Interview with Leon Byner, 5AA Mornings
22 November 2018
Subjects: population policy and cities policy
Leon Byner: I want to welcome now the Minister for Cities, (Urban) Infrastructure, Population, Alan Tudge. Alan, thanks for coming in.
Alan Tudge: G’day Leon.
Leon Byner: Now I know you didn’t stay last night, because if you did you would have—[laughs]—you would have been—you could probably have been a kite. You came in this morning, why are you in Adelaide? What are you going to talk to, and are you offering any money?
Alan Tudge: [Laughs] I’m here to discuss largely two topics today. That is population policy and also cities policy. So I’ve got a series of meetings to discuss those two topics and I’ll be meeting up with the Premier later on today as well to discuss the shape of what might be an Adelaide City deal.
Leon Byner: Alright, now the other point is: Scott Morrison's announced that we're going to cut from 190 to 160 the immigration numbers per se, but again we need people.
The problem is you can bring them in but unless you leg brace them they'll leave pretty quickly because as lovely as Adelaide is, there is a perception amongst those younger people with families and so on, and others, that opportunity exists elsewhere. That is going to have to be part of your conversation, isn’t it?
Alan Tudge: Yeah, yeah no, that is part of the conversation. It is interesting Leon, as you raise, in Melbourne and Sydney—and I'm from Melbourne—we're really feeling the pressure because nearly all the population growth in the country is to those two big capitals and Brisbane as well.
Whereas there’s places like here in Adelaide which many people are actually seeking to grow this city and grow this state and indeed the Premier Marshall does want to do that. Now, our population plan is going to accommodate that. It will ease the pressure on those big cities but it will enable a place like South Australia to grow more rapidly to sustain [indistinct].
Leon Byner: [Talks over] You can ask migrants to come here. You can invite them here and you might have an agreement that they have to be here. But if there is not the job opportunity, like might exist interstate, what do you expect them to do? What do you expect them to do?
Alan Tudge: Yeah, a couple points on this. One is that (a) there are job opportunities and as you know the unemployment rate here in this in this state is coming down. In the regions today, Leon, there are 47,000 job vacancies today and that has been growing by 9 per cent per annum.
Leon Byner: Now why can't we fill those?
Alan Tudge: For all number of reasons. Some places, simply the local population is not big enough to cater for the job requirements. In other cases the Australians who are sitting there on welfare don't want to step up and take or don't have the skills to be able to take those jobs. But the point I'm saying is that there jobs out there.
Here in South Australia, across regional Australia, in other parts of the country. They’re not just in Melbourne and Sydney and Brisbane. And we want to work on plans to encourage more migrants to come here. We can create incentives…
Leon Byner: But we already encourage them though.
Alan Tudge: We do in a modest way and so we're looking at opportunities where we can provide further incentives for migrants if they choose to take advantage of these incentives and go…
Leon Byner: What incentive would that be?
Alan Tudge: …And go into places like South Australia or to Western Australia or [indistinct]…
Leon Byner: [Talks over] What would be the incentives you’re offering?
Alan Tudge: Well for example at the moment if you come in through the…what’s called the general skilled migration scheme.
It’s when you accumulate points and if you get enough points you get invited into the country, right, you get points for speaking English, for having a university degree, all that sort of stuff. We could offer additional points for choosing to go to South Australia. Now we already…
Leon Byner: [Interrupts] Okay, well they get points, now what will that mean?
Alan Tudge: And so then you get additional points and that means you’re higher up the priority list and that means you’re more likely to get the spot in Australia. Bear in mind there’s always millions of people that want to come into this country and that means…
Leon Byner: Once you’re here though…
Alan Tudge: …that they’ll come into South Australia rather than necessarily Melbourne or Sydney.
Leon Byner: Once you’re here though you stay for a bit, you get the lay of the land..
Alan Tudge: Sure.
Leon Byner: Can I suggest you talk to the Centre of Economic Studies, Michael O'Neal or Darryl Gobbett because the unemployment rate is going down.
That’s because there are less people looking because the kinds of jobs- see we need, we desperately need more taxpayers here to pay for those people who are getting on in years who are going to need help. And there's an ever diminishing number of people to pay taxes to have us afford this. So you've got a few issues there…
That’s exactly right. This is going to be part of our population policy as well. There's one thing is around how we manage the growth and how we get a better distribution of population growth to take the pressure off the big cities and put support here…
Leon Byner: Are you putting any money up?
And the second thing- and just let me finish this. The second thing is we have to be acutely concerned with that issue that you’re talking about that we don't age as a population overall which means…
Leon Byner: Well we are.
Alan Tudge: …we’ve got fewer taxpayers in order to support people into retirement.
Leon Byner: We haven’t. That’s what’s happening now.
Alan Tudge: It has what’s called the dependency ratio has declined. There's fewer working people now for the aged population and we've got to manage that and migration has been a very good mechanism to manage that because the average age of a migrant that comes into the country is 26 years.
Leon Byner: Well you had a second term in parliament to do all this. Have you not done that?
Alan Tudge: Listen, we have in relation to that particular issue. So the average- in fact we've brought down the average age of migrants coming in. It used to be that you couldn't get- you have to be under 45 now for the skilled migration scheme. It use to be you had to be under 50. So we've already brought that down and we've put more emphasis on that skilled migration stream.
Leon Byner: But that’s a modest change though in the scheme of what we're talking about. Jobs for people here who do not have to move by necessity.
