Friday 25th Sep, 2020

‘The trains are full’: Morrison moots migration intake meddling


Prime minister Scott Morrison has realised the fears of leading economist Chris Richardson by signalling his government will consider cutting Australia’s migration intake, citing growing community frustration with congested cities.

Delivering an 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.

“They are saying: enough, enough, enough,” Morrison told the audience.

“The roads are clogged, the buses and trains are full. The schools are taking no more enrolments. I hear what you are saying. I hear you loud and clear.

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

The prime minister said the “old model” of a single, national intake figure determined by the Commonwealth was “no longer fit for purpose” and that he would ask the state governments to create their own population plans. This would be discussed, he said, at the next Council of Australian Governments meeting on December 12.

“It is the states who build hospitals, approve housing developments, plan roads and know how many kids will be going into their schools in the future,” Morrison said.

“The states and territories know better than any what the population carrying capacity is for their existing and planned infrastructure and services. So I plan to ask them, before we set our annual caps.”

Morrison said that moving to more state-directed population growth planning would likely see a reduction in Australia’s migration intake caps.

“I anticipate that this will lead to a reduction in our current migration settings,” he said.

Speaking at the AFR Infrastructure Summit earlier in the year, senior Deloitte economist Chris Richardson warned that responding to the pressures of Australia’s booming population growth would take the country in a negative economic direction.

Richardson said this population growth was necessary to maintain the labour force that would enable the nation to meet “historic” opportunities presented by the global demand for Australian commodities.

While he acknowledged that the massive population expansion experienced in Sydney and Melbourne was placing heavy pressures upon the infrastructure – including transport systems – in those cities, this growth itself should not be targeted, he said. Instead, infrastructure spending had been lacking, and had to be expanded considerably.

“Our population growth is exceptional in world standards. That means our infrastructure spending has to be at least exceptional. It’s not happening,” he said. “And the gap between those two things, which has been marching on for a long time now, is continuing to march on.

“We have let ourselves slide for so long. Our infrastructure approach and policies need planning and commitment and action.”

Speaking to ABC News Breakfast on Tuesday morning, federal cities and urban infrastructure minister Alan Tudge said that the positives of population growth, such as high rates of economic growth in Sydney Melbourne, had to be weighed up against the issues of congestion being faced in those cities.

“On the one hand, migration does help grow our economy, it does help lift living standards. And it will continue to do so and it will continue to be a mainstay of Australia. But that is balanced off against congestion pressures, particularly in Melbourne and Sydney, which are getting so much of the population growth at the moment,” Tudge said.

But he indicated that any revision of population planning would also have to take into account the fact that there are demands for higher population in South Australia, the Northern Territory and Tasmania.

“The governments there want to grow their populations faster – so it’s not a one-size-fits-all, and that’s where we want to get to as well with our migration settings,” he said.

The comments coming from the government may be a sign that Richardson’s fears will be realised. Speaking to the AFR Summit audience, the economist said that continual failure to address the infrastructure “gap” would lead to further scrutiny on “good” high immigration growth, thus leading to the central issue of infrastructure spending to be kicked down the road.

“That would be Australia failing to rise to an historic challenge and an historic opportunity,” Richardson said. “Let’s hope that doesn’t happen.”

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