Australia

'Enough, enough, enough': PM to cut Australia's migration intake

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Prime Minister Scott Morrison says he expects to reduce Australia's migration intake.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison says he intends to cut Australia's permanent migration intake by about 30,000 people, acknowledging public concern about congested cities. 

"They are saying: enough, enough, enough," Mr Morrison said at a speech in Sydney on Monday night. 

"The roads are clogged, the buses and trains are full. The schools are taking no more enrolments. I hear what you are saying. I hear you loud and clear."

Mr Morrison made the remarks as part of the 2018 Bradfield Oration at the Art Gallery of NSW.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks at the Project Sydney Bradfield Oration in Sydney.

The immigration intake cap has been set at 190,000 since 2012-13. For most of those years, the real intake has nearly met the cap. But in 2017-18 the intake plummeted to its lowest level in a decade, with just 163,000 permanent arrivals – made up of both skilled and family visas. 

Prime Minister Morrison said he expected the cap itself to fall next financial year, due to a shift that will give the states the responsibility to set and justify their migration planning levels.

“I anticipate that this will lead to a reduction in our current migration settings,” Mr Morrison said, citing the 160,000 level intake of 2017-18. 

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Immigration minister wants more migrants heading to regional Australia
Immigration minister wants more migrants heading to regional Australia

"We will look to make an adjustment as we go forward in to next year and this should not be surprising.”

Earlier in the month, immigration minister David Coleman told SBS News no decision had been made about next year's cap, saying the decision would come after the normal consultation with industry groups and states. 

‘Old model no longer fit for purpose’

Mr Morrison said he wants input from the states and territories before the federal government sets its annual cap.

“The old model of a single, national number determined by Canberra is no longer fit for purpose,” he said.

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Explosion in overseas migration drives Australia's population boom
Explosion in overseas migration drives Australia's population boom

“The states and territories know better than any what the population carrying capacity is for their existing and planned infrastructure and services.”

The issue will be discussed at next month’s COAG meeting.

The limit on annual migration intake levels are set before the end of each financial year, and Immigration Minister David Coleman said a review is underway to consider revising the cap to take effect from July 2019.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has called for the immigration intake to be halved as Sydney experiences congestion and infrastructure issues, which she says stems from the migrants who have favoured the Australian city over others.

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Australia's new Immigration Minister David Coleman reveals visa priority
Australia's new Immigration Minister David Coleman reveals visa priority

Population Minister Alan Tudge said he anticipates South Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory will ask for more migrants.

"It's not a one-size fits all," Mr Tudge told ABC TV on Tuesday.

"We want to support the aspirations and the capacity of each of those states to grow so we can support the growth in some of the smaller states.

"But we might ease the pressure on the growth in Melbourne and Sydney, who are really struggling with the very rapid growth, most of which is driven by migration."

But Leader of the House Christopher Pyne said on Monday population policy should not be decided by polls.

"We don't need to put a handbrake on population growth," Mr Pyne told Sky News.

"We need to manage our population growth sensibly in a country which quite frankly can take a lot more than 25 million people."

Sydney bursting at the seams

During his speech, Mr Morrison revealed it was by a quirk of fate that he studied economic geography instead of town planning.

“For a while, I tossed up becoming a town planner. Eventually, I found myself studying economic geography at UNSW,” he told the audience.

“I was one of only about eight students – studying everything from crop rotation to Walter Christaller’s central place theory.”

He said his interest in cities never waned, and he believes the current pattern of population growth is not sustainable.

“In 2016-17, Sydney’s population increased by 107,000. In other words, Sydney grew by almost 2,000 people a week, every week. A suburb a week,” he said.

“Of that overseas migration claimed the lion’s share – with 90,100 people.”

“Many of the smaller cities – and the regions – want more people.”

Mr Morrison also praised migrants for building Australia's economy. 

“Over the two decades to 2016, our national population grew by six million and migration made up 54 per cent of that increase,” he told the audience.

“It is a key reason why we have been able to sustain strong growth in our economy and national incomes that are the envy of the developed world, contributing almost a fifth of the growth in Australia’s GDP per person over the past 30 years.”

"It is worth remembering that because skilled migration supports the economy, Australia does compete with other countries in bringing those additional skills to our shores."

With a population of 25 million, Australia has the 53rd largest population in the world, one place behind North Korea and ahead of Côte d’Ivoire. 

Mr Morrison said according to the World Bank, Australia's population is growing faster than most OECD countries, including the United States.

A report by the United Nations put the global population increase over 2017 at 1.1 per cent, compared to Australia’s 1.6 per cent rise.  

Additional reporting by AAP.

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