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Transcript of interview with Fran Kelly: ABC RN Breakfast: 7 August 2018: population growth; Commonwealth record infrastructure investment; regional migration; social cohesion; migrant integration outcomes

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7 August 2018

Subjects: Population growth; Commonwealth record infrastructure investment; regional migration; social cohesion; migrant integration outcomes


FRAN KELLY: As Australia reaches that new population milestone today, new figures reveal that almost 90 per cent of skilled migrants who come to this country are settling in two cities - Melbourne and Sydney.

This revelation, which coincides with the population hitting 25 million people tonight, is set to turbocharge plans being drawn up by the Federal Government to try and encourage more migrants to settle in regional centres.

The outgoing Race Discrimination Commissioner, Tim Soutphommasane, has brought into the debate over the immigration intake and accused politicians of playing the race card for their own political gain.


TIM SOUTPHOMMASANE The panic and hysteria about African gangs, led by senior Federal Government ministers, and joined in by the Prime Minister.

We've seen debates about multiculturalism, with the Minister for Citizenship and Multiculturalism suggesting that we're veering towards ethnic separatism and segregation.

So if we look at our public debates there are very clearly examples of race politics being conducted at the moment.


FRAN KELLY: That's Tim Soutphommasane, the outgoing Race Discrimination Commissioner, speaking to us here on Breakfast yesterday.

Well, the Minister for Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs is Alan Tudge. He's one of those politicians accused there by Tim Soutphommasane of dog whistling and race-baiting. I spoke with the Minister earlier…

ALAN TUDGE: Good morning Fran.

FRAN KELLY: I'll come to those comments from the Race Discrimination Commissioner later. But this morning you are delivering a speech lauding the economic contribution that migration makes to this country. But you do also warn social cohesion could be at risk.

Does that mean we need to cut back the number of immigrants to this country, is that your position?

ALAN TUDGE: There is certainly some areas which are feeling population pressures but there are other regions in Australia which are actually crying out for more people.

My speech this morning is, in essence, saying that we need a better distribution of migration across the Australia because nearly all of the migration is going to Melbourne and Sydney at the moment.

When you have got places like South Australia who are actually crying out for more people and if we get a better distribution then it will take pressure off those big capital cities.

FRAN KELLY: The pressure on the capital cities is what is fuelling this debate. Many are blaming now our immigration intake for these problems.

But isn't the real issue governments of all persuasions over many years failing to plan for population growth by building the necessary infrastructure and housing that would allow our cities to cope?

ALAN TUDGE: That is certainly one very big factor. I am from Victoria and here we have a State Government who actually cancelled a big road and spent a billion dollars in the process rather than get it built.

FRAN KELLY: There's no point highlighting one government. All governments over decades have failed to do this.

ALAN TUDGE: I think if you look now though the Turnbull Government's invested $75 billion in infrastructure and working very closely, particularly with the New South Wales Government, to get projects built right across the city.

But ideally the infrastructure is built in front of demand rather than many years later.

I think you are right to identify that issue. But I also think that there is an issue in relation to the distribution, when you look at skilled migration almost 90 per cent of all skilled migrants are coming into Melbourne and Sydney.

FRAN KELLY: What is your plan for that? Because we know that's an issue. We have known that for a long time. Most migrants head to the big cities because that's where the jobs are, that's where the community supports are.

Can you and will you provide for those jobs and community supports in regional Australia if you insist- why not assist that more migrants resettle there?

ALAN TUDGE: Many places already have the jobs and the community support, Fran.

For example, in Warrnambool in Western Victoria, I had the Mayor come and see me and she said that they need an extra 1,000 people in that town because their unemployment rate now is below three per cent and they've got the ability to be able to accommodate those people.

In South Australia the unemployment rate is coming down, I think it is at 5.9 per cent now and the economy's growing under the new Liberal Government. They believe they have got the jobs and can accommodate higher population there.

FRAN KELLY: So what are you going to do? What is the plan to try and have a better spread of the new migrants?

ALAN TUDGE: Many of the migrants do come in here because they are sponsored by an employer into one of the big cities. We want, of course, that to continue.

But there's many others who come in under the points-based system, for example, and in those situations we do have an ability to provide additional encouragement, indeed conditions, on people as to where they go.

That is what we are exploring and that's why we are having discussions with the South Australian Premier and elsewhere in relation to…

FRAN KELLY: Can you tell us more about that? We do have a plan already on that and the governments have been looking at this for a long time.

We have the Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme. But as I understand it last year one in 10 migrants moved to a major city within 18 months of settling in a regional area.

In the past one listener has written and said when her parents came in 1949 they had to stay in a community for two years - that was the terms of their visa - and by then they had put down roots and had settled in.

Have you got anything else to try and encourage or force migrants to go to other cities and other regional centres?

ALAN TUDGE: Those are exactly some of the things which we are looking at in terms of (a) whether or not we can put additional incentives in place and (b) whether or not we can place conditions upon their visas so that they'll at least stay for a few years.

FRAN KELLY: Pauline Hanson's going to introduce a bill into Parliament for a plebiscite or referendum on immigration to be held at the next general election. One simple question: do you think the immigration rate is too high? Do you support that idea?

