Subjects: Migration numbers and population, global talent, regional migration
ROSS GREENWOOD: As we've heard earlier on, the unemployment rate in Australia, if anything, has been rising a little bit now. A part of this is the fact that there's more labour entering the workforce. As a result, wages are not rising, which is something the Reserve Bank is worried about. So then you sit there and say to yourself: well okay, what place does more population play in all of this? Yes, it makes a bigger economy, but those people also have to find jobs and work at a time where technology is changing significantly. So then the Government has put out a new statement - this is from the Minister for Immigration Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs David Coleman - that says some 5000 people are going to be given fast-tracked visas, so long as they have got the skills. These are called the global talent independent program. Now, these people will be a part of the annual immigration cap of 160,000 on skilled migrants.
So, let's bring in here David Coleman, the Minister, just to explain exactly what that means, why we need those extra people, who are they, will they turn up, let's get him on the line; David Coleman, many thanks for your time.
DAVID COLEMAN: Good to be with you, Ross.
ROSS GREENWOOD: Okay. So, 160,000- can you just clear one thing up here for people? The 160,000 is not actually the number of net overseas migrants that come to this country every year, is it?
DAVID COLEMAN: So, that's the permanent migration program, so that's the number of people who are able to stay in Australia permanently. So, for instance, last year the cap on permanent migration was 190,000, and this year we've brought it down to 160,000. So, yeah, that's the permanent program. And about two thirds of those people are skilled migrants - and that goes back to the John Howard era where he identified that we really needed to focus on skilled migration, because that was the most valuable part for our economy.
ROSS GREENWOOD: Okay, but the actual number of net overseas migrants that came into Australia during 2018 say, for example, it was 259,000; in 2019 it's forecast to be 271,000. So though there's that cap on the skilled migrants, the annual skilled migrants 70,000; the permanent migrants 160,000; but the actual number of migrants, net migrants, that come into the country is actually more like a quarter of a million people.
DAVID COLEMAN: Well, those net numbers include people who are here as students, for instance, Ross. And in fact, they're actually the biggest category of temporary migrants. And it's a really important issue because international education - international students - is a $35 billion industry for Australia this year. Put that in perspective - wheat last year was $4 billion in exports, and beef was 8.5. So apart from coal, iron ore, and natural gas, international education is our biggest export product, and employs more than 200,000 Australians. So, obviously those people are here whilst they're studying. But whilst they're studying, they're you know, frankly spending quite a lot of money and leading to the creation of a lot of Australian jobs.
ROSS GREENWOOD: Okay. So, then why is it that we would need visas for 5000 of the world's best and brightest if we are training some of the world's best and brightest here as students anyway?
DAVID COLEMAN: Yeah. So within our skilled program, we have a range of different visa categories. And what this is about, Ross, is saying within that broader skill program, having a very focused look at the top end of that, and encouraging those people to come to Australia. And the reasoning is that those very high end migrants are often the people who will start companies or employ other Australians or have unique skills that allow Australian businesses to grow.
I'll give you an example from my own experience. I was chairman of Ninemsn some years ago before I was in parliament, and we would quite often get executives from Microsoft to come to Australia and work in that business, and it was very common that those executives would say: we should be doing this particular product or service in the Ninemsn business. We would then go and do it, and in the process of doing it, we would employ significant numbers of Australians.
So those people who are really at the top end have the ability to help drive Australian companies so that they grow, and so that we employ more Australians. Because, of course, the goal of all of this is to help build companies here in Australia, rather than people with those high end skills going overseas because we don't have that critical mass in Australia. And so by getting some of those top end people to help Australian businesses develop their skills and their products, that enables us to have more of those businesses here in Australia, which means more high wage jobs in Australia.
