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Transcript of interview with Marius Benson: ABC News Radio: 27 July 2010: sustainable population; Coalition con on immigration numbers; BIS Shrapnel figures.

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The Hon. Tony Burke MP

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry

Minister for Sustainable Population

• Transcript: ABC News Radio Interview

Tony Burke posted Tuesday, 27 July 2010


Subjects: Sustainable population; Coalition con on immigration numbers; BIS Shrapnel figures.

HOST: Well at the beginning of the second week of the five week election campaign the Government and

Opposition are locked in a battle to see who can promise the sharpest cut to immigration numbers. The

Coalition is promising to halve the migrant intake but the Government says its numbers are rubbery and

Labor is already ahead of their promised reductions. Tony Burke is the Minister for Sustainable Population

and he is speaking this morning to Marius Benson.

MARIUS BENSON: Tony Burke, the Opposition is promising a reduction in immigration numbers but it turns

out, according to the Prime Minister last night and according to Labor generally, you’re already doing

those sorts of cuts yourselves.

TONY BURKE: That’s right, we’ve been telling the public for sometime that we’d made some changes to

restore the integrity of some of the temporary visas that had run out of control during the Howard years.

In particular, the 457 work visa which had interacted with WorkChoices and was being used to, instead of

filling labour shortages, there were some people using it to get cheaper workers. Also, there was also a

problem with the integrity of some of the student visas. It certainly didn’t apply to most overseas students

but there was a large number of overseas students where it was arguable that the incentive was to get a

visa not to get an education. So, in September last year we improved the integrity of those visas and that

means the numbers have started going down. So, when Tony Abbott claimed he was going to radically cut

immigration figures to 170,000, the truth is they’ve already got down to 230,000. BIS Shrapnel project

that next year they’ll be down to 175,000 and in 2011/12 it will be down to 145,000. Just by the changes

to the integrity of the visa system that we’ve already made it already trends lower than what Tony Abbott

was wanting to claim was some sort of tough policy response.

BENSON: Ok, those prediction figures from BIS Shrapnel, what’s the Government’s view? Are you intending

to achieve those numbers of 175,000 next year and 145,000 the year after?

BURKE: The way you bring those numbers down isn’t through plucking a number out of the air. You

actually bring those numbers down by improving the integrity of the visa processes. You still want to

make sure that Australia can get the people that it wants for the parts of Australia that need immigrants

and skilled labour the most. You need to make sure you can continue to do that and that’s why, when you

improve the integrity of the visa system the targeting works more effectively. It’s a better outcome for

Australia and as it happens we end up with lower numbers than what Tony Abbott was wanting to beat his

chest about yesterday.

BENSON: So can I just clarify, is there an official figure for next year or the year after?

BURKE: The BIS Shrapnel figures are independent figures, looking at Government policy. The data that the

Government collects is for each financial year following it’s happened, simply because you’re talking

about demand driven visas. As I say, I don’t think anyone would argue about the independence of BIS

Shrapnel figures.

BENSON: So can I just clarify, the BIS Shrapnel for a couple of years from now, 145,000 a few more years,

2015, 250,000. Is it the Government’s intention to allow the figures to move in that range? Or do you

intend to keep it down to a ceiling of 145,000.

BURKE: Our intention is for the immigration program to be targeted and tailored to the needs of the

Australian economy and the needs of Australia at each point in time. If you’re asking, can I second guess

where the Australian economy will be at in four or five years time? I think that would be a purely glib

response and I don’t know that it’s got any policy behind it.

BENSON: So it’s quite possible that the numbers could bounce from a low of 145,000 in two years to back

up to 250,000 in four years.

BURKE: What you’ve described there is what would happen if you had a Government that made no changes

to the immigration system.

BENSON: That’s what I’m asking, would you make changes to ensure that that didn’t happen, is that the

Government’s intention to keep the figures low?

BURKE: Marius, the answer is the answer that I have given. The decisions that we make will be tailored to

the needs of the Australian economy, the decisions that we make will be tailored to the different needs in

different parts of Australia. That’s how we’ll operate, that’s how we always have and I don’t think whoever

is in Government would act differently to that.

BENSON: Tony Burke, thank you very much.

BURKE: Good to talk to you.

HOST: That was Tony Burke, the Minister for Sustainable Population talking to Marius Benson.