ALAN TUDGE: We have already in part reduced immigration rates.

Last year for example there was 162,000 permanent migrants who came into the country, which was the lowest level in a decade. And this year we're likely to see the number of temporary migrants also decline.

FRAN KELLY: What's your answer to that question, do you support a plebiscite? Do you think the immigration rate is so high?

ALAN TUDGE: I can't imagine us supporting that particular plebiscite, in part because it doesn't provide an answer, either, in terms of what direction that we take. As I said we are already reducing the overall immigration intake.

But the important thing as well is the distribution of those migrants as I've been saying.

FRAN KELLY: Clearly public support for the migrant intake as we have been discussing is linked to infrastructure and our clogged cities and our population. Your colleague Senator Dean Smith wants an inquiry into our population numbers.

He says there's now clear and present danger for Australia's political class, populate or perish has become plan or perish. Do you support Dean Smith's inquiry?

ALAN TUDGE: I don't believe we need to have an inquiry, Fran. We look at these numbers every single year.

They're taken into account in terms of the Budget forecast and we do engage with stakeholders and other members of the community before the planning levels are set. As I mentioned, we’re actually…

FRAN KELLY: But Minister, with respect we have just been discussing how the planning hasn't matched the population growth. I mean we can't even get our forecast right.

It was only 20 years or so where we thought we are going to get 25 million in another decade or two and here we are hitting it tonight. Don't we need a better formal planning policy?

ALAN TUDGE: We look at this every single year. Of course we look at it every five years in the Intergenerational Report which does provide forecast of population and what impact it does have on the community, on economic growth…

FRAN KELLY: But they've been wrong.

ALAN TUDGE: … then on top of that each year we examine it and set migration caps.

Last year we came in well under that cap in terms of the Permanent Migration Scheme. The temporary migration scheme, the numbers are up last year and that's driving a lot of the figures which you are talking about.

But I think that will actually come off this year naturally in any case, because the student numbers will probably come off a little bit this year in terms of the net increases and other factors. We look at this question…

FRAN KELLY: What's the problem you have with these Dean Smith's propositions?

ALAN TUDGE: We have already looked at this question every single year in terms of setting migration levels and…

FRAN KELLY: But the community doesn't really have input into that. This is what he's talking about, ownership.

ALAN TUDGE: They do in part have input into that. There is certainly a consultation process goes on before the planning levels are set for each year. And we're having this broader discussion as we speak, Fran.

FRAN KELLY: You're listening to RN Breakfast. Our guest is the Federal Multiculturalism Minister, Alan Tudge. Alan Tudge, let's go to those comments by Tim Soutphommasane, the outgoing Race Discrimination Commissioner.

In your speech today you are saying if migration is not managed carefully it can lead to social fragmentation and heightened security issues.

In a speech recently, as Tim Soutphommasane singled out, you said; we are, quote, veering towards a European separatist multicultural model.

Now, the Race Discrimination Commissioner says the facts don't back that up.

He told us yesterday that 80 per cent of migrants become Australian citizens within a decade of settling here and children of migrants out-perform the children of Australian-born parents on average.

He also said no one ethnic or racial group dominates the suburbs or areas highlighted as pockets of ethnic segregation. Do you stand by your claim that we are veering towards a European separatist multicultural model?

ALAN TUDGE: I have given some very considered speeches this year which outline the data and the data does show, and he's right, that we have been tremendously successful as a multicultural nation.

In part when you look at the data the migrants tend to have done very well on the employment front, education front, small business, creation and the like.

But there are indicators today that we are not doing quite as well as we have done in the past. Now the Productivity Commissioner's pointed this out, the Scanlon Foundation has pointed this out, and much of the Australian public know this. And I think we need to be able to…

FRAN KELLY: So what are those indicators, and what's changed that we're not doing as well as we did in the past?

ALAN TUDGE: Some of those indicators, and you see even in terms of, for example, survey data.

It shows that there is a slight increase in the number of people who say they're facing racism or not feeling included.

We are having a higher than ever concentration of the overseas-born in particular geographical areas.

We are having a higher than ever number of people who aren't speaking the English language and that's often overlayed with a high concentration of the overseas-born.

When you start to have that, you start to have a slowdown in integration because of course if you can't speak the language and you are not interacting with the broader population, then you won't be integrating as rapidly.

FRAN KELLY: Minister, it wasn't exactly the same said about the Italian and Greek migrants when they came post-World War II, or the Vietnamese migrants when they came in the '70s and it takes some while for this to break down and communities do clump together and then they move out.

ALAN TUDGE: In part that is correct but also the circumstances have quite radically changed between now and then.

Back in the 1950s when a lot of the Greeks and the Italians and the southern Europeans came, we almost had full employment, and a lot of jobs didn't require the English language to be spoken, for example.

You didn't have that issue about people coming in and not having work. Whereas today, for example, if you don't have the English language, your chances of getting employment are significantly diminished.

FRAN KELLY: Minister, thank you very much for joining us on Breakfast.

ALAN TUDGE: Thanks very much, Fran.

FRAN KELLY: That's Alan Tudge, the Minister for Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs.


The Hon Alan Tudge MP, Minister for Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs WANTIRNA SOUTH, VICTORIA