Friday 25th Sep, 2020

Congestion debate: Expert blames Morrison for mess of his own making

A former senior immigration official has criticised the federal government’s mooted plan to curb permanent migration numbers, saying such a move would have a minimal impact on city congestion.

During a recent address to a Sydney audience of the future of Australia’s cities, prime minister Scott Morrison said that his government would respond to community concerns about population growth in Australia’s major cities and place more power in the hands of the states in regard to permanent migration intake numbers.

“The roads are clogged, the buses and trains are full,” Morrison said.

“That’s why we need to improve how we manage population growth in this country.”

However, Abul Rizvi, a former deputy secretary in the Immigration department, told SBS News that the real pressure on cities comes from temporary migrants, particularly international students.

“Overseas students are the big factor that has grown as a portion of the net migration intake, and the vast majority of them do indeed settle in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane,” Rizvi said.

According to the SBS, there were 32,000 student arrivals in 2011-12, which has grown to more than 100,000 in the year 2016-17.

Rizvi said that those students become “long-term temporary residents”, which number one million strong. This group of migrants, he said, will possibly seek to become permanent residents.

According to Rizvi, while the government’s plans to move permanent migrants on to regional visas could ultimately move more of this population away from Sydney and Melbourne, the impact would be minimal with regards to congestion in those cities.

Rizvi also went further, saying that the prime minister himself was to blame for the rise in migration numbers.

“He locked in [the] migration program at 190,000 per annum by linking it to the budget,” Rizvi told ABC’s 7.30.

“He significantly boosted the level of overseas students, who drove the increase in net overseas migration, particularly to Sydney and Melbourne.

“Thirdly, he reduced the usage of regional visas very significantly, the very visas that he now says we need to increase the usage of.”

Speaking on ABC Radio federal cities and infrastructure minister Alan Tudge said that temporary migration was something that had to be looked at, but that any population plans would have to make sure that the university and international education sector, in which Australia is very successful, was not affected.

“We want to be very careful that we don’t interrupt that too much. And so that’s why we’re just taking it steadily,” Tudge said. “That’s why we’re asking the states and territories to be quite thoughtful about this, really consider the consequences of what they’re putting forward, and then we’ll come together and aggregate that into the migration plan.”

Tudge told the ABC that the December 12 COAG meeting with the state premiers would see the plan worked out in greater detail.

“The prime minister has foreshadowed that he’ll be writing to the premiers and chief ministers shortly and he’s putting this on the agenda for COAG to discuss it at that particular stage; and we’ll work through the process that particular way,” he said.

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