ABC Radio Melbourne Mornings interview with Jon Faine

Jon Faine: I've lost track of the number of times we've had a chat to government ministers, Labor and Coalition, about population growth and taking the strain off our biggest cities, particularly Melbourne: now the fastest growing city in Australia and also particularly in Sydney.

The State Opposition are making it a centrepiece of their pitch to be elected as government in November and today, their federal counterparts weigh in perhaps trying to help.

Alan Tudge is the Minister—in Scott Morrison's Government—for Cities, Urban Instructure, and Population. Mr Tudge, good morning to you.

Alan Tudge: Good morning Jon.

Jon Faine: I think this is the fourth time I can recall in the last couple of months that we've spoken about this topic, so where's it move to now?

Alan Tudge: [Laughs] I don't know about that but this is a very big topic and your description in terms of having very fast growth in a city like Melbourne is right. We grew by 2.7 per cent last year which is very fast growth. Still, we've got other places in Australia which are calling out for more workers. So our ambition is in part to try to ease the pressure off Melbourne and support the growth in some of those other places.

Jon Faine: I thought you were the free market party? I thought you were the party that believed in the individual and people's decisions that they make free of government interference?

Alan Tudge: Absolutely, but it's …

Jon Faine: [Interrupts] Well now you're going to tell people where to live?

Alan Tudge: Well it's in part going to be individual choice that if you come into the country in the future that there might be some additional encouragements to go to South Australia rather than to Melbourne and if you utilise those encouragements well perhaps we'll place a condition upon your visa that you stay in South Australia for a few years before you become a citizen, in which case then you can live wherever you like. And that's still …

Jon Faine: [Interrupts] Don't people want to go where the jobs are?

Alan Tudge: That's still the free exercise of choice there if you want to take up those opportunities.

Jon Faine: Sure. People want to go where the jobs are, though. That's why people come to Melbourne in particular because the state Labor government have created so many infrastructure projects there's a labour shortage.

Alan Tudge: Well people have come to Melbourne and Sydney for all sorts of different reasons but we have serious labour shortages also out in the regions in some other parts of Australia.

Jon Faine: You mean for fruit picking?

Alan Tudge: No, well you go down to Warrnambool for example today, Jon, three hours down the road from where we are, and they've got the front page of their local paper which says: wanted, a thousand workers, because they can't get a warm body to do the work there on the ground.

Jon Faine: What sort of work?

Alan Tudge: It might be in the abattoirs, it might be working on the dairy farms, it might be other works which goes on in Warrnambool. And there's that sort of thing replicated across the country. In South Australia the Premier who I caught up with last week says that he wants an additional, say, 15,000 people each year to support the growth of South Australia.

Same with the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory, same with the Premier of Tasmania. So you've got different pictures around the country of what they want to achieve with their growth, yet here in Melbourne, we're growing by far and away the fastest in the country, and I think people are really feeling the pressure particularly as it may well be on the Monash Freeway now and it's probably a carpark.

Jon Faine: So we have labour shortages in the cities as well, what would you propose to do about that? I fully agree it makes sense to deal with labour shortages in the regions, but there are also skilled labour shortages here.

Alan Tudge: That's right and I actually suggest in the speech which I'm giving today that of course we don't want to interrupt the employer-sponsored migration scheme, and that is when an employer can't find an Australian to do the job, they've advertised, they can't find an Aussie, and that then enables them to sponsor somebody in.

Because ultimately you want businesses to grow because it helps everybody. We don't want to interrupt that. But that's only 25 per cent of our migration program. So there's opportunities for the rest of the migration program—or parts of the rest of the migration program—to provide those encouragements to go elsewhere.

Jon Faine: Education is now the single biggest sector of employment in particular this fastest growing city in Australia: what do you propose to do there? Are you going to mandate that the tertiary institutions that have so many students from overseas attracted to them, that they decentralise?

Alan Tudge: We're having some discussions with the university sector but I haven't said much in relation to that. Obviously we are—here in Victoria—the international export market is a very big market for us here and we don't want to jeopardise that. We do want to encourage though, some of the regional universities to also take advantage of international students.

Jon Faine: Well economic vandalism of course, is the way it's been described by your political critics.

Alan Tudge: Sorry, what is?

Jon Faine: The idea of mandating people move to regions where there are labour shortages; bringing in skilled migrants and asking them to do unskilled work, or forcing people to go and live where they don't want to, is being described as economic vandalism.

Alan Tudge: Right. Okay. Well I've described—[laughs] I've described how it would still be the exercise of free choice to choose to come into Australia. And at the moment- we have these- many of these things in place today, Jon, whereby you can get additional- for example, you get additional points if you're applying through a points-based migration system, to go to a regional area.

Now people choose to exercise that and it might mean that they're higher up the list in terms of coming into the country. So in some respects it's not a radically new concept, but we want to look at this more closely. We want to provide those further encouragements. I should say too, Jon, this is just one element of the overall plan of what we're discussing today.

Jon Faine: Sure, understood, and there's infrastructure to go with it. Text messages …

Alan Tudge: And infrastructure to go with it and we're putting record amounts of infrastructure as well.

Jon Faine: Yeah, which is very welcome.

Alan Tudge: Perhaps most importantly, we need to learn from the past and actually have a much more robust planning framework going forward. Now that …

Jon Faine: [Interrupts] Alright, now there's a couple hundred people on Nauru and Manus Island who would be quite happy to relocate to regional Australia.

Alan Tudge: [Laughs] Yeah I think that's a bit of a red herring for this conversation, Jon.

Jon Faine: Well some of my text messages don't seem to think so.

Alan Tudge: I think- yeah, well I think we've been through the discussions about Nauru and Manus. And this is a broader question about how can we get a more even distribution of population growth across Australia so that we don't have very fast population growth here in Melbourne putting pressure on our big capital city and we can ease the pressure here and support the growth elsewhere.

Jon Faine: Well it's certainly what's called—I think it was John Howard called it the barbeque stopper; thank you for your time this morning. Minister for Cities, Urban Infrastructure, and Population in the federal Coalition Government there, Alan Tudge.