ROSS GREENWOOD: Okay, which is a good thing, and I get the idea of trying to create business and generate income and taxes in the future and employment for people in Australia - but there's other basic things that is identified by Infrastructure Australia that says we need to spend $600 billion over thes next 15 years just to keep up with the rise in our population. So they say we're going to need more bus drivers, we're going to need more truck drivers, we'll need more people in the rail industry, people tunnelling, signalling, electricity linesman they say in their report. So it's one of these things that even inside government say for example right now, you've got your own review underway, there's going to being a parliamentary inquiry into immigration numbers in the future. This is a balancing act between making certain our infrastructure keeps up, making certain that we can actually cope with the number of people coming in, but also making certain the people have skills, can employ people, can create taxes, and ultimately drive Australia forward.
DAVID COLEMAN: Yeah, indeed. And in terms of the infrastructure, I mean, the Federal Government's put a hundred billion dollars into it, you know, a wide range of infrastructure projects right across the country - many of which are in regional areas. And this is a really important theme, and that's what the parliamentary inquiry will be looking into, regional migration and encouraging more migrants to fill in regional areas, because the reality is that in the past we've had a strong view in the Migration Plan about the number of people to come to Australia and less of a view about where they go, and that's changing.
So this year we've got a number of policies to encourage people to regional areas; some 23,000 visas reserved for people who go to regional areas and if they stay in regional areas for three years, they'll be eligible for permanent residency. It's a really powerful incentive. We've also got incentives for working holiday makers to work in regional areas and we've done seven what we call Designated Area Migration agreements, which also encourage migrants to settle in particular regional areas where there are gaps in skills.
So taking pressure off population growth in Sydney and Melbourne is a very important priority for the Government. That's part of the reason why we have reduced the annual migration cap and it's part of the reason why we're allocating more of the migration plan to regional areas.
Because there's this disconnect, Ross, where we have high population growth in Sydney and Melbourne, legitimate concerns about congestion, but then at the same time you've got places like South Australia with very low population growth, where the community there is very much crying out for more skilled migration. And so what we're doing is reducing the overall rate of migration and providing more migration to regional areas, in the process taking pressure off Sydney and Melbourne.
ROSS GREENWOOD: Okay. Go back to these 5000 really highly skilled visas that you might issue to these people. Is it true that you're going to send officials to places such as Berlin, Boston, Singapore, Shanghai, and Dubai to spruik this program, to try and get these young, bright students and entrepreneurs into Australia? Is that the way it's going to work?
DAVID COLEMAN: Yeah, so we've already got someone on the ground in Berlin and in those other places you mentioned…
ROSS GREENWOOD: How do I get one of those jobs, David? That'd be a great job, wouldn't it? I could walk around, I could spruik that until the cows come; I could find you all sorts of people.
DAVID COLEMAN: Well, it's a really important role, Ross, because it's basically about going out proactively to get those people at the top end to consider coming to Australia. Because the more highly skilled a migrant, the better. Because it's the highly…
ROSS GREENWOOD: Wouldn't that be like shooting fish in a barrel? Wouldn't every highly skilled potential migrant want to come to Australia?
DAVID COLEMAN: Oh look, there's a lot of people who want to come and the reality is that every year- we obviously have many people who want to come to Australia every year who don't get to come because the places aren't available. And that's how it should be. But at the very top end, these people have a lot of choices, Ross, and we want to say to them: you should be seriously considering coming to Australia. We want to attract within the skilled program the high end migrants, because they're the ones that add the greatest value to the economy.
And we want to build high growth businesses within Australia in emerging industries. So, you know, industries that didn't exist two or three years ago: areas like artificial intelligence, quantum computing, and areas where we have a position already in terms of financial technology and agriculture technology and those sorts of areas. You know, these are the areas that over the next five, 10, 20 years are going to be absolutely critical to the growth of the global economy. And through targeting some of these very high end people to come to Australia, we're going to help grow
our position in those industries and that is going to be a very positive thing for the country.
ROSS GREENWOOD: David Coleman, the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs, I appreciate your time on the program this evening.
DAVID COLEMAN: Thanks, Ross.