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Transcript of interview with Fran Kelly: Radio National: 27 July 2010: immigration; BIS Shrapnel figures; sustainable Australia.

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The Hon. Tony Burke MP

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry

Minister for Sustainable Population

• Transcript: Radio National interview

Tony Burke posted Tuesday, 27 July 2010


Subjects: Immigration; BIS Shrapnel figures; Sustainable Australia.

FRAN KELLY: We have the Minister for Sustainable Population, Tony Burke, good morning Tony.

BURKE: G’day Fran

KELLY: Tony Abbott doesn’t want a big Australia; Julia Gillard doesn’t want a big Australia. By definition

170,000 migrants a year is more sustainable than the 300,000 that were coming in 2 years ago, isn’t it?

TONY BURKE: What I hope we have after yesterday is that we are now at the end of a party political debate

over total numbers. We have always said these numbers should be set each year; it’s a mixture between

permanent programs which are capped and temporary programs which are demand driven. Tony Abbott

decided to put a total number on the table, it happens to accord with what’s happening anyway under our

policy and I do hope now, we can finally move to the sustainability issues, to how that population is

spread across the nation

KELLY: Well I am not sure that we are moving near it, it seems we have just got to the territory of actual

numbers. Let’s listen to the Opposition’s immigration spokesperson, Scott Morrison on AM this morning.

SCOTT MORRISON: We have committed to 170,000, it’s not a projection, it’s not a forecast by BIS

Shrapnel or any other agency. I mean forecasts are opinions. What we have put forward is policy and the

government wants to claim other people’s opinions but won’t put forward a policy of their own.

KELLY: Scott Morrison saying it’s all about the numbers and they’re making a commitment to a number.

Do you have an objection to fixing an immigration number? Is this the right or the wrong way to go?

BURKE: Yes I do have an objection to it, I think it’s a very bad way to conduct policy…


BURKE: First of all, the net overseas migration (NOM) numbers, they include the flow of Australians going

overseas or Australians coming home. Now, is any government seriously going to pretend they are going

to control with a set number, a statistic that includes how many Australians choose to go overseas and

how many Australians choose to come home. It also includes demand driven programs. Now, the skilled

worker visas and the student visas are always going to vary based on demand. There were problems with

some of the systems we inherited, on the integrity of those visas and that was why the numbers had gone

all the way up. We have acted on the integrity of those visas, that puts down the pressure on them, that is

a large part of the story as to why the projections are saying that we are going to go much lower than

where they were in the past.

KELLY: Can we just delve into those numbers a little to get it clear because we keep talking the high of

300,000 what is the actual level of net migration now, this year?

BURKE: Well the financial year that just finished, Immigration advises that number was 230,000. It was

298,000 the year before and now down to 230,000. The 298,000 figure, I know the Liberal party blame

us for it, it happened while we were in office, it happened while we still had all the immigration settings

that were put in place by the Howard Government.

KELLY: And on the Government’s projections, the Treasury projections are these what we are talking


BURKE: No, the numbers that we collect from the Department of Immigration are for each financial year

for effectively what has happened and as we closer to the end, they are quite specific. We announce in the

Budget each year, what the permanent migration numbers will be but obviously it is very difficult to be

able to completely nail down with the sort of accuracy you would want, a forecast that is going to include

variables like how many Australians will move overseas or come home.

KELLY: Sure but you are critical of the Opposition, you say they are just fudging these numbers because

they are just pulling out the number where our net migration is headed to anyway. By your reckoning, I’m

not sure which forecast you are using, when would it get to 170,000 Australians?

BURKE: The best estimates of that we have is work that is being done independently of Government by

BIS Shrapnel.

KELLY: What does our own Treasury say? Doesn’t out Treasury say we are headed to 180,000?

