ABC 7:30 Interview with Leigh Sales

Leigh Sales:  And joining me now is the Population Minister, Alan Tudge. Minister, is it a bit of a pipedream as we heard in that story, to suddenly think you can put up migrant-proof fences and keep people in regions?

Alan Tudge: No-one's talking about putting up migrant-proof fences, Leigh, what we're saying is that we can create further incentives and indeed some conditions for people to go to some of the smaller cities or some of the regions.

And what you'll find is once people are there and they've got a job there and their kids are going to school there, they're likely to stay there and make it their home.

Leigh Sales: So what are the carrots and what are the sticks?

Alan Tudge: Oh well we've already got some things in place. Now, for example, the 489 visa does provide incentives for people to go to a smaller state or to a region and the condition is that you must be there for a couple of years. And what we find is that people abide by their conditions. In fact, only about 0.2% of people breach that condition.

So it's not a radical idea, we already do this on a relatively small scale today. What I've been suggesting as part of our broader plans is one thing we can do is provide further incentives for new migrants to go to the regional areas…

Leigh Sales: [Interrupts] Like what?

Alan Tudge: …or indeed to a smaller city.

So, for example, you can look at things like providing additional points through the points-based skilled migration system. That's where if you're coming to Australia accumulating points and get into the country, you might get additional points for example, if you choose to go to Adelaide, rather than come to Melbourne or Sydney.

Leigh Sales: [Interrupts] Yeah, but how do you police that?

Alan Tudge: They're the types of things we can- but we already have mechanisms to do that. So again, this is not a radical idea and many people have commented on this. We have mechanisms already in place to do this because some of our visas already have conditions to say that you must stay in a regional area or a smaller city.

Now, that's just as simple, it really is as saying that have you got documents to suggest that you have been based in that particular smaller city rather than in Melbourne or Sydney? It could be your school reports, it could be your electricity bill, it could be those types of ordinary documents which show where you live.

Leigh Sales: How many migrants should be allowed into Australia every year?

Alan Tudge: Well we set a cap each year as you probably know. Last year was in fact, about 162,000 people became permanent migrants and that was the lowest level in a decade. You have temporary migration on top of that and we'll expect that to come down over the next few years.

Leigh Sales: And is that about where you think the numbers should be?

Alan Tudge: We evaluate that every year as part of the budget context. But one of the things I have foreshadowed is we actually do need a better population planning mechanism, whereby we better marry the population ambitions of the cities and the regions with the infrastructure and services.

Because one of the features of our federation is that we have the main population levers—be it migration and other levers—yet the states are largely responsible for the infrastructure and for the services on the ground.
We need to better match those things so that we can control the population growth and that's been my overall message.

Leigh Sales: Well on that point, as we've heard over the past three nights from people in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney, there are constant complaints about overcrowding, about congestion, about housing. Why shouldn't the Federal Government put a pause on immigration so the states can catch up with infrastructure?

Alan Tudge: Because in essence there's two issues going on here rather than one. The first issue is indeed that our three big cities are growing very fast. Melbourne is growing the fastest at 2.7 per cent per annum, Sydney by 2.1, South East Queensland by about 2.3 per cent; fast by international standards. On the other hand the second problem though, is you have some regions and some smaller states who are crying out for more people.

Indeed the Regional Institute of Australia reported this week that there are 47,000 vacancies in the regions alone as we speak. So if we can just ease the pressure on the big cities, and enable the further growth in those jobs to be filled in the regions, then we actually achieve two objectives rather than one.

Leigh Sales: But as we heard in that story, we've been trying for 100 yours to decentralise Australia. You yourself say that the program you're wanting to extend has been in place for a while and it hasn't worked.

Alan Tudge: Oh well, I think it has worked, but it's been on a relatively small scale.

Leigh Sales: If you talk to people in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, they wouldn't agree with you?

Alan Tudge: But it's been on a relatively small scale and I suppose what I'm saying is that I understand the pressures which people in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane feel. I mean, I live in Melbourne, 35 kilometres out from the city in the outer eastern suburbs and people absolutely feel the congestion pressures there.

So we understand that. And one of the things which we want to do is ease the congestion pressures on the big cities, but at the same time support the aspirations for growth in Adelaide where the Premier—I have spoken to him—wants to grow that city by another 15,000 to 20,000 people each year. Same with the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory. Same with the Premier of Tasmania. Same with the Premier of Western Australia.

So we can, I think achieve the two birds, we can achieve the two objectives at the same time.

Leigh Sales: Minister Alan Tudge, thank you very much for joining us this evening.

Alan Tudge: Thanks very much Leigh.