Alan Tudge: And we've discussed this before in terms of the welfare system. We have absolutely tightened the welfare system to the extent, Leon, and this is actually I think one of the great achievements of our government and that is we've got now the lowest proportion of people on welfare, working age people on welfare in 25 years and we've had…
Leon Byner: [Interrupts] That’s because the population has gone up.
Alan Tudge: No no this is lowest proportion of people on welfare of the working age population in 25 years. [Indistinct]…
Leon Byner: [Talks over] Now look, can I put this another way…
Alan Tudge: We’ve done remarkably well on this. No, that’s because of job creation. A million jobs being created and also the crackdown on welfare as well.
Leon Byner: I have a song I play when we get the economic indices and it's this. [Can You Feel It] Now, I’m sure your statistics are accurate. You know what the problem is? The people listening say, but Alan, I’m not feeling it. You get that don't you? You know what I mean by that don’t you? So why?
Alan Tudge: I think one of the challenges that we've had has been that the wages growth hasn't been as fast as we'd ideally like it to be.
Leon Byner: It’s been merely flat.
Alan Tudge: We’ve seen an uptick actually in recent times and that's great to see. We want to see greater wages growth…
Leon Byner: Yeah.
Alan Tudge: …and our entire economic policy is built around growing the economy, growing wages in the process so the people who are wealthier and have greater opportunities.
Leon Byner: The only way you can grow the economy is for there to be more economic activity—to put on more people.
Alan Tudge: And so I guess what we've been doing to create economic activity? We've been lowering taxes, we've been building massive infrastructure right across the country; $75 billion worth including billions here in Adelaide and across South Australia.
Leon Byner: So are you putting any money up on the table in your discussions today or is it just a philosophical thing?
Alan Tudge: One of the main discussions will be in relation to what will be an Adelaide City Deal and that's where you have really three levels of government coming together and planning out what it might look like…
Leon Byner: But any money? Any money on the table though?
Alan Tudge: Inevitably there will be federal money which is put towards that City Deal Leon, as there will be state money and there may well be local money as well. So we’ve done deals across the country, some very significant ones and I want to sit down with the Premier today and start to shape out what an Adelaide City Deal might look like.
Leon Byner: Alright. Now, I know you're the Minister for Population and this is adjacent to another portfolio but it's a breaking story and you’re a member of Cabinet and highly respected so it's only appropriate I ask you to unpack this a little bit…
Alan Tudge: [Laughs] I’m waiting for this now Leon, I’m waiting for this.
Leon Byner: Now, we were told on 5AA News this morning that extremists could be stripped of their citizenship by the federal government even if they were born in Australia. It goes on to say the majority of the 400 individuals monitored by ASIO are either dual citizens or entitled to foreign citizenship by descent.
At the moment they can only have their passports cancelled. Now, what are we saying- I know Peter Dutton he wants to do more, but you’re going to need the parliamentary approval to do it aren’t you? You’re going to need Labor support or the crossbenchers?
Alan Tudge: For that type of proposal you would. Now Leon, we don't want extremists in Australia. Full stop. And we've been seeking out criminals out of the country at record levels if they're on visas. When they're Australians it's obviously much more difficult because…
Leon Byner: [Interrupts] You’ve got to change the law for that don’t you?
Alan Tudge: …if you’re an Australian citizen and you have no citizenship elsewhere, under international law principles you can’t kick them out of the country. What that proposal was which was I think flagged by Michael Sukkar and Jason Wood was that if a person is an Australian but they've got eligibility for citizenship elsewhere then they may still be kicked out of the country if they’re extremist.
That’s what their proposal was. Now that’s not formal government policy…
Leon Byner: But you’ve got to define what an extremist is.
Alan Tudge: Well that’s right. So there’s…
Leon Byner: Because the lawyers will love this.
Alan Tudge: This has to be worked through but this is a very very serious issue now and we've particularly seen it in the last couple weeks in Melbourne, as you know, where we've had terrorist threats, we've had terrorist incidents, we've had people stopped from committing mass atrocities just in the last two or three weeks. So it's a very serious issue. We're putting enormous resources around it and we’re strengthening the law to be able to deal with it.
Leon Byner: Can I thank you for coming in today. And can I make one request on behalf of the people of this state. Before we start talking about big infrastructure projects, which are always welcome, can we do something about the appalling condition of many of our roads? Because seriously, I know we have highly reactive soil but that's not just a phenomenon for South Australia that's everywhere. Is there something we can do about that?
Alan Tudge: The overall maintenance of the roads is obviously up to the state government and the local councils…
Leon Byner: And they all say they’re broke.
Alan Tudge: Well, we provide additional funding for- through the GST and through other mechanisms to the state governments to assist with those types of services. And then we tend to provide additional funding for the big infrastructure projects such as the North-South Corridor or such as the Flinders Link or the Gawler rail electrification but don’t tend to do the local maintenance stuff.
Leon Byner: Listen, just quickly. We want to try and save the Overland because we reckon it's a pretty good train. Victoria are putting up some money. When you talk to Steve Marshall today can you- I mean the Overland is an icon. I took calls on it yesterday, I'm still getting it on my social media. Be assured people want that train service.
Alan Tudge: Well I'll see what Steve Marshall has to say today.
Leon Byner: Good. Alan Tudge, thank you for joining us.
Alan Tudge: Thanks very much Leon.