ABC Melbourne Interview with Jon Faine

Jon Faine:  The Prime Minister and his colleagues are out today trying to reset some their policies in time for the looming federal election. The New South Wales state election is on Saturday and the federal election campaign will pretty much launch straight off the back of it, and we’ll be going to the polls in the first couple of weeks of May by all accounts and speculation.

Alan Tudge is the Federal Minister for Cities, Urban Infrastructure and Population and population is one of the big announcements in the federal kind of shadow campaign today. Alan Tudge, good morning to you.

Alan Tudge: Good morning, Jon.

Jon Faine: What is the Coalition announcing as their policy for the next election on population today?

Alan Tudge: So we’re today announcing our plan to better manage our future population growth and in essence, it consists of three parts.

One being to reduce the migration rate and provide further incentives for new migrants to go to the smaller cities or regions.

Second, more congestion busting infrastructure and third, a better plan – better planning with the states and territories to better link up our population growth and infrastructure.

Jon Faine: So better than you yourselves have been doing for the last six years while you’ve been in power?

Alan Tudge: Well, one of the challenges with our federation is that we control the major growth lever – population growth lever – which is the migration rate while the state and territories have the major responsibility for delivering the services and infrastructure…

Jon Faine: [Interrupts] But you’re talking about population, you just ran through three things that you’re going to do better.

Alan Tudge: [Talks over] Yeah.

Jon Faine:  Why haven’t you been doing [indistinct] in power already?

Alan Tudge: [Talks over] We want to better align those things. So we’ve been going through the COAG process to do that.

Jon Faine: [Interrupts] Don’t try and blame the states Minister. This is a federal responsibility, it’s your job.

Alan Tudge: No. I’m not trying to blame the states. We’ve got a three-part plan to this as I said. Let’s go through each if you’d like to.

The first one is reducing the migration rate and creating incentives for new migrants to also go to the smaller cities in the regions….

Jon Faine: [Interrupts] Now, reducing from what to what?

Alan Tudge: So, from 190,000 down to 160,000.

Jon Faine: A hundred and ninety target. When was that last reached?

Alan Tudge: That’s right. So the 190,000 cap has been in place for several years…

Jon Faine: [Interrupts] I didn’t ask about the cap…

Alan Tudge: [Talks over] Last year….

Jon Faine: … I asked you about when it was last reached.

Alan Tudge: Yeah. Last year, we came – we brought it down to 162,000, the lowest level in a decade…

Jon Faine:  [Talks over] So you’re going from 162,000 to 160,000, that’s hardly worth announcing.

Alan Tudge: …and then we’re bringing it down to 160 and holding it there as the cap (for)  the next four years.

Jon Faine: [Talks over] You can’t seriously say to the Australian people that you’re changing the immigration target from 162,000 to 160,000.

Alan Tudge: [Talks over] No. But we’ve…

Jon Faine: …and expect that anyone thinks that’s worth even talking about, can you?

Alan Tudge: Let me finish Jon. So we brought it down already to 162, we’re maintaining the pause at 160 for the next four years and on top of that, we’re allocating 23,000 places specifically for the smaller cities and the regions which need…

Jon Faine: [Interrupts] Okay. You yourself and Scott Morrison when he was Immigration Minister argued that we need to maintain significant population growth if we’re to have economic growth and prosperity. Why the sudden change of heart?

Alan Tudge: Well, we’ve got a balance here and it's right that immigration has underpinned some of our economic success. At the same time, we've got very serious congestion in our big three capital cities where all the new people go, so…

Jon Faine: [Talks over] So deal with infrastructure. Because you people haven’t built anything for the last six years you’ve been in power.

Alan Tudge: …well, and this is [indistinct] …

Jon Faine: [Interrupts] Like Daniel Andrews got elected in a landslide. Have you got the message?

Alan Tudge: And John, our plan is a combination of the three things. To ease up in terms of population growth in the big capitals particularly, build more infrastructure in the meantime, and have a better planning mechanism so that we're better able to cope into the future.

Jon Faine: Your infrastructure plan for Melbourne in Victoria has seemed to be anything you can do to help the state Liberals get elected, you’ll do, but anything that helps the actual government to govern in Victoria, you won't do. So it was all a mistake.

Alan Tudge: Well, I think that is ridiculous thing to say Jon. I mean that’s more ridiculous than many of the things that you say.

Jon Faine: No it’s not.

Alan Tudge: I mean just last week, we were standing there; the Prime Minister, myself and Premier Andrews announcing a $10 billion plan for the airport rail link.