BURKE: You are referring to the Intergenerational report where they did a long term average of the last

40 years, projected that forward for the next 40 years. I have got to say Fran; I have always been sceptical

of how reliable they are going to be on any projection that presumes we know what the economic cycle

will be for the next 40 years.

KELLY: Ok, but you are comfortable projecting for the next couple of years and you are happy with the BIS

Shrapnel projections of 145,000 next year, is that right?

BURKE: That’s right, I think once you start to get further out than that you’ve got the challenge of you are

still presuming that you know what the economic cycles will be. You always have to work on the basis that

no immigration laws will change in that period, which has never been the case. So, certainly to the extent

that BIS Shrapnel is pointing to a downward trend over the next couple of years, where it averages out

around the numbers that Tony Abbott is talking about anyway, I think seems to be a very reasonable


KELLY: Ok, so you are happy with that projection, I am just wondering then what your definition of a big

Australia is because both you and the Prime Minister don’t believe in a big Australia we now know, what is

a big Australia in your view?

BURKE: I think there are two ways at looking at the population debate. There is a way of looking at it

which a number of businesses support very strongly - which is to say growth in numbers in its own right

is a good focus to have and particularly people involved in the large property developments have a

business case to argue there. The focus that Julia Gillard takes, the focus that I take, is that the starting

point should be one about quality of life and a question about the sustainability of any growth.

KELLY: Sure you keep saying that but you are also saying that you don’t support a big Australia so the

message there is you also want numbers to come down, presumably that’s linked to your sustainable


BURKE: Yeah and as I just said, the big Australia focus that some people have, relies on an economic

model that if you continue to put more people in, and you will get more growth, particularly growth in

property prices and property values, I don’t think is a starting point for policy development that’s as

effective a way to go as working from principles of sustainability. There is a whole lot of the debate that

often gets forgotten; endless urban sprawl does carry an environmental damage issue that needs to be

factored in. We have as a country forever, settled on our best soils and put buildings on top of them,

that’s how we have always operated. These are issues, that when you talk big Australia, straight economic

growth, take nothing else into account - they have never been part of the debate. Under sustainability

principles they come in and I think that’s a good thing.

KELLY: Where are your policies though in this election then to tackle those sustainability issues?

BURKE: At the end of the first week, we have had announcements from Penny Wong with respect to water

and certainly the announcement made last week by Julia Gillard on no new dirty power stations is a very


KELLY: That’s not going to help with the spread of the population

BURKE: On the spread of the population, one of the first announcements made in this election was $200

million for local government areas in the region to be able to deal with the chronic housing shortage.

KELLY: Ok, I suggest generally that’s a pretty small beer really in terms of what you are claiming, but just

finally before we go, Tony Abbott says that the cut to 170,000 would largely be leaving skilled migration

in place, therefore the lever to push is probably the overseas students. If you are also looking at

immigration numbers getting down to 180,000 and even to 145,000 are you presuming a severe drop, a

dramatic drop even further to what we have seen already?

BURKE: The two areas where the drops occurred had been in overseas students and by us improving the

integrity of the 457 work visas. They were able to be used in a way where some of them weren’t be used

to fill skills shortages they were being used to get cheaper workers. There were some overseas students

not coming for the purpose of an Australian education but as a pathway to permanent residency and

those issues where we have improved the integrity of the system is why we are seeing the projections

going down the way they are.

KELLY: But do you still see a severe drop in the numbers of overseas students from where it has already


BURKE: Well yes, because what then happens once you get your reduction on people coming in you

continue to have your higher numbers leaving at the end of their courses so those numbers do continue

to track down.

KELLY: And you support that even though that’s going to have a dramatic impact presumably on the


BURKE: Where you have people in Australia making money out of something that lacks integrity and was

never for educational purposes, then yes we have acted to improve the integrity of those visas and I have

got to say, in policy terms I think that’s the right thing to do no matter which way look at it.

KELLY: Alright, Tony Burke thank you very much for joining us.

BURKE: Good to talk to you Fran.