Press Conference Canberra ACT

Prime Minister: Well good afternoon, I’m pleased to be joined by Minister Coleman and Minister Tudge. This is a very important day, because today we are launching Australia’s first Commonwealth serious plan to manage population growth into our future.

This plan is about protecting the quality of life of Australians right across our country, in our urban areas, in our regional parts of the country. Its about realising the economic opportunities that are all around the country and it’s about investing in the fabric of our community so we can grow together. At a very practical level, it’s about acknowledging the impacts that are happening in our cities and the opportunities we need to seize in our regional areas. Its about understanding that parents want to get home sooner and safer to have time together as a family. The tradies want to spend less time in traffic and more time on site, because that’s where you get paid and to ensure that the congestion that is impacting on our cities is addressed – not just now but that it’s well-,managed into the future. That congestion and the liveability of cities was one of the key items that was highlighted by the Productivity Commission in the report into the five year priorities for productivity improvements that I commissioned when I was Treasurer.

So today’s announcement is about addressing that productivity agenda as well. Our population has been a key component of our economic growth. Equally that population if not well-managed can retard growth, that is true, with the impacts of congestion. So it is very much about getting the balance right across these various objectives. The plan that I announce today, supported by Ministers Coleman and Tudge, has four key components.

The first is ensuring that we have a responsible and well-planned and targeted migration programme. A programme that of course, has integrity and that programme will be capped at 160,000. That programme enables us to pause at that level over the forward estimates, but as always the Government has the opportunity to respond to changing circumstances in the future. But it about the forwards, it is about ensuring that the population planning and the infrastructure investments and the working out of the plan that I’m outlining today with Ministers, is able to have it’s effect across the country. It’s about incentives, to get people taking up the opportunities outside our big cities and I know much of the discussion is focussed on regional areas but these ‘outside the big cities’ areas include Adelaide, they include Darwin, they include Hobart, they include Newcastle, they include some of our faster growing areas around the country. It’s important that we have the opportunity for people to go where they are needed. Over 45,000 job vacancies in regional Australia, as Alan reminds me regularly, constantly, for rural and regional areas and have been put to the government, through the migration programme and the need to have more workers in those areas. So it’s important that we take the opportunity for our migration programme to play its role in seizing those opportunities.

Secondly it’s about busting congestion in our cities and ensuring that our cities are well-managed. There are an array of initiatives there, whether it’s the City Deals, the most recent we announced yesterday in Adelaide, or it’s the congestion-busting infrastructure projects, or the very large scale projects like the Tullamarine Rail or the North South Rail Link we’ve recently announced in western Sydney to support the Western Sydney International Nancy Bird Walton Airport, these are important projects. It's about planning for the future together, with state and territory and local governments.

As you know, last year I took a new approach to population planning, to work closely with the states and territories, to the COAG meeting. That was endorsed at that COAG meeting and we continue to work together on that framework. That includes importantly, working with local government. As you know, the ALGA was part of that COAG meeting and welcomed that approach to acknowledge the challenges being faced by local governments across the country. Under this plan, particularly on the migration programme, as David will run through later the states and territories will go from having just less than a fifth of a say about the annual migration intake into their states, to almost a third. So that is giving them a real role in the migration programme in Australia, that they have never had before.

Finally it's about continuing to invest in bringing Australians together. A cohesive society, one where we invest in the social fabric of this country, is one that enables us to support population growth into the future. It is one of Australia's most significant successes. Sure, we can always do more and we can always do better, but Australia is a country that welcomes people from all around the world and our social cohesion and our migration programme makes us the most successful migrant country in the world today. We will not take that for granted and what we're announcing today will further invest in the social fabric as part of a comprehensive plan.

So a responsible migration plan, busting congestion in our cities, planning to grow together and bringing Australians together to invest in our social fabric; that is the serious plan, the Plan for Australia's Population Future, that we're announcing today.

I'm going to ask Minister Tudge to go through some of the data. I know how much you'd like me to take you through data charts from Treasury days - Shane is giving the nod of approval - but I'm going to allow Alan to do that today, to run through the data that has really contributed to the strategy that we've come forward with today and talk about the particular infrastructure components of what we're announcing today. Then I'll ask David to go through the more detailed components of the migration changes that we're making today. So, I'll hand you over to Alan, thank you.

