Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Interview with Patricia Karvelas, ABC RN Drive

Subjects: Migration and Plan for Australia’s future population, medical evacuations and One Nation


PATRICIA KARVELAS: For more, I'm joined by the Minister for Immigration, David Coleman. David Coleman welcome.

DAVID COLEMAN: Good evening Patricia.

KARVELAS: Before we get into this policy, how concerned should Australians travelling to Turkey for Anzac Day be about their security following President Erdogan's comments?

COLEMAN: Well look, I think the PM’s really spoken for the nation, Patricia, in responding to those comments today. They were very disturbing and highly inappropriate. The Turkish Ambassador, obviously, has been brought in to Parliament House today and there were some frank discussions held and no doubt those will continue. We have historically enjoyed good relations with Turkey, and obviously it's in everyone's interests for those relations to continue, but these are very, very upsetting comments and, as the PM said, all options are being considered and we'll continue to work through the issue.

KARVELAS: Yeah. He did say all options were on the table and they are diplomatic options. It doesn't look like President Erdogan intends to apologise. So if he doesn't, will our Ambassador be recalled?

COLEMAN: Well look, Patricia, as you can appreciate, it's not for me to pre-empt the outcome of those discussions. It's something that's just happened in the last 24 hours, but it was extraordinarily inappropriate, to say the least, for President Erdogan to make those comments, and I think all Australians would feel quite upset by them and the appropriate thing for us to do now is to express those concerns, which we've done today, and to continue to discuss those matters with Turkey. But yeah, it was very disturbing comments and I think the PM spoke for all of us.

KARVELAS: On your plan unveiled today, the Government is lowering the permanent migration intake from 190,000 - that's the current cap, but you're changing it to 160,000. But the actual intake last year was 162,000, so around the same number that you're changing it to. So what is the point of doing it?

COLEMAN: Well, Patricia, there's a couple of really important points here. The first thing is that by setting the ceiling at 160,000, we are taking a breather on the growth of the program. So, we're basically saying over the next four years, the cap is 120,000 less than it would otherwise have been. And really importantly, we're also significantly increasing the proportion of people who are required to settle outside of the big cities. We've got serious issues in terms of congestion and infrastructure issues, particularly in Melbourne and Sydney but also in Brisbane, the Gold Coast, and Perth, and what this plan is about is saying: let's take a breather on the ongoing growth of the program for a number of years and then within that, let's match the program better to the needs around Australia. Because in South Australia, it's a very different situation to, say, in Melbourne. In South Australia the Government, the business community, the broader community groups are really calling for significant increases in skilled migration to help underpin their economic growth; same story in Tasmania, same story in lots of other parts of Australia. And I think in the past, the migration program probably hasn't done as good a job as it could have in balancing those different needs in different parts of the country. So, two things: one is effectively a pause at 160 and secondly, a better balancing within that 160.

KARVELAS: Okay. It's been reported that a figure of 155,000 was discussed in Cabinet and ruled out because of Treasury advice. Is that an acknowledgement that the economy actually can't afford a real reduction in immigration?

COLEMAN: Well look, the PM said today that the 160,000 figure is neutral to the Budget. So- and of course, any government has to consider the economic impacts of its decisions. At this 160,000 level, with this new distribution, with a greater regional proportion, we see no impact on the Budget. So, there's no cost to the Budget and that is important. So, we've got to take into account economic factors, we've got to take into account the need to invest in infrastructure, and Alan Tudge is obviously doing a lot of work in terms of the federal investment in infrastructure, and we've got to be able to say: is the program matching the needs of the different parts of Australia? We've historically had a very high proportion of people going into the big capitals and what we're saying now is we want to see a broader distribution and enabling states that want more people through the program to be able to access those people.

KARVELAS: Net migration, as opposed to permanent migration, sits at around 240,000. Now, many of those are international students who are studying in major cities like Sydney and Melbourne, and you could argue many of those people also add to congestion as do people who already live here permanently. So what does this announcement do to address that issue?

COLEMAN: Yeah. I just wanted to make just a couple of points there Patricia. Firstly, in relation to international students. So, education is our third biggest export industry - and let me just put that in perspective. The annual value of education to Australia is about $32 billion. Beef is $7 billion and wheat is 6. And so that gives you a sense of how critical an industry this is to us. So to seek to sort of reduce that very important export income for Australia and the six-figure number of jobs that it creates would be foolish. What we are dealing within the international student program as part of this plan is creating an incentive for students to study at regional unis. If they go to a regional university and then work in a regional area, they'll get an additional year on their post-study work visa. So, that's important too. The other point I'd make on net overseas migration, about- more than 20 per cent of those people are tourists under the way the NOM definition works. And of course, tourists are very positive for us economically. And then you've got programs like working holidaymakers that are really important for farmers in assisting and getting crops to harvest in summer time, in particular. So there are a number of important temporary programs. Within the permanent program, this change that we're announcing today will obviously then flow through to net overseas migration. And within the student program, which is a significant contributor to net overseas migration, we have this new regional incentive which we believe will help to encourage people to study in regional campuses.

