Subjects: Migration and Plan for Australia’s future population
ROSS GREENWOOD: David Coleman is our Immigration Minister who is on the line right now. David, many thanks for your time.
DAVID COLEMAN: Good evening Ross.
GREENWOOD: Look, the interesting part about this is this polarises people in Australia without a doubt. And I know even from my emailers, my callers, it's the one thing- I've got a fundamental long term view that Australia's population has got to grow because of our ageing population. What many people come back and say to me is: ahah, but when we bring in new migrants, we actually also bring in their older families and that isn't necessarily good for our demographics. Where does Government officially sit on this issue of the number of people coming into the country versus the demographics of our ageing population?
COLEMAN: Yeah sure Ross, that's a very good question. So, basically in the permanent migration program, about two thirds to 70 per cent of the people who come are skilled and they come under those skilled programs, and about one third are the family programs. Within the family program, the majority are partners - so husbands, wives, partners, are the vast majority there. So, there's a very heavy emphasis on skilled migration. We've got to give John Howard credit back in the 90s for really shifting the focus of the program towards skilled and it's just got stronger and stronger every year.
GREENWOOD: But I am right to say also - because we picked this up last night when we were talking about this particular issue, that there are still a number of partners of people who have been given visas to Australia, so as a result they're by rights able to bring in a partner, but at the moment some of those partners are not able to come to Australia for as much as two years?
COLEMAN: Well, there's always a processing time Ross, and we've got very strong probity and integrity measures in the system. Back in around 2014-15 we really strengthened those measures and as a consequence of that, to be frank, we've identified significantly more problems in visa applications than we did, particularly under the previous Labor government. That's a good thing, because we all support a sensible migration program, but probity is very important. And so yeah, there is a time that people wait if they're applying for a partner visa whilst it's assessed. But the key point is that the big focus of the program is on skilled migration, because when skilled migrants come in, they get jobs that are generally high paying jobs, which means they generate taxes, they bring skills that they can transfer into those businesses, which mean those businesses can then hire more people. I remember from my own experience Ross, when I was on the board of Ninemsn that people would come from Microsoft, and that would often mean that some of those skills and ideas that came from people from Microsoft would be added to that business and there are lots of examples of that right around the country.
GREENWOOD: Would the level of migration levels coming into Australia, would it also contribute to the relatively low wage increases Australians are experiencing and have been experiencing over a period of time because there's not necessarily as much work around the place, but there are also skilled migrants coming in who are taking up some of that work that might otherwise have been given out in over time or given out to Australian workers?
COLEMAN: No, that's not the case. And there's two reasons for that. One is that skilled migrants can't be employed unless an employer has made clear that that job can't be filled locally. And secondly, it's not possible under the various rules that are in place for wages to be lower than would otherwise be paid to an Australian worker. So, it's about saying: when is there a genuine gap in the market, and when there is a genuine gap in the market, where the job can't be filled- for decades Ross, Australia has obviously had a skilled migration program; it will continue to have that. But what we're saying in this announcement is we want to take a pause, take a breather in terms of the rapid growth rates that we're seeing, especially in Sydney and Melbourne. So, the number coming down from 190 to 160 and also having significantly more places for regional Australia where people, if they want permanent residency in Australia, will need to stay in those regional areas for at least three years and so that means we can get more people to places like South Australia that are crying out for skilled migration and take some of the pressure off places like Sydney and Melbourne where…
GREENWOOD: Okay. And the other final part about this to ask is if there is still a relative shortage of workers or if, say for example, employers want to bring in other people to Australia, it is possible that they could bring people in on short term visas, so as a result it may not necessarily take enormous amounts of pressure off the population? It simply means that permanent migrants are not as plentiful as they previously have been.
COLEMAN: Well, in terms of short term skilled migration, so Labor had the old 457 system and that was basically- there were rorts going on, there were people who were frankly not skilled workers who were coming in under Labor's 457 system. We got rid of that. We replaced it with what's called the Temporary Skills Shortage visa. And interesting stat, Ross: if you compare the last year of 457s under Labor to the last financial year under our Government, about half as many of those skills shortage visas issued by us, but the average salary is $15,000 a year higher. And so what that shows you is what we've done is we've said: well, skills shortage must mean a genuine skills shortage and it will tend to mean higher salaries because those people will be more highly skilled.
GREENWOOD: Okay, final one for you: given the number of skilled migrants coming in, does it actually change Australia's demographics long term, given our ageing population and given that we need younger skilled workers in Australia to create the tax base to be able to pay for the hospitals and the pensions for Australia's ageing population?
COLEMAN: Yeah, that's correct Ross. And the average age of skilled workers tends to be lower than the average age of the population as a whole, and that is important because the longer someone is in the workforce, the more they contribute in terms of tax that goes to the government, and of course the costs of migrants, if they're younger and less likely to be in hospital and so on, tend to be lower than if they're older.
GREENWOOD: David Coleman, our Immigration Minister. I appreciate your time.
COLEMAN: Thanks Ross.