Alan Tudge:   Thanks Prime Minister. This is a plan to ease the pressure on our big cities, while supporting the growth of the smaller cities and the regions. We've been working on this for many months now and I'd like to take you through at least some of the analysis which has underpinned where we have actually got to. I hope this presentation works, if I press this button, it should come on. That one there, there we go.

Let's start by looking at this. Australia's population is growing fast, but it's always been a relatively fast-growing nation. We're at about 1.6 per cent per annum presently, which is the average since Federation. But clearly you can see we've had faster-growing periods of time in the Populate or Perish policy and also in the Roaring ‘20s. We've had an up-tick in particular in the last decade or so, so we're still going along at a reasonably fast pace of 1.6  per annum, which is double the rate of the United States and almost triple that of the OECD average.

When you look at population growth, there's really only two ways you can grow; through natural increase, because we're having more babies and living longer, which we are doing, and through net overseas migration. We've always been a land of immigrants and so immigration has always been a big part of our population growth. In recent decades, the proportion of our population growth which is due to immigration has actually lifted. So it now sits close to about 60 per cent with about 40 per cent due to births and increasing life expectancy.

Now, this is perhaps one of the more important slides, that while the growth of Australia is relatively quick by international standards, it's particularly fast into three areas; that is in to Melbourne, Sydney and south east Queensland. There, as you can see they're represented by these three bars here, they constitute three-quarters of all of the population growth in the country overall. So those three cities, those three areas, are growing very, very fast, while these other areas, which are growing much more slowly, when in fact want to grow more quickly. In many cases, they're crying out for more people.

The Prime Minister indicated previously that in the regions alone, there are 47,000 job vacancies today, according to the Regional Australia Institute. We know that a place like Adelaide, which is down here, the Premier wants 15,000 to 20,000 more people each and every year. There are parts of Australia where which are literally crying out for more workers. So while we've got very fast growth in the big cities, we've got other parts of the country that do want to grow more quickly. Here's just one indication in Warnambool, in my home state of Victoria, this is the Warnambool Mayor who says they need 1,000 workers today to fill the job vacancies which they have. That's three or four hours outside of Melbourne, a beautiful coastal town.

So moving along, when you've got fast-growing population, you need infrastructure to keep up. Now, this chart tracks the infrastructure expenditure with what the population growth is. As you can see, it broadly tracks. So the red line there is the infrastructure expenditure. The dark blue line is the population increase and basically they largely track each other. Although, you'll see at times - and particularly here, which is sort the mid-2000s to late-2000s, the population did grow well in excess of what the infrastructure expenditure was. Interestingly here we have a big up-tick in recent years. That is largely due to the massive investment going on in New South Wales where the Berejiklian Government has done enormous amounts of public infrastructure work there. Of course, very strongly supported by our Coalition Government here federally as well. So while generally it's kept pace there have been moments when it hasn't kept up and of course this is expenditure which doesn't always mean the roads are there, built, ready to be used, sometimes there can be a lag still of a couple of years thereafter.

Now, what happens if you've got fast-growing populations with the infrastructure not necessarily keeping up? Well, you end up with serious congestion and the data backs up what everybody in Melbourne, Sydney and south east Queensland particularly know from daily experience; that is the roads and the rail are getting more and more congested. So here is just one piece of data, when you look at the Melbourne traffic times. A decade ago, you could be assured of travelling 30km on the freeway in the morning peak hour and it would take you 39 minutes. A decade later, that's almost taking you an hour. So the freeway speeds is one marker of congestion and they've slowed down considerably and there's some roads, such as the Monash in Melbourne, which are almost a carpark every single morning. That translates of course, into a serious economic cost as well, which the Prime Minister mentioned. You can see that we've had congestion costs rising steadily in recent years and on the forecasts, if we do nothing different, it would continue to go up quite, quite heavily according to what the experts would suggest.

Now another part of this equation as well is if you've got strong population growth which is not being managed well, is that the housing approvals and completions don't always keep up. This is an important chart and what it shows is the ratio of dwelling completions to population change. If you're above the red line, you're basically building more houses than population coming in. If it's below the line, the contrary, your housing developments are not keeping up with your population increase.

Now, guess what happens if your population increase is running ahead of what your dwelling completion is? Your prices spike and that is exactly what has happened of course, in the last decade or so. That’s just another feature of what occurs if you're not managing your population well and making sure you've got your population growth aligned with key services and key approval processes like housing approval and dwelling completions.

