Sky News Live - Interview with Tom Connell

Tom Connell: Joining me now here in the studio is Alan Tudge, Minister for Population, Cities, and Urban Infrastructure, thanks for your time.

Alan Tudge: G’day Tom.

Tom Connell: Now, we’ve got agreements today. We always like it when people are getting along and helping out the nation. What are we talking about here, a new approach to population. What’s the detail that we can gleam from this? Because you’ve been talking about this approach for a while.

Alan Tudge: Yeah well that’s right, this is the first time that the states and territories, with the Federal Government, have agreed on a population planning framework, so in essence, for us to align each of our respective responsibilities much more closely. Because when you think about it Tom, we have the major population growth lever falling in our responsibilities. That's the migration rate, which comprises 60 per cent of the population growth. But the states and territories have the primary responsibility for the infrastructure delivery, for the housing approvals, for the services and the like. And you need to make sure those things are absolutely in sync because if they're not in sync, you have your population for example running ahead of infrastructure, and then you have congestion or you don't have the houses approved and you get house price spikes. That’s what today is all about, and that's why we've got a framework.

Tom Connell: So you go around to all the states and, for example, if you talk to Victoria, they go here's where we want Melbourne to be, here's where we see Victoria. You feed all of this in, and then that actually contributes to the overall net migration rate? That’s how this works?

Alan Tudge: Yeah. That's basically what that is saying, traditionally the Federal Government has largely set the population rate ourselves with some input from the states and territories, but now we want to have much greater input from them, in terms of what is your desired population growth in your city and your state; can we align our levers to achieve that. And what do you need to have in terms of infrastructure and housing approvals and services to be able to meet that population growth.

Furthermore, you've got to look at the demographics too because that's critically important in terms of economic success; in terms of the ageing of the population, the skills there.

Tom Connell: Very hard to control.

Alan Tudge: Yes and no, again migration becomes so important in that regard. We do really well in Australia because we bring in largely skilled migrants who are young, an average age of about 26, and that keeps our working age population high so that we’re not ageing so rapidly, and therefore more are people working, being productive; to support those people into retirement.

Tom Connell: So you're getting more data and you want it to be more accurate, because it has been very inaccurate in the past. How does that feed into the overall population, I mean, are you going through a process where you'll have a population you want to hit in 2030, 2040, 2050, and do you control for that or let growth sort of control where the population goes?

Alan Tudge: We are in terms of that second question, certainly much more strongly leaning in terms of where we want to see growth than we ever have. Now, traditionally again migration being the major population growth lever, it constitutes 60 per cent of our population growth. Traditionally we've just let people come and settle wherever they like. Now we've actually created incentives for new migrants to go to some of the smaller cities in the regions, which are desperate for more people but can't get them.

Tom Connell: And that’s the where, the overall, I mean, at the end of this process will you have a figure for 2030, 2040, 2050?

Alan Tudge: We haven’t got to that yet.

Tom Connell: But is that what you want to achieve?

Alan Tudge: We have agreed through the process today that we will have a rolling three yearly plan, which will update every three years, we’ll update a Population Plan. And we'll do that in collaboration with the states, and then we'll have a yearly statement as well which will in essence track ourselves against that plan. Now, we haven't worked out the details of that in terms of how far in advance we’ll forecast and want to say, well, we ideally do want to see X million people here and x thousand there.

Tom Connell: But is that a possibility?

Alan Tudge: That’s where we’re leaning towards, I’m saying, Tom.

Tom Connell: And do you have a broad?

Alan Tudge: Which is much more of a settlement strategy.

Tom Connell: Yeah, yeah. But do you have an idea right now for where you might land, how far ahead- could we, in a year, possibly have 2030, here's where the population we want to get to, here's the number?

Alan Tudge: Well, we will certainly have better forecasts in relation to that based on our policy settings at the moment. And traditionally, Tom, on that, we've largely relied on, say, ABS, and you referred to how we're out in the past, or the Treasurer might have referred to that earlier today.

Tom Connell: Well, yeah. Basically from 2002 to now, you thought it’d be two and a half million bigger. It got to five million.

Alan Tudge: It got to five million. And in part, those were projections rather than forecasts. What I mean by that is that it tended to look backwards as to how we've been going and just assumed that it would be going forwards, whereas we want to get to a position and today was about this, to say we actually need much more sophisticated forecasts of our population region by region, city by city.

Tom Connell: And so, if you have that forecast, a better one for 2030, is that a target you try really hard to hit and not go over? Or is that simply trying to get a better estimate? You know would you pull on levers and go: we’re going to be two million over, we don't want to be over?

