Migrants to be forced into regional Australia under federal government population plan
The Morrison Government has revisited a well-worn plan to force migrants to regional and rural centres to help ease congestion in capital cities as population growth outstrips infrastructure building.
Cities and Population Minister Alan Tudge revived the idea in his first major speech as Cities and Population Minister, revealing congestion cost $25 billion in 2017-18, and will rise to $40 billion a year by 2030.
But it’s also a policy that Scott Morrison dismissed out of hand in opposition.
“To hold out some false hope that this problem’s going to be solved because a Population Minister is going to fantastically move people around like has been done before in our history, is I think unfair to the Australian people to suggest that that is a realistic option, certainly in the short, or medium term,” Mr Morrison said in 2010.
“The government can talk to the cows come home about getting people into the regions and we would pursue policies similar to that but we cannot be unrealistic and disingenuous with the Australian people by suggesting that is a substitute for easing the population pressure on those in western Sydney and other parts of the country.
“It is just simply not telling the truth.”
Mr Morrison later tried to clarify those criticisms, saying what Labor proposed isn’t being contemplated by his government.
“The migration program is one thing,” he said.
“What I was referring to is migration in isolation being the solution to this issue. It is not.
“Migration is part of a suite of policies that deal with congestion in our cities.”
Still, Mr Tudge told the Menzies Institute travel in peak times in Sydney takes 65 percent longer than off-peak, and 55 percent, in Melbourne.
Australia’s population grew 3.75 million, nearly twice the previous decade, adding a city the size of Canberra every year.
The main factor, in Sydney and Melbourne, is net overseas migration, that accounted for 60 percent of national population growth over the last 10 years.
Temporary migration increased rapidly as well, rising about 70,000 a year.
“There are benefits of a larger, more diverse population,” Mr Tudge said.
A larger population means a stronger economy. With this comes greater opportunities for Australians.
“However, there are also challenges. The greatest challenge is the pressure it puts on our big cities in the form of congestion. In Sydney and Melbourne, and south-east Queensland.
“This is exacerbated by the fact that 75 percent of the population growth has been to our three largest population areas.”
According to statistics, 87 percent of all skilled migrants are going to Sydney and Melbourne, along with almost all the humanitarian intake.
Sending migrants to regional areas, and less populated states, is part of a four-part strategy being considered.
Those coming to Australia on family reunions visas wouldn’t be affected.
The government hasn’t yet decided where the migrants might be sent, or under what conditions.
“There are regional areas that simply cannot get people to do the work available.,” the minister said.
“Matching skills of new migrants with the skill shortages in rural and regional Australia will be the key to the success of this approach.”
Mr Tudge said a massive infrastructure program would also ease the squeeze in the major cities, after years of playing “catch up”, along with a high-speed rail network, and economic incentives for regional Australia.
While Labor once supported the policy, frontbencher Brendan O’Connor dismissed it as a “thought bubble” by a “thought bubble boy” prime minister, saying regional sponsored migration scheme processing times had blown out under the Liberals.
Mr O’Connor called for labour market testing, promising an independent body to look at where labour shortages might exist.