So that's just a quick snapshot, if you like, of some of the challenges of population growth. Now, we're going to flip to say, well, that doesn't necessarily mean that you put the brakes on. You've got to consider the opportunities which strong population growth brings and that is, it does help drive our economy.

Now, on this chart, the red line is the population growth on an index. The blue line is the real GDP per capita and this is often not, sort of, fully understood. Not only does population growth help with GDP growth overall, but it helps with GDP per capita growth too. So it's actually made all of us wealthier. In fact, Treasury estimates that 20 per cent of our per capita wealth generated over the last 40 years has been due to population factors. Now, how does that come about? Well, in part - I'll go to the next slide which sort of explains this - at least in part, because when we bring in migrants, they come in younger than what the average Australian is. On average, a migrant comes in at the age of 26. The average age of an Australian is about 37. So it very much helps with our workforce participation and that's essentially what is a big driver of our GDP per capita growth.

Prime Minister: Just on that, I’d also mention, from a pensions point of view and social welfare point of view - achieving more of a balance in the working-age population means there's more people in the working age to actually pay for the pensions and the welfare bill for those who aren't able to be in the workforce. With an ageing population, that is one of the levers and policy measures you have available to you to address an ageing population.

Alan Tudge: So this has been really important. As you probably know, our Government has slightly reduced the age of coming in as well, because we know when people come in as skilled people, as young people, they immediately contribute to the economy and they help everybody else. The other side of the ledger here - so in some respects that talks about your participation rate staying high - this side of the ledger talks about our permanent migration programme and really goes to the fact that it supports our productivity as well. Because over time - and this started under John Howard - we've slowly increased the proportion of our overall intake to being geared very much around skilled migration. Those people that do come in, come in with skills which are higher than the average person of a similar age in Australia. So the population factors support our participation rates and they support our productivity. They also support, obviously, businesses being able to grow when they can't find Australian workers.

I'll go into the next slide, which is really the last slide which we'll show. So that in some respects, that analysis goes to where do we get to now in terms of our plan? This is a recap really of how the Prime Minister summarised overall. So there's four main elements to our plan. First up, reducing the migration cap and encouraging more migrants to go to the region and David is going to take us through the specifics on that. Busting the congestion, which goes with that. Working much more closely with the states and territories and bringing the communities together. So basically we're easing the pressure on the big cities and supporting the regions, we're investing heavily into those cities and elsewhere, while we've got the pause going on. Making sure we've got proper plans with the states and territories and the local councils so that these sort of problems are better managed in the future. And of course, continuing to invest to ensure we maintain a cohesive society.

David, I think you're going to go through the details, particularly around one and four, there's a lot of detail in relation to the specifics there. Let me just say very briefly in terms of just addressing number two and number three; we’re busting congestion with investment in our roads and rail, we've been doing a lot of that, particularly in the last couple of years. We've got a $75 billion national program we're investing not only in the major road and rail corridors, but also particularly in the last six months or so, investing in the real pinch points in suburbs across our big cities. Those pinch points are important because often you can spend as much time trying to get onto the freeway, as you can actual being held up on the freeway itself. So that's a very important part of this plan and we'll continue to do that sort of work. We've mentioned fast rail briefly in the documents which have been circulated. That will also be part of our population plan as well and of course that can help with the decentralisation agenda, if you connect fast rail to your orbital cities around the big capitals. We'll have more to say about that at a later time. This planning mechanism the Prime Minister kicked off with COAG, saying that we need to much more closely align the levers which we have at our disposal - which largely set the population growth rate - with the responsibilities of the states and territories, who have primary responsibility for the infrastructure, the housing approvals and the like. They need to be much more closely married together and also the states and territories are now having a bigger say over what the population and the migration settings should be.

Critically, under this as well is the City Deals mechanism, which are becoming very important mechanisms to tie the three levels of governments together, to be able to plan better for our bigger cities. Now, we just announced the Adelaide City Deal just yesterday. We've done other City Deals, particularly the Western Sydney one which is a great plan for the development of Western Sydney, to deal with some of these congestion pressures in advance and getting it right. We're also going to do one in south east Queensland over the next 12 months. So they're two elements of the plan. The real details are in number one and four and, David, I think it's over to you now to take us through some of those initiatives.

