Interview with Neil Mitchell, 3AW

Neil Mitchell: Now, I said- are they starting to listen? I've been certainly going on about immigration and a need for a cap on immigration for a long time. A pause on immigration while we decide where we're going. I've had the debate with Scott Morrison several times as Treasurer and again as Prime Minister. Well the signs are there. He gave what's being described as a significant speech last night on the issue of immigration and at last it seems he was listening. How often have we said this?


Scott Morrison: The roads are clogged, the buses and the trains are full, the schools are taking no more enrolments, this is what is being reflected.

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Neil Mitchell: Okay, this is what is being reflected by overpopulation and that includes immigration levels. He went on further though to say he didn't believe that - and this is a breakthrough because every time I've raised this somebody has put their head up and said, oh, you're just xenophobic or anti-migrant - he said the population are not actually anti-migrant.


Scott Morrison: They're not anti-migration. They're not anti-migrants. I'm certainly not and in Sydney we're certainly not, in Melbourne they're certainly not, but they just want to know that the growth can be catered for by the infrastructure and the services that are going in.

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Neil Mitchell: Of course that's part of it. The social cohesion is also a reasonable part of it. Now I have debated that with Scott Morrison in the past. Is it time to freeze, pause, cut? What actually is the detail? On the line, Population Minister, Alan Tudge. Good morning.

Alan Tudge: Good morning Neil.

Neil Mitchell: Freeze, cut, pause, what's the word?

Alan Tudge: Oh, we're likely to see a reduction in the overall migration intake as a result of the new process which we're going to undertake over the next few months and that is, Neil, instead of us just setting a top-down number and then asking the states to deal with the consequences of the growth as a result, instead we will do a much more bottom-up approach.

Consult the states, ask what’s their carrying capacity in their cities and their regions and build the migration up from the bottom and then set the overall number.

Neil Mitchell: Okay, well we're in state election campaign now. So you'll go to either Matthew Guy or Daniel Andrews and say how many can you handle? Is that right?

Alan Tudge: Yes, that's right. So we'll have a much more detailed discussion with them. How many can you handle? What are your infrastructure plans? Can you cope with this particular number and if not then we'll have to dial it back a bit. 

And certainly in Melbourne and Sydney nearly all of the growth has been from migration and Melbourne is bursting at the seams, as you know Neil and that's why it's an election issue at the moment and why Matthew Guy has got such strong policies in that area.

Neil Mitchell: Well how much…

Alan Tudge: But there's other parts - there are other parts of the country by the way that want more people…

Neil Mitchell: Okay.

Alan Tudge: …and that can't find workers.

Neil Mitchell: How much of the country's population growth is from migration?

Alan Tudge: About 60 per cent.

Neil Mitchell: Sixty per cent.

Alan Tudge: About 60 per cent and this is of course even higher in different parts of Australia. In Melbourne…

Neil Mitchell: Well how many - what's the percentage in Melbourne?

Alan Tudge: … it’s- 65 per cent of our growth into Melbourne has been from migration.  In the last year 83 per cent of the growth into Sydney is from migration. So you can sort of see the pressures which our high migration intake is putting on our two big capitals and we're all feeling it. Everybody from Melbourne - I'm from Melbourne, Neil - we all feel the pressures on our roads and on our streets.

Neil Mitchell: So is it definite that there will be a reduction in the migration level?

Alan Tudge: It's highly likely that the process will result in a reduction in the overall migration intake. Now, we've already reduced it from what was a cap of 190,000 permanent migrants coming into the country. So last year it was 162,000. So there's already been a reduction but it's likely that there's going to be an ongoing reduction in the migration space.

Neil Mitchell: Well what if you don't agree? I mean the state ministers, the State Treasurer, they're spending like drunken sailors. The State Treasurer probably wants more migration for more money, for more taxes, to pay the bills. Now what if he says no, no, we're happy with the level? Does he decide? Does the State Government decide or do you over rule them?

Alan Tudge: Yeah, at the end of the day we have to make decisions in relation to the migration settings, but we want to make sure that they're much more closely aligned with what state governments can actually build and accommodate on the ground in our big cities.

Neil Mitchell: So what if you don't agree? What if you don't agree?

Alan Tudge: Well at the end of the day we will have to make that decision in relation to the migration program. Now, of course if Matthew Guy becomes premier I think he will have quite a different view in relation to the population pressures of Melbourne particularly. He wants to see much greater decentralisation and we would be able to work with him in that regard, in particular using some of our visa settings to be able to accommodate that.

Neil Mitchell: Well, we'll…

Alan Tudge: I think Daniel Andrews has a different view.

Neil Mitchell: We'll ask both the Premier and the opposition leader what their ultimate figure is, what the ideal figure is. We'll do that this morning. What will the process be? Do you sit down to a meeting with them? Do you have some sort of inquiry? Or you just sit down with them, with the premiers and their treasurers or whatever and say, okay, this is the figure.

Alan Tudge: Yes. So we've already been having some of these discussions with the leaders or the states and territories, but we will be formally writing to the premiers and the chief ministers in the weeks ahead and then there will be a discussion at COAG in December and then we will be making decisions following that.

Now these are careful considerations that need to be made because on the one hand we need migrants in some areas and some of our essential services rely on new migrants to be able to do the work. On the other we want to make sure that our cities are liveable. And you’ve been discussing this Neil, as you said, for a very long time, as have I. 

The roads are congested, some of the schools are full, the government hasn't been keeping up with the infrastructure and the housing and the hospitals, et cetera, to cater for that growth.

Neil Mitchell: Well we had in Victoria just over 41,000 migrants in the year to- financial year to 2018, this year, this last financial year. Who set that number? Who set the 41,000 that came into Victoria?

Alan Tudge: Well that would be made up of a number of different components. So largely when migrants come into the country they can choose where they decide to go. Now some of it will be employer sponsored, so by definition they'll go where the employer is, but other times they will come in through the general field migration program where you don't have a job at the end of it, but most end up coming to Melbourne and Sydney.

Neil Mitchell: Okay.

Alan Tudge: And so we've got the ability though to create further incentives and indeed conditions for new people to come into the country and go to some of those smaller states that actually want to grow faster or the regions that need people.

Neil Mitchell: Do you agree this is now a social issue? I mean the Prime Minister is talking about and you are too, clogged roads and schools are full and social cohesion is part of it as well.

Alan Tudge: I think that's absolutely right and that has to be a part of our population agenda. I have been talking with you about this Neil, that there are some indicators now that we're not integrating people quite as well as we used to do in the past. 

Now, we're still very good at it by the way by international standards, but we do want to make sure that we maintain our strong record of social cohesion and things like English language are very important, adopting Australian values become critical and issues like that which we want to work on further as well.

Neil Mitchell: Thank you very much, the Population Minister, Alan Tudge.