Interview with Jon Faine

Jon Faine: Last night, the Prime Minister Scott Morrison in a speech at a think tank in Sydney declared that Australia was over full. He said in particular, Sydney and Melbourne quote are full. Have a listen to what the Prime Minister said about the current rate of immigration and its consequences in our two biggest cities.

Scott Morrison: It’s played a key role in our success as a country economically, there can be no denying that. But I also know Australians in our biggest cities, particularly here in Sydney but also in Melbourne and South East Queensland are very concerned about the rate of population growth. Not the existence of population growth, but the pace of population growth.

Jon Faine: This morning I’m joined by Alan Tudge, he’s the minister in the Morrison Government for population. It’s a longer title for his portfolio than that, but effectively that’s what he’s in charge of. Minister, good morning to you.

Alan Tudge: Good morning Jon.

Jon Faine: Who was the minister in charge of immigration when we were running an expanded program over the last five years. It was Scott Morrison, was it not?

Alan Tudge:   Well Scott Morrison has been the Immigration Minster. But basically the immigration numbers were turbo charged under Kevin Rudd, when he came in he almost doubled the migration intake and we’ve largely kept that pretty high level since.

Jon Faine: A level of about what?

Alan Tudge: From a permanent migration intake the cap is about 190,000 each year. And last year it came [indistinct]…

Jon Faine: [Talks over] Do we ever meet the cap Minister?

Alan Tudge: We do and last year though we did come in under that at about 162,000. But what the Prime Minister was saying last night was that we want to approach this problem differently.

But instead of the Commonwealth setting a top-down number and the states and territories having to deal with the consequences of that, instead we want to do a bottom-up aggregation.

Understand exactly how many people the states and territories can cope with in terms of their infrastructure, the housing, the schools, the hospitals and then set the migration level based on that aggregated figure.

Jon Faine: It’s kind of a how long is piece of string argument though. But let’s just clarify this, first of all, Scott Morrison says we’ve been letting too many people in and he was the minister. The cap’s 190, but we've in fact only been having 160,000. So to cut it from 190 to 160 means we're going to keep on admitting and accepting exactly the same number as we did last year.

Alan Tudge: Exactly, well it depends on exactly where we end up Jon. We’re going to go through this process. Now the Prime Minister for [indistinct]  if we will end up in about that- it was about that figure, but let’s go through the process of understanding exactly what the aspirations are and the carrying capacity of our big cities particularly and aggregate the migration figure from each of the state and territory’s aspirations.

Jon Faine: Is this not pandering in particular to the anti-immigration activists which is kind of- I mean, it’s a global move, we’re not unique, we’re not alone in doing this. But Australia can absorb, can resettle, can integrate as many people as it damn well wants to. It’s a matter of what efforts we make and how you organise yourselves and federal and state governments.

Alan Tudge: I think that the challenge here in Australia is that we've had very uneven distribution of growth. Melbourne and Sydney particularly have been growing like gangbusters. And the people are feeling the congestion pressures in Melbourne – I’m from Melbourne as you know Jon, absolutely the roads they're going slower, there’s been pressure on house prices, there’s enormous pressure on the cities at the moment.

And we've been growing, believe it or not, Melbourne added more people last year than almost any other English speaking city in the world, bar two. Only Atlanta and Houston added more people. So we are growing very fast and I think our infrastructures been struggling to keep up because Daniel Andrew’s Government hasn't been doing enough frankly, and so we're going to be saying -  can we ease the pressure on Melbourne particularly and on Sydney?

Because other parts of the country Jon, that actually want more people and we want to fulfil those aspirations where we can as well.

Jon Faine: So we don't actually dictate to people where they live unless we're for instance, letting in doctors specifically to work in rural communities in which case we say you're coming to work in a rural community, you have to work in a rural community. But the rest of the time we don't tell people where to live, it's not a Soviet style planned economy is it?

Alan Tudge: We actually already do have some visas which are geographically bound, so the 489 visa for example, does exactly that - where you have to work in a regional area.

By and large, people do that for those two years and people don’t tend to breach that visa. So there is an ability for us to provide incentives for people to go to the smaller cities or indeed to the regions in a strategic and targeted manner. And then to place conditions upon their visa to stay there for a few years, where in that time we hope they make it their home, they put down roots, their kids go to the school, they join the local footy and netball club and they make it their permanent home.  

Jon Faine: Yesterday we were talking about an opinion poll that had been released which said that a growing number of Australians, not a majority, but a growing number of Australians were resistant to the idea of more migrants from Muslim countries. Is that part of this?

Alan Tudge: We're always going to maintain a non-discriminatory immigration policy, but the people need to satisfy- we need to be satisfied that people are adopting Australian values, they need to sign up to those. We obviously, you have to go through security checks and they have to meet other visa conditions to get into the country.

Jon Faine: Separately, I noticed that two of your colleagues in the Morrison Ministry have been involved in a bit of a spat with each other. Josh Frydenberg is pursuing as vigorously as he can, an agenda for Australia to move its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Christopher Pyne, senior minister in the Government from South Australia, told media yesterday he thought that that was a conversation that people should stop and Mr Frydenberg hit back and was making various comments about Mr Pyne. Is this an issue that the government wants us all to be thinking about and talking about every day?

Alan Tudge: I don't know if the entire population is talking about this every single day Jon. Within my community it’s not really an issue which bubbles to the surface. It's an important issue for the Government to consider and the Prime Minister has said - let’s be open to moving our embassy across to Jerusalem, after all that is the capital of Israel.

And it’s the only country in the world that we don’t have our embassy at the capital and in the location where we're talking about, it’s not in disputed territory. So that's a conversation which we're having, we're going through a process and we’ll making a decision shortly in relation to it.

Jon Faine: So I think it's The Australian newspaper today, discloses that the Department when Julie Bishop was the Minister advised against it - the Foreign Affairs Department. Don’t we usually just take their advice and that’s the end of it?

Alan Tudge: I mean, in all cases if you listen very closely to the advice of your departmental officials. But then the government of the day has to make a decision and we're going through this process now and at the end of that process the government will make a decision and I can see frankly, some merits in moving as many of my colleagues can. But there’s a process which we’re undertaking and we'll let that process go its course.

Jon Faine: Thank you for your time this morning on all of those issues. Alan Tudge, is the minister in Scott Morrison’s Coalition Federal Government. He’s the Minister for Population.