Press Conference Canberra - Population Centre

Alan Tudge: Today we’ve launched Australia’s Centre for Population which is going to be the key repository of everything to do with population in our country. It’s going to do better forecasting, it’s going to do greater transparency and it’s going to help us manage our population growth better. Australia is a fast-growing population. We’ve done very well out of that but it also put immense pressure on our big capital cities and so we need to manage that better. We’ve already put key things in place including slightly reducing the migration rate, we’re encouraging more new people into the country to go to some of the regional areas and the smaller cities that want to grow more quickly. And we’ve introduced more congestion-busting infrastructure.

Later this year we’ll also be developing a framework with the states and territories to better align our respective responsibilities so that the infrastructure planning approvals, the services, are better aligned with the population growth in different parts of the country so that one is not going in front of the other.

The Centre though is the key element of pulling all of this together. Victoria Anderson has been appointed as the head of that Centre and she will have a team by the end of the year of 20 people inside of Treasury to undertake the research, provide the evidence base, to work with the states and territories, the academic community, the think tanks and to provide sound evidence-based public policy to governments. So this is the big day for Australia. We’ve got a plan to better manage our population growth going forward and the Centre is going to be a key part of that.

Journalist: Why is it only happening now given how crucial it is to have accurate forecasts?

Alan Tudge: The Prime Minister as you probably know established the population portfolio about twelve months ago now and about six months or so ago we introduced our first Population Plan and that Population Plan has reduced the migration rate, encouraged more new people into the regions and some of the smaller cities. It outlined a Fast Rail Plan, which will connect up the satellite cities of the big capitals so that people can live and work in Geelong, for example, and be able to easily commute into the big capital city markets of Melbourne. And it also outlined the fact that we’re working more closely with the states and territories to better align our responsibilities. The Centre though was in the May budget in terms of its funding. The funding started on 1 July this year and now we're officially launching it. It'll be at full capacity by the end of this year.

Journalist: You’ve already reduced the permanent migration intake in Australia. Are you going to continue to reduce that number?

Alan Tudge: So we've reduced the permanent migration intake from 190,000 cap down to 160,000 cap. We've already brought it down this year to about 162,000. The cap now over the next four years will be 160,000 and we've made that clear for the first time that we've outlined it over the forward estimates rather than just an annual one.

Then of course within the temporary migration settings we have created new incentives for the key components for the temporary migrants to go to some of the regional areas and smaller cities, particularly international students because 80 per cent of international students today go to Melbourne, Sydney or Brisbane and yet they constitute the largest components of the temporary migration settings. So we've got incentives for the international students as well to go to some of the smaller cities in the regional areas.

Journalist: With the population statement, what do you expect that to tell you that you don’t already know and won’t that just delay further action on tackling growth?

Alan Tudge: So we've already taken action as I’ve outlined, and we outlined the initial steps in the first Population Plan just a few months ago. And further action will be taken. The population statement next year will provide a very transparent document of exactly what is occurring in our population settings; where the growth is, what the demographics are, the skills within our population and where the stresses are within our community as well. So it will be the annual snapshot of our population each year, creating that transparency. But in the meantime, we continue to do the policy work to better manage our population growth.

Journalist: You mentioned the ABS mispredicting population growth by about 3 million people. How can you be sure that this kind of research will have a better projection?

Alan Tudge: So in some respects, the ABS has done projections rather than forecasts. Now, what I mean by that is they’ve looked backwards as to what has occurred in the past and assumed that that will continue into the future. Whereas this population centre will be very much doing forecasts based on what is likely to occur in the future, what our policy settings are. And so it’s more likely to be more accurate. And it will also be done at a more localised level as well.

Now, ideally, we had a common set of forecast across the country, because we find that in some areas, different jurisdictions will have their own forecasts, which are different to what our projections are. Ideally we’ve got a common set of forecasts so that everybody can plan accordingly. Then, the equally important part of that is to track on an annual basis how we’re going against those forecasts and adjust accordingly.

Journalist: What do you think Australians should take away from the Prime Minister’s speech last night, with his warnings about negative globalism?

Alan Tudge: I think it was a very good speech that the Prime Minister outlines, talking about the fact that Australia’s interests are served by being engaged in the world but on our interests. And he talked about positive and practical globalism, and where it's done through our own interests. Obviously, we're taking our interests into account as we engage with the broader community rather than necessarily being spoken to from other institutions, which aren't in our interests.

Journalist: Are you expecting more refugees to come to Australia from the Pacific due to climate change?

Alan Tudge: Our humanitarian intake is set in terms of how people come into the country. We have a particular process. As you know, we've increased the humanitarian intake to 18,750 people each year and it will stay at that number.

Journalist: That wouldn't change due to the forecast?

Alan Tudge: Well we've got a cap in terms of the humanitarian intake. It's a generous cap, and we also have terrific settlement programs as well for when people do come into the country, and many make a terrific contribution when they’re here. So that cap will be maintained.

Journalist: When can we expect the final policy?

Alan Tudge: The final population policy?

Journalist: Yeah.

Alan Tudge: Well, it's an ongoing piece of work. We outlined our initial population policy three to four months ago now. I provided an update to that policy just last week, and then the statements which will be produced annually will provide further updates as well.

Journalist: How are you going to balance freedom of movement within the country when you want people to go to particular areas, when there are clear drivers moving people towards the big cities?

Alan Tudge: Well we've put in place already some settings to encourage new people to consider going to an Adelaide or a regional area rather than to a Melbourne or Sydney. Now, this is not a radical concept, because we already do that already at a smaller scale and it's been shown to work. We have a 99.8 per cent compliance rate, and the evidence shows that 84 per cent of people are still in that location where they first went to five years afterwards. It's also been done very successfully and that’s one of the reasons why we’ve massively increased our expenditure on congestion-busting infrastructure.

Journalist: Do you consider yourself to have an ongoing mandate based on how the policy will develop over time?

Alan Tudge: I don’t understand that question.

Journalist: Well considering the policy isn’t fully developed and is going to be changing based on this forecast, do you consider yourself to have an ongoing mandate based on the election or will you take something further at the next election in a few years?

Alan Tudge: Well we outlined our plan before the election. People understood our plan. We’d already announced that we’re reducing our migration rate. We’d announced some of these incentives for new arrivals to go to some of the regional areas. We’d already announced the fact that we’re investing more economic development opportunities in some of the regional areas and the smaller cities. We’d outlined our Fast Rail Plan. We’d increase the congesting-busting infrastructure to $100 billion as you know, and we have foreshadowed that we’d work with the states and territories to develop a better population planning framework. So all of that work will continue. But of course, it’s going to be ongoing work as the population continues to grow.