Prime Minister: Thank you, David and thank you Alan.

David Coleman: Thanks, PM, thanks, Alan. Good afternoon, everyone. This migration plan is about acknowledging that different parts of Australia have different immigration needs. A one-size-fits-all approach is not appropriate, because the immigration needs in Sydney and Melbourne are very different to the needs in South Australia or in Tasmania or in so many other parts of Australia where there is a real need for additional people to fill un-met demand for skilled jobs. So this is about focusing in on those needs around the country and seeking to ensure that our migration programme is matched to those needs and doesn't impose one solution across the entire nation.

So the first point as the PM noted, is that the annual migration cap will be coming down from 190,000 to 160,000. That, over the forward estimates, is a reduction of some 120,000 places. Now, that enables us to take some of the pressure off the cities that are experiencing, as Alan pointed out, some very significant pressures in terms of the congestion and so on. By reducing the total cap under the programme, we create the opportunity to reduce that pressure. Then, very importantly, what we further do is that we will ensure that a greater proportion of migrants settle in regional Australia.

It's really notable when you go round the country, the differences in the demand for migrants. I was just in South Australia this week and there is such a strong desire in South Australia for more people to fill the un-met demand for jobs and so on. That's the case in many other parts of the nation as well. So under this plan, what we will be doing is creating 23,000 places within the skilled scheme, where people will be required to live and work in regional Australia for a period of three years in order to obtain permanent residency. I just want to explain why this is a very important point; for people who emigrate to Australia, permanent residency is at the top of their priority list. It means that you can stay in the country and plan your future in this nation. So by linking the requirement that a person stays in a regional area for three years to their permanent residency, we will see a very, very high level of compliance with that requirement, because if people don't comply, they won't get permanent residency and they will not be allowed to settle in Australia. Now, at the moment, there is already a scheme under the state and territory nominated system which works in a similar way. About 8,500 people in 2017/18 were under this system, where they had to stay in a regional area for two years in order to obtain a permanent residency. Now, the compliance rate with that program, is 99 per cent. That's because permanent residency is such a powerful incentive.

So we're doing two things in expanding this concept of provisional permanent residency for regional Australia. The first is what is known as the employer-nominated scheme, currently known as the Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme. Now, under that scheme there are about 6,000 places, there were about 6,000 places in 2017/18. We'll be increasing that to 9,000 places and we'll be requiring that people who come under that scheme, stay in a regional area for three years in order to obtain permanent residency.

The second significant change is in relation to the state and territory nominated program. As the PM mentioned, we'll be giving the states and territories the opportunity to increase the number of people that they nominate to come to their state. So that was 8,500 people in 2017/18 and that will be increasing to 14,000 people in 2019/20. So 23,000 people over all will be required to live and work in regional Australia if they want to obtain permanent residency. That means they will not be residing in Sydney or Melbourne or Brisbane or the Gold Coast or Perth. So, importantly, that helps to take the population pressure off those centres.

Now, within regional Australia, it's important to understand that people are able to move around under this programme within regional Australia. So as I said, regional Australia excludes Sydney, it excludes Melbourne, it excludes Perth, it excludes Brisbane and the Gold Coast. Those individuals will not be able to settle in those locations. If they do, they will lose their visa and they will not be able to settle in Australia. We're also allocating $7 million to increase compliance with these regional rules. People will be required to advise the Department of Home Affairs if they change employers or move and most importantly, at the end of the three years,when they seek to obtain permanent residency, they would need to substantiate that they had, in fact, lived and worked in regional Australia for that period of three years. So some very strong compliance measures there which will ensure that people who come under those visas stay in regional areas and which will take the pressure off population growth in our big cities.

The other thing that it’s important to point out is that under this plan, there is no reduction in the number of places that can be nominated by employers. So part of our immigration programme, the permanent programme, is that employers can hire a specific individual where there is a skills gap in a particular region and that person can come to Australia.

Now, in 2017/18, there were 35,000 people who employers were able to sponsor into Australia. In 2019/20 that number is 39,000, so there's no reduction in the employer-sponsored programme. In fact, there is a modest increase.

The other thing I would also like to point out is there is no change to the family program. So in 2017/18, just under 48,000 people settled in Australia under the family program and the number in 2019/20 is precisely the same, so just under 48,000 people. So no change to the family program and obviously, people will settle right around the nation in relation to the family program.

