Tony Burke Rules Out Setting Population Targets For Australia

Tony Burke rules out setting population targets for Australia

By Joe Kelly
The Australian, April 8, 2010

The nation's first Population Minister, Tony Burke, has ruled out setting population targets in the strategy that he will draw up over the next 12 months.

Mr Burke indicated the plan would instead focus on directing people to areas where there were chronic labour shortages, a task no Australian government had attempted.

'To be able to give a precise (population) projection for 2050 forwards would mean being able to accurately predict every cycle in the national and international economy. I don't see how any modelling would be capable of providing that level of precision,' Mr Burke said today.

The new minister said a population strategy aimed at sending people where they were needed most would improve lives.

'At the moment you have a two-speed economy across the nation and you have population movements which don't necessarily match that,' he said.

'So what you have is areas of high demand for people where there is chronic, chronic labor shortage and then you have other areas often very well served in terms of lots of people settling there as new immigrants but not having the infrastructure, not having the housing not having the water demands.

'To be able to coordinate that for the first time is a new area and something that government of either side of politics hasn't previously attempted to do.'

Mr Burke accused the Opposition of 'flip flopping' on its population policy and over whether skilled migration numbers would be cut.

Earlier today Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison conceded his comments on cutting the migrant intake to stem population growth did not reflect Coalition policy.

Speaking on ABC radio, he said: 'If there is an interpretation out there that this is a wholesale policy, it's not a wholesale policy.

'The way the debate has gone over the last few days, I think there is some misunderstandings about the points that are being made.'

Opposition Treasury spokesman Joe Hockey also distanced himself from migration cuts, telling 4BC Radio: 'I don't think we should be focussed on a number. I think we should be focussed on a quality of life.'

The backtrack from Mr Morrison comes after media reports this morning claimed Opposition MPs felt rankled over the lack of consultation over what appeared to be a cut in migration becoming Coalition policy.

Business Council of Australia president Graham Bradley warned against the politicisation of the net migration intake and of 'overreacting to short-term numbers'.

'Australia needs a growing population to develop our economy and to of course offset the issues that will arise as outlined in the intergenerational report about an ageing population,' he told ABC Radio National.

Mr Bradley also said he would be 'taking issue' with what he understood to be Mr Morrison's claim that Australia should cut back on migration.