Now, that is going to be a joint exercise; it’ll be built by the states but we put $5 billion dollars on the table to make it happen.

Jon Faine: After the last state election result, you suddenly started to think: oh whoops, we better change a couple of things …

Alan Tudge: [Interrupts] No, no, no, no Jon. That's wrong - that's wrong because we put $5 billion dollars in last year's budget. We also put $1.6 billion dollars into the Northeast link, which is the priority project for the state government as well. In the last year’s budget Jon…

Jon Faine: [Interrupts] Sure, please don’t shout at me Minister. Please, it’s a conversation. Less shouting would be good.

When you say you want people to work and live in regional Australia, there's no jobs there are there? And the jobs that are there are unskilled so why should skilled workers go to regional Australia?

Alan Tudge: In fact there’s 47,000 job vacancies in the regions today but what we're talking about is not just in the regions, but also…

Jon Faine:  [Talks over] Unskilled.

Alan Tudge: No, no. Across the board. But what we're talking about is not just the regions but also some of the smaller cities like Adelaide, like Darwin, like Hobart, et cetera.

Jon Faine:  [Interrupts] Darwin has massive unemployment since the gas plant shut down.

Alan Tudge: And so you’ve got places…

Jon Faine:  Hobart’s got work for people in tourism but that’s not skilled work.

Alan Tudge: And so Jon you've got- so you've got places like Warrnambool which has a thousand job vacancies today, you've got places like Dubbo which has a 2.2 per cent unemployment rate and you've got the Goldfields which want 10,000 people.

You've got Adelaide where the Premier is saying they want 20,000 more people; you've got estimates of regional vacancies of 47,000 people…

Jon Faine: [Talks over] In agriculture and the like, how are you going to enforce this?

Alan Tudge: …so this is the challenge that our country – this is the challenge for the country because whereas three quarters of all of our population growth has been going into Melbourne, Sydney and southeast Queensland.

But on the other hand, we've got places crying out for more people and so this is what our plan is partly aimed at doing…

Jon Faine: [Talks over] So how are you enforcing that?

Alan Tudge: …it’s just easing the pressure on those big cities.

Jon Faine: [Talks over] What are you going to do? Remove people from (the regions), if people breach their visas and go to the capital city are you going to arrest them?

Alan Tudge: No Jon. I mean this is not, in some respects it’s not a radical idea what we’re proposing because we already do this on a smaller scale where you have geographically conditioned visas, i.e. you have to be in one of the regional areas or a smaller city for a certain number of years in order to guarantee your permanent residency later on.

Jon Faine: How do you enforce it?

Alan Tudge: And we’re boosting up that, we’re boosting up that number to 23,000.

Jon Faine: [Talks over] How do you enforce it Minister?

Alan Tudge: And it’s basically- yeah, so let me finish. You have basic checking to ensure that you can check with the ATO records about where their employment is, you can check in terms of their addresses or electricity bills, the normal things which you supply in terms of where you’re living.

Jon Faine: Who’s going to do those checks?

Alan Tudge: Again- again- well the Department of Home Affairs already does those checks.

Jon Faine: No they don’t.

Alan Tudge: It’s not a radical concept.

Jon Faine: They don’t.

Alan Tudge: We already do- we already- well we already do these things.

Jon Faine: They’ve got delays that have blown out from processing permanent visa applications.

Alan Tudge: [Talks over] Jon. Jon.

Jon Faine: It’s already taken years for people to have a citizenship application processed.

Alan Tudge: [Talks over] Jon.

Jon Faine:So who’s going to do this?

Alan Tudge: We- it’s- Jon we already do these things on a smaller scale …

Jon Faine: [Interrupts] Well, I’m sorry, you don’t. That’s just not true, you don’t.

Alan Tudge: It is- it is absolutely true Jon. There is a 99.8 per cent compliance with the geographical restrictions that we already have on the smaller number of visas for the regions today and we’re significantly increasing the number of visas for the regions in the smaller cities to 23,000.

Now, that works in concert with bringing down the migration cap overall to 160 plus additional places specifically for the smaller cities in the regions. And in concert that does ease the pressure on a city like Melbourne which has been growing enormously quickly.

Jon Faine: Because there are jobs. [Audio skip] $15,000 scholarships to study in regional Australia, is that- are you serious? $15,000 to 1000 students? $15 million injected to the rural economy through, what, handouts to students who go to regional universities?

Alan Tudge: So there’s two parts to this actually. So one of the significant components of our population increase has actually been international students. But again nearly all go to the big capitals when many of the smaller cities in the regions want more international students and they’re great for a local economy.