So this is about ensuring that our migration programme is better matched to the needs of Australia. Our needs are different in different parts of the country. We know that Sydney and Melbourne in particular are facing very significant population pressures and we know that places like South Australia, Tasmania and other parts of Australia are literally calling out for more people.

So what this plan enables us to do is to deliver on those requests from different parts of Australia in relation to their migration intake. It enables us to importantly, take pressure off the cities.

Prime Minister: Thank you. Do you want to speak to the social cohesion programs, just briefly?

David Coleman: Sure. So over the past several months, the Government has been working on a package of social cohesion measures that are aimed to promote, encourage, celebrate multicultural Australia and tolerance within our community. Today we're announcing $71 million worth of measures in the social cohesion area, which we'll provide the full list of those later today. There are a few I wanted to specifically highlight as part of this announcement. One is a program called Together For Humanity. This is a really important program that sends people into schools to discuss religious difference, religious tolerance. It has been operating successfully for a number of years. It is so important as a society that we are cognisant and accepting of our differences. Religious freedom is so fundamental to this nation and Together For Humanity does a great job in helping people to understand religious difference and to promote tolerance. They'll be receiving $2.2 million under this program.

Another important initiative is community languages. It’s really important to note the significance of community languages in Australia, especially for kids. There are so many kids out there who do a community language after school, on the weekends. It helps to enable them to learn more about the culture that maybe their parents or grandparents have come from. Of course, there are other kids who learn languages that are not their background culture, but also enable them to learn more about the diversity of our nation. So we'll be providing $10 million in funding for Community Languages Schools for grants of up to $25,000 to assist in the development of these important programs.

In addition, we'll be having another round of the successful Fostering Integration Grants. These were just run quite recently, grants of up to $50,000 which again, seek to support organisations that are promoting tolerance, education and inclusion in our community. We'll be allocating an additional $3 million to that program as part of this announcement.

Prime Minister: Thank you very much, David. Just finally, also with student visas, we'll be extending an additional year of working rights for those who come under the international student visa program and study in regional areas, the areas that have been defined. This will do two things. One, it will bring, I think, a much needed boost to a lot of these regional communities with students going in with the spend. It is one of our biggest export earners as an industry and to see that benefit of that sector spread more into the regions will be positive, as well as taking the population pressure off. As I have said repeatedly, if there is ten extra people on the bus, just under four were born here, just over four have turned up on a temporary visa and two have turned up directly on a permanent visa. That's how population growth enters Australia. Over time that changes, of course, as people move on to other visa classes. So trying to manage also the temporary migration program and support that in its dispersal I think is important. In regional areas there is also 450 additional occupations that are available to regional employers that are not available in those other areas. So there are more opportunities under those regional visa schemes to achieve that. You're also very aware of what we do around the seasonal worker program and the working holiday-maker visa program to support the needs in regional areas as well and we’re going to continue to encourage that. Happy to take questions.

Journalist: Just on the 23,000 skilled visas, under the current arrangement they stay for two years. What's the retention rate of people staying in the regions and do you have an estimate or a model of what extending it to three years will do to that retention rate?

David Coleman: A couple of points. So first point, there's two different programs. There's the state and territory nominated, which is currently 8,500. That goes to 14,000. The proportion of people who comply with that provision is 99 per cent. Obviously, once someone has spent a number of years in a regional area, it is reasonable to assume that the vast majority of those people will continue to settle in regional areas. Then we have the other program which is 6,000, going to 9,000, which is effectively does not currently have an effective regional requirement. So we have an additional 14,000 people who currently don't have a regional requirement in order to obtain permanent residency, who will. Permanent residency is top of the list in terms of the incentives for people. So we certainly expect that these will be well subscribed and that there will be a very high level of compliance.

Prime Minister: Alan, did you want to add to that?

Alan Tudge: Yeah I would just note that the analysis we've looked at previously as well is after five years, more than 80 per cent of people are still in the regions, so who have chosen to go to the regions. People go make it their home, they go there, their kids go to school, they join the local soccer club, netball club, local church and make it their home and that’s what this plan is designed to do.

Prime Minister: When you link up with states and territories and shires and local governments as well, when your migration plan is built around that, then your odds of success increase because you're taking people into areas where they want them to go, where the services are and where there are jobs.