Alan Tudge: If you're doing a forecast, it'll be based on what our policy settings are, and then we want to track ourselves against those forecasts so that the councils and the state governments, who have the primary responsibility for the infrastructure and housing approvals, can have greater surety as well that, okay, this is what the population is much more likely to be coming, and we can plan accordingly rather than be planning for X and then all of a sudden, having a lot more people.

Tom Connell: And one of the big levers you can pull is net migration, permanent migration. You wouldn't be afraid to go: we’re going quite a bit over here. We are pulling migration right back?

Alan Tudge: Well, we haven't got to that point yet. We have said that we're going to pull the migration rate down and we're implementing that from 1 July of this year and we’ve said over the next four years, we will cap that permanent migration rate at that lower number, at 160,000 per annum, whereas it was at 190,000 per annum. Then, within that cap of 160, we've got 23,000 dedicated spots for the regions and the smaller cities.

Tom Connell: Can I ask you as well, temporary migration, because this can have a much bigger impact and oscillate very quickly, 700,000 I think in the country at the moment. Is there anything you can do to control that?

Alan Tudge: Well, it's a good point that you make. Our population is made up of obviously Australian citizens, and then you have new migrants who come in here as permanent residents and then you have temporary migrants. Sometimes they can be Kiwis, they might be international students, they’re long-term holiday makers and the like.

Tom Connell: But the same impact on resources.

Alan Tudge: But they can have the same impact on resources and they tend to be more demand-driven programs, particularly, say, what used to be called the 457 visa which provides short-term people to fill skills gaps.

Tom Connell: Specialist, yeah.

Alan Tudge: Specialist skills gaps. Now, we have said, and we've put in place already, incentives particularly for international students, to go to some of the regional areas and the smaller cities because they're the biggest components of short-term migration. Tom Connell: Right. But that still has that same net impact. Would you look to reduce that overall or is that something that would hurt the economy so you wouldn’t look to reduce that?

Alan Tudge: The permanent migration rate in the medium term is actually what drives the overall migration rate.

Tom Connell: So, is it bouncing around?

Alan Tudge: It’s the year to year, it bounces a bit because of the temporary. But the permanent migration rate actually does establish the medium-term growth. Tom Connell: But you wouldn't want to temper that rate at all?

Alan Tudge: Well, the permanent migration rate, we have tempered, we have pulled down. Now, we've announced that for the next four years. Let's get to the next stage where we do announce… Tom Connell: Nothing yet on temporary?

Alan Tudge: Well again, for temporary, we've put in place incentives for the international students.

Tom Connell: I wanted to ask you finally about rail. So the Andrews Government is considering this cheaper airport rail link that will rely on existing tracks out to Sunshine. If they were going to go down this path, would the Federal Government still commit $5 billion towards it?

Alan Tudge: Well, we want to see a fair dinkum, high-quality service from Melbourne CBD to the airport. That's why we’ve put $5 billion dollars on the table and we're working cooperatively with the states to see that vision implemented. Now, there's a lot of complexity associated with this project so we’re just methodically working through it. A good rail network which is affordable and is at appropriate speeds that people can get there. It's competitive with the other options.

Tom Connell: So the question is, because I know there's a lot to these types of infrastructure, but at the same time, using that track out to Sunshine is seen as failing some of the measures you just mentioned there: being affordable for consumers, being fast as well. Would that be a deal breaker for your government?

Alan Tudge: Well, we haven't got to that yet, Tom. I mean, we're in the negotiations in relation to this and I'm having good faith negotiations with the Victorian Government on it. We think it is almost certainly that we'll need to have dedicated tunnel from basically from the CBD to Sunshine, which then becomes a really important node for fast rail to be able to shoot from as well.

Tom Connell: Rather than existing tracks?

Alan Tudge: Rather than existing track, and then to have upgraded track out to the airport. We think that’s most likely outcome.

Tom Connell: Right. If that was the option the Andrews Government wanted, you’d have a problem with that?

Alan Tudge: Well, we haven't got to that stage yet, Tom. I'm just saying that's our initial view was that…

Tom Connell: But the Andrews Government seems to be considering it.

Alan Tudge: And that that becomes important as well for our vision for fast rail out to Geelong…

Tom Connell: Yeah. Exactly.

Alan Tudge: …where we've got $2 billion on the table.

Tom Connell: Yeah.

Alan Tudge: It relies upon having that fast connection out to Sunshine.

Tom Connell: Alright. We'll see where it goes, Alan Tudge. Thanks for your time.

Alan Tudge: Thanks very much Tom.