KARVELAS: Okay. So after people go to those regions for three or four years, as this visa that you've unveiled today requires. What's to stop them after they get their permanent residency from coming to the cities?

COLEMAN: Yeah. Well, once you've obviously spent three years, at least, in a regional area - it's between three and five; people can apply after three and have the provisional status for five years - you've obviously got very deep roots in those communities that you've spent your time, and all the research and so on that we have says that once people have been in regional areas for a period of time, that the overwhelming majority stay there. The issue is creating that incentive for people to stay in the first place. There are a lot of people, obviously, who arrive in Australia at the moment and then within a very short period of time, head to Sydney and Melbourne. If you've spent at least three years in regional Australia, you're going to have- and you've got a job, you've got roots, you've got friends, you've got community links, you're highly likely to stay in regional Australia, and that's what this is based on.

KARVELAS: Minister, before you go, have any asylum seekers been transferred to Christmas Island or mainland Australia since the passage of the medevac bill three weeks ago?

COLEMAN: Well Patricia, look, I'm not providing a running commentary on issues related to the medevac bill. What I would say is that you'll recall in the lead up to the passage of that bill, that there were a lot of statements to the effect that inadequate medical care was being provided, that people weren't getting medical care and that they weren't being transferred when it was necessary to do so. Those claims were false. There have been a significant number of people transferred when it's necessary and there are very significant medical resources available on both Manus and Nauru. Of course, all of the people who are on Manus and Nauru are there because of the catastrophic humanitarian failure of Labor's lack of border management. But in terms of- to address specifically your question, I'm not going to provide a running commentary on transfers under the new arrangements. But it has always been the case that medical transfers are possible when they are required and that continues to be the case.

KARVELAS: But given the rhetoric we heard around the passage of this bill and the dire warnings issued by the Government about a flood of transfers, don't Australians have a right to know what actually the reality is?

COLEMAN: Well again, Patricia, I'm not going to provide a sort of daily…

KARVELAS: Sure, but why did you say that there was going to be sort of, basically, a tsunami of people turning up and now we don't even know any of the details?

COLEMAN: Look, there's no question Patricia, under the law there are some very, very loose provisions in the law, as you're probably aware.

KARVELAS: If they're so loose, why aren't the people here or why aren't you telling me about the people coming here?

COLEMAN: Well look, as I said, the provisions are very loose, particularly those in relation to assessment and the fact that people can be transferred, not because they are necessarily ill but because they are said to need to be assessed in Australia. And they are very, very broad terms and we are absolutely of the view that that was inappropriate legislation that it has been detrimental to our offshore processing system, and will continue to be. Sometimes Patricia, people don't like it when we make this point, but the reality is – this Government is the one that has got people out of detention, its important Patricia. We've got people out of detention. There were 2,000 kids when we came into detention; there are none now.

KARVELAS: Yeah. I mean, I suppose that's the political point. I'm asking about the current situation. I mean, that's what people want to know about today, what's happening.

COLEMAN: Well, I think it's very important to note that this Government is not the government that forcibly placed 8,000 children in detention. This Government is not the one that oversaw that humanitarian catastrophe that we saw. But in terms of the medical transfers, it's not, as I said, it's not something I'm going to be providing a running commentary on.

KARVELAS: Do you think that One Nation should be put below Labor on how to vote cards?

COLEMAN: Well look, I think the Prime Minister's addressed those matters in relation to preferences.

KARVELAS: Do you think that Labor should be below One Nation on how to vote cards? One Nation should be below Labor, rather?

COLEMAN: Well again, I think the Prime Minister's addressed some of those matters today and I think it's appropriate for him to comment on those matters.

KARVELAS: So you don't have a view on whether One Nation should be put at the bottom of how to vote cards?

COLEMAN: Well, Patricia, again I think the Prime Minister is the appropriate person to speak for the party in relation to those sort of matters. And I know he's made some comments on those issues in the last day or two.

KARVELAS: Minister, thanks for joining us.

COLEMAN: Thanks Patricia.