So we’re doing two things - one thing we’re providing an incentive in relation to your visa, you get additional work rights if you study in Adelaide University rather than in say Melbourne or in Sydney.

And second we’re providing 1000 scholarships a year for both Australian students and international students to study in a regional university or a smaller city university. The combination of the two supports those other things that we’re talking about in terms of boosting up the regional areas and the smaller cities and just slightly easing the pressure on Melbourne.

Jon Faine: I’m not sure how much of a gymnast Scott Morrison and his ministers including you- I’m not sure how much of a gymnast you really are, but just in the last few weeks I’ve just noted these back flips: today on immigration levels; on welfare reform you’ve announced that you’re having a rethink instead of beating up on unemployed people as you have for the last six years, you’re going to try and help them find jobs.

Milo Yiannopoulos can come to Australia but now he can’t; you’re not going to give preference deals with One Nation; mortgage brokers, well we’re not going to wipe them out even though the Royal Commission said we should; and you’re not going to introduce a Facebook tax even though the rest of the world is. So that’s quite a lot of flipping going on in the last 48 or so hours, isn’t it?

Alan Tudge: Well that’s a lot of assertions which you make in two or three sentences there as well.

We’ve never beaten up on welfare recipients, we’ve always believed in mutual obligation though because ultimately the best form of welfare is a job and if people are looking for jobs and held accountable for looking for jobs and taking the jobs when they’re available, then they’re going to be better off as well as society.

Now we’ve got the lowest welfare dependence in 30 years Jon which is a combination of growing more jobs, because the economy’s strong, as well as our mutual obligations system. And we’re just adding some additional flexibility in that, which Kelly O’Dwyer is announcing today.

Jon Faine: Additional flexibility? It’s a complete change of attitude.

Alan Tudge: No it’s not. No it’s not. We still have that core mutual obligation in place.

Jon Faine: You’ve been demonising the unemployed- you’ve been demonising…

Alan Tudge: [Talks over] Jon. Jon.

Jon Faine: …them now for years.

Alan Tudge: Jon, come on.

Jon Faine: And now there’s an election coming you’ve suddenly worked out…

Alan Tudge: [Talks over] No. No.

Jon Faine: …that’s not, that’s not a good look.

Alan Tudge: No Jon. We’ve- we’ve always required, and we’ve strengthened this over time, that you must look for a job, that you must take a job when you’re offered one, you must not just resign from work without another job being available and expect to go immediately onto welfare.

And we’ve strengthened those conditions. And what we’re announcing today, particularly at around the job search is instead of having a fixed number of job searches which you must do each week, instead there’ll be flexibility depending on the job market which you are in.

Jon Faine: [Talks over] So you’ve been-

Alan Tudge: If you’re in a rural area …

Jon Faine: You and I have had this argument for years. You were the minister responsible for a while and you would…

Alan Tudge: [Interrupts] That’s how I know it- this is how I know it well Jon.

Jon Faine: But, but- and you would absolutely..

Alan Tudge: [Interrupts] And I’ve never beaten up on welfare recipients.

Jon Faine: … you were absolutely insistent that there was nothing wrong with that policy when you were the Minister. And now suddenly it’s not a good one and you have to be more flexible.

Alan Tudge: [Talks over] That’s not true …

Jon Faine: Why didn’t you make the changes when the welfare sector were pointing out how much harm it was doing at the time?

Alan Tudge: In- in fact- to the contrary, when I was the Minister I was helping to strengthen the mutual obligation requirements to ensure …

Jon Faine: [Talks over] It was hurting people, Minister, and you were being told and you ignored it.

Alan Tudge: No. No, no. In fact I provided very clear data in relation to that.

We strengthened the mutual obligations requirements and we actually also provided additional support for those very vulnerable people who were unable to complete their job searches or take a job for very reasonable reasons.

And we made it very clear in relation to this.

Jon Faine: Okay can we-

Alan Tudge: [Interrupts] This still- no this still has the job search requirements but what it does recognise is that some markets have fewer jobs than others.

If you’re in a regional area there’s no point putting in 20 applications into your small country town.

Jon Faine: You just told us you’re going to move more migrants to those regional areas?

Alan Tudge: Well it depends on which regions you’re talking about. I mean…

Jon Faine: [Interrupts] And since when is Adelaide, a city of what 1.5 million people, I mean calling it a small city? Anyway can I- I want to flick the switch to something else.

