Immigration policies expected to change as high-growth target goes
By Niccola Berkovic and Milanda Rout
The Australian, June 28, 2010
Sustainable Population Minister Tony Burke says the government will adjust immigration policies so populated regions are not stretched.
But the policies would ensure skills shortages were filled.
After Julia Gillard declared at the weekend she did not want a 'Big Australia', the Business Council of Australia, the Australian Industry Group and the Australian Chamber of Commerce & Industry all warned that growth was needed to support the economy and offset the ageing of the population. Demographers said if the new Prime Minister did not want to reach Treasury's forecast 36 million people, she would have to cut immigration.
Ms Gillard told the Nine Network yesterday she did not support 'hurtling down the track to a 36 million or 40 million population' and would now put sustainability front and centre of government policies.
'If you talk to the people of western Sydney or western Melbourne, or the Gold Coast growth corridor in Queensland, people would look at you and say, 'Where will all these people go?' '
The Prime Minister said she wanted companies to hire unemployed young Australian people before bringing in immigrants, but indicated she would not cut necessary skilled migration. Instead, she supported bringing in the 'right kind of migrants'.
Mr Burke — whose title was changed from 'Population Minister' to 'Sustainable Population Minister' in one of Ms Gillard's first acts as Prime Minister — said this meant targeting migrants with the right skills. 'If your skills shortage says you need more nurses and you're bringing in hairdressers, that's not the right sort of immigration,' he said.
'You need to start by talking in the regions. Julia's clearly acknowledged both sides of the equation — there are parts of Australia where if you said 'More people', they would say, 'Where on earth would you put them?', and there are parts of Australia where for the economy to function they need more people.
'We've got as clear a statement of regional difference as you could have from the Prime Minister.'
Mr Burke said Ms Gillard's comments were not just rhetoric. 'In the consultations so far, there has been an assumption from the community consistently that we had a target of 36 million, and today Julia's drawn a line in the sand and made completely clear there are no population targets.'
Tony Abbott accused Ms Gillard of being a 'champion spinner' — telling voters what they wanted to hear on population growth without having the policies to deliver it.
The Opposition Leader said he was recently pilloried by Ms Gillard for saying growth must be sustainable, but she was adopting a 'me-too' approach on controversial issues where the Coalition had made headway with the public.
Leading demographer Bob Birrell welcomed Ms Gillard's shift against a Big Australia, but said she would have to do some 'heavy pruning' of immigration to avoid reaching the Treasury forecast of 36 million people.
Professor Birrell said the Treasury predictions were based on an annual increase of 180,000 people, but the rate was currently 300,000 a year. 'It will require some tough decisions,' he said. 'There will have to be substantial cuts in migration just to get down to the levels used by Treasury.'