other important issues - so the annual discussion about the migration program happens every year. The results of that are released towards the end of the financial year. This year is the same in terms of timing, but what's different this year is the PM saying: let's have this broader discussion about population, because we've got to take the pressure off in Sydney, Melbourne, South East Queensland, where it's being felt so substantially. And we should, frankly, involve the states far more than they have been in the past. But the actual timing is entirely consistent with previous years.
DAVID SPEERS: So when are we going to see it?
DAVID COLEMAN: Well, you can expect to see it in the second half of this financial year, David, as we see it in every other year in the past.
DAVID SPEERS: Okay, but this new approach to getting migrants out into smaller centres - all of these changes - we won't see that before the end of this year?
DAVID COLEMAN: Well again David, I'm not going to announce a timetable for every single element of the issues that I'm considering, but in terms of that broad migration outcome; it's always announced in the second half of the year. COAG's on 12 December, David, and that's when the PM and the states will be sitting down and really going through this, and so I think it's fair to assume that the outcome of this population and migration analysis will be out in the second half of the financial year.
DAVID SPEERS: Alright. David Coleman, the Immigration Minister. Thanks very much for joining us this afternoon. I appreciate it.
DAVID COLEMAN: Thanks David.