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Tuesday, 22 June 2010
Page: 3884


Senator BERNARDI (2:13 PM) —Mr President, my question is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Evans. Does the government accept that its current migration policy, as projected by Treasury, will lead Australia towards a population of almost 44 million people by 2050?


Senator CHRIS EVANS (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) —I thank the senator for the question, because the link between the migration program and our population is an interesting issue which has not had enough attention in Australia. In recent years we have seen an increase in the net overseas migration—under the Howard government it started growing quite a bit—as a result of the increase in temporary migration programs such as the 457 temporary worker program and, in particular, by the expansion of the student program, which saw tens of thousands of students enter Australia who were added into the net overseas migration figures.

So we have seen an increase in net overseas migration. I think that has created some concern in the community about migration and its impact—not so much on total population but on the pressures on our cities, our water systems et cetera. That is why this government has sought to put our migration programs, both permanent and temporary, within a long-term planning framework. That is a decision we took early in this government. So, rather than having the annual announcement of the program and nothing else, we took a view that we ought to do some long-term planning about the role of the migration program and its influence on population and start some research on the impacts of that increase in population. That work has been undertaken by my department and others, to get a much better handle on planning the role of the migration program and its impact on the wider community. But it is true to say that the annual program was set by the government. The government can move that level of migration up and down annually and therefore adjust the increase or decrease in migration, according to a decision of the government annually.

We think there ought to be a longer planning framework. We are doing that. but clearly the level of permanent migration is a decision for a government and we set that target each year, as did the previous government.


Senator Abetz —Is it yes or no?


Senator CHRIS EVANS —It depends on the target.


Senator BERNARDI —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. As the Prime Minister was so supportive of earlier Treasury projections that Australia’s 2050 population was going to reach 36 million people, as projected in the Intergenerational report, can the minister confirm that the government and the Prime Minister also support the projection by Treasury that Australia’s population will reach 43.9 million people by 2050?


Senator CHRIS EVANS (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) —I thought the opposition dropped the scare campaign after Mr Morrison so completely botched his one intervention into these issues earlier and had to withdraw from the public debate under pressure from his backbench. The key point is that there is no target for population endorsed by government in this country. There never has been under either government. There is no target. The total population will be determined by the annual migration program as adjusted, by the temporary movement in and out of Australia of people, such as New Zealanders, who are not capped, of course by population growth through the birth rate. It is worth noting, now that the opposition seems to have become a small migration, antibusiness lobby, that the size of the migration program under John Howard in his last year was twice the size of the program in Keating’s last year. And some of the largest migration programs in Australia were driven under the Howard government. (Time expired)


Senator BERNARDI —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Given that Labor has us on track for a population of 44 million and yet has endorsed the Intergenerational report’s population target of 36 million, what is this government’s policy? Will we have a 36 million population for Australia in 2050 or will it be 44 million people?

Opposition senators interjecting—


Senator CHRIS EVANS (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) —In an interjection a senator calls for greater control on the migration program. I suggest he might have thought about that when they were in government, when the student program went through the roof, when the 457 program went through the roof and when migration control in this country largely disappeared. There is no population target that this government has endorsed. Annual migration programs will be set by governments as they always have been, but we have tried to put it in a total planning framework. We have started work on what the impacts of that are on our cities, on our water on our built environment and on infrastructure. We take these issues seriously. None of that was considered under the former government. I know businesses are very concerned about the attitude of those on that side on these issues. They are very concerned about the scaremongering and the attempt to create fear rather than to deal with proper public policy issues— (Time expired)