Journalist: Prime Minister, Minister Tudge told us the importance of population growth to GDP growth and also GDP per capita but we're also told there's a 47,000 shortfall in regional skills. Why didn't you keep, say, the migration cap at 190,000 and use that extra 30,000 to bolster this program that has 23,000 regional skilled stream? If it's going to be successful why not keep it even bigger and perhaps fulfil that 43,000-person shortfall?

Prime Minister: As you know, as a result of the improvements in our immigration systems in recent years, and it was shown in Alan's chart earlier, that the level of permanent residency granted under those permanent visas has fallen in recent years. So what we're doing is basically pausing at that level and redirecting the composition. Even at the levels and the targets that we've set now for people to go beyond the capital cities, we know that they are ambitious targets to meet for those areas. It is about pausing the overall level of intake and ensuring the spread of that intake is more targeted to where the jobs and the opportunities are.

Journalist: Prime Minister, the presentation…

Prime Minister: You're waiting patiently there.

Journalist: The presentation stepped through the contribution that migration has made to economic growth. Have you modelled the subtraction from economic growth that the reduction in the permanent residency program will have, and if so what is that number?

Prime Minister: We're not expecting any change. That'll be set out in the Budget. As I said at the start of this process, and I should have stressed, when we stood up this process, we formed a Cabinet subcommittee which is chaired by the Treasurer, who is obviously not here today with us because he is busy writing the Budget. So I want to thank Josh for his work in leading the taskforce that the Ministers have been involved here. The whole point here is to do two things. Yes, to pause the overall level of permanent intake, which is basically running at those current levels on actuals. But also to address the impacts on the economy of congestion. There is population growing too quickly in parts of the country where there is too much congestion, which the Productivity Commission showed actually is a drag on productivity and is a drag on growth. That's why I described this as a serious but very balanced plan. So we can actually move to this level without impacting on the Budget and I think without impacting on growth and continuing to maintain the momentum of that growth.

Journalist: So does the economic gain of reducing congestion offset the economic subtraction from reducing the intake?

Prime Minister: The impact of this plan is to have no negative impacts on our growth prospects. Katharine.

Journalist: Just on that regional-sponsored migration scheme, forgive me if this is not right - but I think it is right - there's 22,000 people currently in the pipeline for that scheme. So, if moving people to the regions is such a priority, why are those people in the pipeline, what’s going on. And just not on a point of policy but a point of logic, I know you've said to us that permanent residency is the carrot for moving people or requiring a three year residency rather than two. But it is a strange incentive, isn't it, to increase the time you have to be in the region in order to get permanent residency? It's not really an incentive, is it? It’s sort of… well, the hurdle is greater before you get permanent residency, which brings me back to the Prime Minister’s point which is that a minute ago, it’s an ambitious target for 23,000 right, for that cohort. So if you don’t meet your own target, what happens? Does the overall number under the permanent program fall?

Prime Minister: Well, let me address those matters and David can comment on them also. First of all, just because someone has an application, it doesn't mean it'll be approved. There are lots of applications. What we have seen, particularly in recent years, is the integrity of our processes and the improvements in those mechanisms which Home Affairs has put in place, has meant that fewer of the applications have actually been approved. We have high standards and we'll continue to have those standards, and an application existing does not mean that that is a pending approval. And we'll continue to follow that path. In terms of the issue of two to three years, this is about having the opportunity for people to put further roots down over that period of time. And so, rather than, I think, being a disincentive, I think it only enhances the incentive for people to commit further to where they are locating and settle themselves and their families in the jobs they are in and seek further opportunities in those towns or wherever they may be, or in that city. The purpose of permanent residency is a very, very attractive one because of course it leads to citizenship, which is the ultimate club to be in and so we do not consider that as any impediment or any lack of encouragement. Remind me of your last point, Katharine?

Journalist: You referenced a minute ago that 23,000 in relation to Andrew’s is a difficult benchmark to reach…

Prime Minister: Remember, this is a cap. It is not a target. Just like 190,000 has previously been the cap, not the target. When I became Immigration Minister back in 2013, these things used to be targets. They tried to fill it. They used to try to find applicants to approve to meet the targets for the Immigration Department. Now, that changed. We changed that. As a Government, we changed that some years ago. So that means that it is there as a cap. It's there as a ceiling but the standard of applications that they have to meet is unchanged. And so, there are no performance bonuses for people to approve visa applications in the Department of Home Affairs. There's a simple standard. As part of this package there is investment in new systems also to support the visas that will be granted. And in particular there'll be enhanced visa processing for regional areas and a regional migration hub to undertake outreach activities, support regional employers and local authorities to navigate the visa system. We're also investing in the process of how people might see the region as an opportunity. But David, did you want to add?

