Treasurer and former immigration minister Scott Morrison has strongly defended Australia's current level of permanent migration, rejecting Tony Abbott's calls for an annual reduction of 80,000.
In a recent speech in Sydney, the former prime minister said the Turnbull Government should cut the permanent immigration level from 190,000 annually to 110,000.
"At least until infrastructure, housing stock and integration have better caught up, we simply have to move the overall numbers substantially down," Mr Abbott said.
But Mr Morrison vigorously defended the economic contribution of skilled migrants moving to Australia on permanent working visas.
"People who come as skilled migrants pay taxes," the treasurer told reporters in Melbourne on Wednesday morning.
"They actually make a net contribution to the economy."
Mr Morrison said he had no problem with debating immigration levels but appeared to slap down Mr Abbott's suggestion.
"I was the immigration minister for Tony Abbott and the permanent immigration intake we have today is exactly the same as it was when he was prime minister," he said.
"I don't recall at any time there was any discussion that that should be lowered at that time."
Annual show Australia has accepted almost exactly 190,000 permanent migrants every year since 2011. In the most recent year, 2016-17, there was a slight dip to 183,000, despite the cap remaining at 190,000. Tony Abbott was Australia’s prime minister from 2013 to 2015.
The former prime minister said he took issue with the rate of immigration when wages were stagnant, house prices soaring, infrastructure clogging and "ethnic gangs ... are testing the resolve of police".
Mr Morrison said while those problems existed, the level of permanent migration was a separate issue.
"The real issue here is that when wages are flat and when people are feeling the pinch, people will line others up as being the reason," Mr Morrison told Melbourne's 3AW radio on Wednesday.
Cutting immigration by the level Mr Abbott suggested would reduce the tax intake to the federal budget by $4 or $5 billion, the treasurer said.
He attributed recent population growth to "variable immigration" rather than the permanent stream, with more students, backpackers and temporary workers, while the permanent migration level had remained static since 2011.
- with AAP