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Analysis – Coalition population policy revealed

25 March 20190 comments

The incumbent federal government plans to reduce its cap on migration by 15 percent and issue new visas that incentivise skilled workers to settle in regional areas.

The plan is part of the coalition’s population strategy that Prime Minister Scott Morrison says is needed to “bust congestion” in big cities and come ahead of the federal election, likely to be in May.

The nation’s annual migration ceiling will be reduced from 190,000 places to 160,000 – a figure that is just 2,000 below 2017-18’s actual intake – the lowest in a decade.

The government says as many as 23,000 people will need to live and work in regional Australia for three years before being able to access permanent residence.

“Managing population growth isn’t just about the migration intake,” Morrison said recently.

“It’s about infrastructure, it’s about city and regional deals, it’s about our congestion-busting projects, removing traffic bottlenecks,” he said.

The move is part of the government’s bid to appeal to voters in major cities who are concerned that the immigration that’s helped boost Australia’s population by 50 percent over the past three decades has also put more pressure on infrastructure, increased the cost of housing and contributed to low wage growth.

But some observers, including the major business peak bodies, warn that drastic cuts to the migration intake could jeopardise economic growth.

Meanwhile, the government says the new regional visas are needed because there are an estimated 47,000 job vacancies outside the big cities.

“The changes will mean migrants will stay in regional Australia longer-term, as they will build ties to a particular location through workforce participation and community involvement, easing the pressure off our congested cities,” Mr Morrison said.

Adding to the political complexities around migration, that in the wake of the terror attack in Christchurch that killed 50 people, suggestions have been made that politicians, including Mr Morrison’s, have been exploiting fears about migrants and refugees.

Mr Morrison has vehemently denied this.

A Lowy Institute survey released in July showed 54 percent of Australians think the total number of migrants coming to Australia each year is too high, while 30 percent said it’s adequate and 14 percent too low.

But a Scanlon Foundation survey of social cohesion found that more than 80 per cent of Australians thought multiculturalism had been good for the country. The survey has recorded almost the same result over the past decade.

Australia’s has a ‘points system’ for assessing potential migrants which sees skilled workers ranked by how much their skills are needed.

About 70 percent of migrants to Australia are skilled workers and 30 percent are sponsored through their families in Australia. The nation also allocates additional places for refugee resettlement, capped at 18,750 in 2018

Mr Morrison has rejected criticism that the four-year cut to the immigration cap has been as response to populist fringe parties, such as One Nation, calling for more drastic cuts.


Laurie Nowell 
AMES Australia Senior Journalist