David Coleman: A little while ago we $19 million in additional investment related to regional processing, a significant component is increased emphasis on regional processing. So basically to proritise regional processing. So what that means is that some of those people in that pipeline,  the ones who comply with the rules, will be processed more quickly, which will assist in achieving the target of 9,000. In relation to the 14,000, which is the second component of the regional target, so these roles are nominated by states and territories. As I mentioned earlier, we're in a discussion with the states and territories about their needs, in particular, locations. We estimate that that 14,000 number will be met through their requests. So we think the 23,000 can be achieved.

Prime Minister: We'll go over here and then we'll come back to you.

Journalist: Prime Minister, you mentioned earlier there are a couple of election buses winding their way through New South Wales at the moment. How much of that election has put into your mind the timing of today's announcement?

Prime Minister: None.

Journalist: Nothing to do with what's going on in New South Wales?

Prime Minister: No. We started this process last year. We stood the taskforce up soon after I became Prime Minister and I highlighted this as a very significant issue I wanted to address as Prime Minister. The end bookmark… the end mark on this is the Budget. That requires us to actually frame the migrant intake under the permanent program to be included in the Budget. The Budget's less than a fortnight away. So this was always the timeframe. Yes?

Journalist: Prime Minister, just a particular interest for our audience. They're asking when you speak about compliance measures, what does that mean? Are we talking about a population police going door-to-door to check where people are staying, what does it look like? And migrants are quite concerned about how that might impact their experience in Australia. The second question if you’ll allow is the Federation of Ethnic Communities Council of Australia has said particularly given what has happened in Christchurch this week, it is irresponsible and erroneous to link congestion to migration. Can you reassure migrants they're not to blame for these challenges that we’re facing? We saw very clearly in slide six that government has not invested in infrastructure that is needed and it’s not their fault.

Prime Minister: Sure. I'm happy to reassure them on that point. Australia's immigration program has been one of the most important pillars of our prosperity and success. And our migrant communities, from whichever part of the world they come from, it is just a consistent story of success. One of the things I enjoy doing most in this role and previous roles has been to attend annually, where I can, the Ethnic Business Awards, which now includes indigenous businesses. It is a true story of remarkable achievement and often times quite teary stories about what people have been able to achieve. Indeed, we've had a habit at each of these events to honour all of those who've created these amazing businesses over the course of their life. Migrant communities and migrants to Australia have a higher level of entrepreneurship and business ownership, self-employed work than other any other cohort of the country. The real success of Australia's immigration, and why I say we are the most successful immigrant country on earth, is because on all the key metrics - educational attainment, employment, small business ownership, when it comes to the justice system - all of these things, when you look at the migrant versus non-migrant population in Australia, it just achieves either at the same standard as the rest of the population or, indeed, for many communities, even better. So migration and those who have come to Australia to make a contribution, not take one, has been an enormous boon for Australia we want to continue to encourage that. You're right, it is about planning for population growth, which is what we're talking about today. As I said on Monday in my speech to the Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce, any conflation of this debate certainly with the terrorist atrocities last week, it's just not on. There's no connection between these things whatsoever. This is about dealing with practical issues. I expressed on Monday my great frustration that in addressing these issues of population, and immigration programs, that these debates so often get hijacked by those of competing views who seek to exploit them for other causes. Now, I reject all of that absolutely. This is a practical problem that Australians want addressed, that migrant communities wanted addressed. And so by ensuring we have both the migration programs that are responsible, the infrastructure programs that are responsible and forward-looking, and the planning processes that are inclusive, and the social cohesion programs which build on the success of our social fabric, well, that's all win.

Journalist: Prime Minister, a number of your Queensland MPs have come out publicly today saying they don't want Pauline Hanson last on the ticket in Queensland. They think…

Prime Minister: Can we finish talking about population? If people have questions on population policy issues - I'll deal with politics later. I'll deal with policy first. Shane?

