‘Not possible to police’ Coalition plan to force new migrants to live in rural areas
Minister fails to specify how migrants would be shifted from big cities, after former Australian Border Force chief questions policy
The government will face big problems in enforcing its latest proposal to send new migrants to the regions, the former Australian Border Force chief Roman Quaedvlieg has said.
Alan Tudge, dubbed the “minister for congestion busting” by prime minister Scott Morrison delivered the government’s latest foray into solving overcrowding in Sydney and Melbourne on Tuesday, in a speech proposing further decentralisation, visa changes and incentives to move new migrants out of big cities.
But the man whose job was to enforce visa conditions before he was sacked for misconduct in March, and who has gone on to become a notable critic of Coalition policy, questioned the enforceability of the scheme.
“Imposition of the visa condition is the easy part,” Quaedvlieg said on Twitter. “Enforcement will be harder. Migrants will gravitate to opportunities and amenities in cities. It’s not possible to police the condition without substantial resources, both identifying breaches and sanctioning them.”
Coalition ministers have been raising the prospect of a specialised regional visa since early this year, when Peter Dutton told Sydney radio 2GB new migrants should move to the regions, picking up part of Tony Abbott’s “conservative manifesto” from 2017.
But they have so far failed to provide answers on how such a scheme would work, or be enforced. Asked on ABC radio ahead of his speech on Tuesday, Tudge noted Australia already put “conditions on all sorts of visas”, suggesting the penalties which currently apply to other visa classes, such as revocation of visas, could be extended to migrants who left regional areas.
Morrison dismissed the idea himself while in opposition in 2010, telling the ABC that it was “false hope that this this problem’s going to be solved because a population minister is going to fantastically move people around like it has never been done before in our history”.
But with the election looming and minor parties such as One Nation beginning to marshal voter anger against immigration, the Morrison government is looking to get ahead of electorate dissatisfaction, particularly in Melbourne and Sydney.
In his speech, Tudge said one way of encouraging movement out of the big cities was to “match the skills of new migrants with the skill shortages in rural and regional Australia”.
“As I indicated earlier, net overseas migration accounts for 60% of our overall population growth and around 75% of the growth of the big two cities,” he said.
“Hence, settling even a slightly larger number of new migrants to the smaller states and regions can take significant pressure off our big cities. There are some constraints to this, of course – for example 25% of our annual migration intake is directly related to an employer sponsoring a person for a job where they cannot get an Australian. We do not want to jeopardise the growth of those sponsoring businesses, and hence the wealth of our nation.
“A further 30% concerns family reunion – typically, an Aussie marrying a foreigner. We cannot send a person’s spouse to a different state.
“But apart from these two categories, there is no geographical requirement for a newly arrived migrant. We are working on measures to have more new arrivals go to the smaller states and regions and require them to be there for at least a few years.”
Labor has pledged to establish an independent body to monitor labour shortages and supply across Australia’s regions if elected. Its spokesman, Brendan O’Connor, said the opposition would examine the government’s proposal.
But he said the government “has really done nothing to ease the congestion in our capital cities” in the past five years.
“We have to be very careful here,” he said. There are many regions of this country where there are not many jobs. In fact, unemployment is very high in regional Australia, in many parts of regional Australia.
“So the idea that you would direct people coming through the immigration processes to regions where there’s already high unemployment could compound a problem, not make it better. So we have to get this right. If the government is serious about this, they should consider the evidence, they should get advice from experts, and they should be very careful about not displacing local workers where unemployment is already high in regions of this country.”
Labor’s argument is similar to what Morrison himself argued eight years ago, when he dismissed the idea as “unfair to the Australian people to suggest that is a realistic option” in the short or medium term.
“Long term, I think there are still real doubts. The history of settlement over centuries means that people will come and gravitate to areas where there is population,” he told the ABC in July 2010.
Unions NSW also dismissed the latest proposal as cementing disadvantage among migrants and driving down wages.
“We have already seen what happens when you force working holidaymakers to spend 88 days working in the regions, secretary Mark Morey said in a statement.
“You smash their capacity to negotiate and usher in rampant exploration. Alan Tudge’s latest thought bubble is no different.”