Alan Tudge: It is a- Jon it is a smaller city.

Jon Faine: It is smaller than some others, yeah.

Alan Tudge: It is a smaller city compared to…

Jon Faine: [Talks over] Can we? Can…

Alan Tudge: Well it doesn’t have the same congestion pressures that Melbourne has. I mean everybody listening to this now knows the congestion pressures which Melbourne has, it grew by 2.7 per cent last year when Adelaide grew by…

Jon Faine: [Talks over] Yeah because…

Alan Tudge: … about 0.6 or 0.8 per cent per annum of the smaller base.

Jon Faine: [Talks over] Because so much money’s been spent on Sydney’s infrastructure and Melbourne’s been starved of federal funds…

Alan Tudge: No it hasn’t. No it hasn’t.

Jon Faine: …and there’s only so much the state government can give. But I actually want to pl-

Alan Tudge: [Talks over] 30 per cent of our federal funds over the next decade goes to Victoria.

Jon Faine: I actually want to flick the switch to something entirely different. Can we have a conversation about progress? Can we have a conversation about how in the last six years of Tony Abbott and then Malcolm Turnbull and now Scott Morrison who’s been given the hospital pass – tell me where there’s been progress in this country.

Alan Tudge: Well I think the main one is that we’ve got unemployment down to 5 per cent, we’ve got the lowest level of welfare dependency in 30 years. So if people have got a job they’re well and truly onto the better path straight away.

Jon Faine: Whether we talk climate change; whether we talk social cohesion; whether we talk migration reform; whether we talk all the big issues; whether we talk about improving the health system; whether we talk about any of the big social or economic issues, has there been any progress for six years because I’m struggling to see it and so are the listeners?

Alan Tudge: Let’s go through that. So there’s more job opportunities for everybody. There are lower taxes for everybody. We’re putting records amounts of funding into infrastructure. We’re putting records amounts of funding into schools and hospitals, as you mentioned. We’ve got the budget now back under control and for the first time we’ll have a budget surplus in many, many years. We’ve got a strong AAA credit rating which means the economy is still going robustly, and [indisitnct].

Jon Faine: [Talks over] Okay, the budgets were under control and you inherited the credit rating.

Alan Tudge: We obviously- we stopped-

Jon Faine: [Talks over] So now we’ve got this ridiculous argument on free speech and hate speech.

Alan Tudge: We got border- we’ve got border protection- we’ve got border protection back under control as well. We’ve got very strong national security settings. We’ve increased our defence budget because it was at anaemic levels when we first came to Government.

Jon Faine: So Minister-

Alan Tudge: I can continue to go on if you’d like me to Jon.

Jon Faine: So regulating social media is suddenly something else that your government’s woken up to. Sky After Dark, the Murdoch tabloids, have been spewing out vile material including about so-called African gangs and demonising people who are seeking asylum because they’re being persecuted in their own countries. And this has suddenly been discovered to actually have real world consequences. Has this just dawned on you all?

Alan Tudge: What the Prime Minister is leading in relation to the social media companies is, he’s saying that this needs to be a global effort and so he’s taking this to the G20 of which Japan is the current President and saying that we need to work on this so that the social media companies will take more responsibility for when there is this vile activity…

Jon Faine: [Talks over] No. No. You’ve got to do something about it. You’ve got to do something about it tomorrow. You’ve got to do something about it right now.

Alan Tudge: Yeah and we’re-

Jon Faine: People are getting hurt.

Alan Tudge: I think you’re right, people are getting hurt and I think the social media companies are being irresponsible in terms of letting, for example, the footage of the New Zealand gunman, you know, play ad nauseam for a very long time live.

Jon Faine: So okay then, on taxing the digital giants, at least try to get some regulation, some control.

Alan Tudge: Yeah so we in fact did introduce a new multinational tax avoidance package and I think we’ve actually collected from memory – and you’d have to correct me if I’m wrong – something like $4 or $5 billion of extra revenue through those measures. Cracking down on the multinational tax- multinational companies so they can’t avoid tax for where they have activity.

Jon Faine: Well look we’ve only just scratched the surface but it’s been 15 minutes of fascinating arm wrestling. Alan Tudge, it’s going to be an interesting election campaign when it finally gets underway and your seat, one of the most- well now one of the most scrutinised of government-held seats. We’ll see where we get to. Thank you for your time this morning.

Alan Tudge: Thanks very much Jon.

Jon Faine: Alan Tudge the Federal Minister for Cities, Urban Infrastructure and Population picking up where the Prime Minister on AM this morning left off.