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Tuesday, 17 September 2019
Page: 3313

Mr GILES (Scullin) (18:01): I would like to thank the Assistant Treasurer for his contribution to this debate but I will not mislead the House, unlike him in his contributions on Labor's voting record. I'd ask him to have a look at the Hansard and perhaps come back to the principal chamber of the House, downstairs, and correct the record. Having said that, though, I don't take issue with the quality of his contribution, because it reflects the quality of the material he has to work with—which is pretty poor, as the member for Whitlam made clear. There is nothing to crow about when it comes to this government's economic record. Nothing demonstrates that quite so much as the behaviour of the government in this parliament, where they make clear that they are indeed the dog that caught the car. They are puffed up, having won the election, but, four months after having done so, have no plan for the economy and no plan for our society.

I've got a couple of questions that relate to the population aspect of the Treasury portfolio; population has recently been transferred out of Infrastructure and into Treasury. I think this is something that is worthy of some reflection, and I look forward to hearing about this from the minister and perhaps also, in time, from the Minister for Population, Cities and Urban Infrastructure. It is interesting to examine the record of the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government, as it enters its seventh year, a third term, when it comes to cities and population policy. It took until 21 September 2015 for this government to recognise that our cities existed when it came to national policy—great engines of growth. Among the many critiques that the shadow Assistant Treasurer levelled at the government, he talked about the productivity challenge that the government is walking away from. If the government were serious about it, it would take our cities seriously as engines of productivity growth and it would look to meeting the infrastructure challenge. But, instead, the government has messed around with its responsibilities for infrastructure and cities at a ministerial level and also when it comes to machinery of government, with change after change after change, with the only constant being taking things off the Deputy Prime Minister—and perhaps that's a matter that the minister at the table might respond to.

I'm interested in particular in the Centre for Population, which has been created in the Commonwealth Department of the Treasury 'to help all levels of government better understand population changes in cities, towns, regions, states and territories'. Are these not substantially the same functions that the Abbott government axed when, in its first decision, it axed the Major Cities Unit in the then Department of Infrastructure and Transport? Does the minister accept that we have now gone full circle and have lost six years of vital data on our cities and what is happening within them? The minister, or perhaps the minister with direct responsibility for population, might also consider the government's policy, Planning for Australia's future population, which states that the planning level of the Migration Program will be reduced from 190,000 places to 160,000 places for four years from 2019-20. But the 2019-20 budget paper states:

Population growth is assumed to average around 1.7 per cent per year over the forecast period.

If the minister is reducing permanent migration by a cumulative 120,000 over the forward period, will Australia's population growth remain an average 1.7 per cent? Perhaps the minister could deal with this directly. Clearly one of these two documents is wrong. Is it Planning for Australia's future population or the budget papers? I look forward to hearing from him.

Finally, I note on the same issue that the government are planning to introduce new visas, which they've talked a lot about, to create, as they say, a stronger incentive for new migrants to settle outside the major capitals. This is, of course, a laudable objective if properly done. These measures are said to be designed to reduce pressure on Australia's major cities—cities like Melbourne, as the Assistant Treasurer would be well aware. But a recent study by the University of Melbourne School of Population and Global Health—a body relied upon to brief the Prime Minister and, I believe, COAG on these issues—has said that this is flawed logic and that, if labour demand remains strong in the large cities, firms unable to fill that demand from international migrants will instead draw upon on the rest of Australia. Minister and Minister Tudge, how will this measure, in fact, reduce congestion in our major capitals?