Journalist: PM, I'm just wondering 160,000? Why not 170,000? Why not 150,00, or lower? How did you come to 160,000? Is there modelling around 160,000?

Prime Minister: Yes, there is. If we were to take the figure below 160,000, then that would have had a direct fiscal impact on the Budget. This is the nominated level where the program is constructed where we would not experience that impact on the Budget. So that's obviously sensible. It caps it, as we've talked about today, at a pause level, which is where the program has been directing. It has been at 190,000 for some time. I think it makes sense to take it back to the levels on or about that we've been projecting at and experiencing. So we have considered a range of options here and we think this is the most balanced and the most sensible.

Journalist: Can you just explain how the states get a greater say? Is it simply by being able to nominate more migrants that they want coming to their state, or is it the way the states are engaging with the Commonwealth on this issue as well?

David Coleman: Alan, do you want to talk to the population aspects?

Alan Tudge:  The answer to question is both. So David will be able to talk about right now what's happening with the state-nominated scheme. More broadly, we're working through the COAG process where the states have a much greater role overall in setting up what the migration program should look like going forward. Ideally, as I said before, we need to make sure that you're marrying up your population growth rates, which largely we set through the migration settings, with your infrastructure, your housing approvals, your services and the like which the states and territories have primary responsibility for. They need to be completely in sync. If they're not in sync, you end up with some of the issues that we talked about where housing is not being approved in time, the infrastructure is falling behind, and the like. So that's what we're working on and the Prime Minister is leading that through the COAG process, and there's still more work to do on that.

Prime Minister: We've had great support from the states and territories, but there is still more work to do. David?

David Coleman: In terms of the migration program, the process is that we ask the states what are their needs, for the state and territory migration program. We're basically saying, "Here's a significant increase to the allocations you'll be able to take on", and being very responsive to those requests from different states. So it is about working together and thinking about future of the country in terms of the broader migration program over a number of years.

Prime Minister: Still on this topic?

Journalist:What has been done to actually vet employers who want to sponsor migrants? In South Australia there was an example of one migrant who was currently waiting to find out about his future. He went to a regional city, being Murray Bridge. He worked for an employer who then ripped him off, about $7 an hour. He is now facing deportation because he wanted to provide for his family, got a new job. Obviously breaching his visa conditions, no doubt about that. What is being done to actually vet employers so they are suitable and we know they won't treat our migrants poorly?

David Coleman:Project Cadena has been running for some time which is focused on precisely that issue. And we also have recently the report by Professor Fels in relation to these matters and the bottom line is any behaviour of that kind is completely unacceptable, they are criminal offences and people are prosecuted, as they should be. The reality is, unfortunately, there has been exploitation in some industries. But Project Cadena is focused on going after those employers through Australian Border Force and we’ll continue to be.

Journalist: Just a question about compliance, what can migrants expect in terms of policing where they're living?

Prime Minister: I'll let David mention that, speak to that. The point is here at the end of the day, there is a strong self-assessment process to this because people need to demonstrate where they have been. Through people’s own records, where their addresses have been and where their power bills are, and all of these sorts of things. Their employment records, their tax file numbers - all these sorts of things - we have a pretty reasonable understanding of where people have been and where they've been living. So the suggestion of some sort of walking the beat enforcement arrangement here is obviously ridiculous. That's certainly not what we have in mind. It is a far more, I think, practical and more cost-effective way of just working cooperatively.

David Coleman:Yes, and the bottom line is, at the end of the three years, when you want your permanent residency, you need to be able to substantiate that you lived and worked in regional areas. Permanent residency is, as I said, the absolute top priority. And so people have a very, very strong incentive to ensure that they comply or they won't get PR.

Alan Tudge:   This is not radically new either. We've already had some geographically restricted visas already. It is not a radically new concept here. It is expanding what we've been doing.

Prime Minister:  On this topic, I haven't forgot you, Sam, don't worry.

Journalist: So if a skilled migrant comes out, Minister Coleman, and ends up with a shonky employer for example who shifts away from, say, Bennellaland and goes to Kalgoorlie, then they’ll still be...

Prime Minister: Well, Kalgoorlie is still within a regional location.

Journalist: Yep, so as long as it's with regional -

Prime Minister: Outside the big cities. To maintain the flexibility in that, I think is really important. Otherwise it becomes an unworkable program. I've very much appreciated the extensive questions on the policy topic. Sam?