Scott Morrison has flagged he will support a cut to Australia’s immigration intake to big cities if re-elected, warning Australians are saying “enough, enough, enough”.
Setting the stage for a new migration debate at next year’s election, the Prime Minister delivered a speech in Sydney on Monday night pledging he had listened to voters concerned about congestion in the nation’s major capital cities, including Sydney and Melbourne.
Nearly 20 years after former NSW Premier Bob Carr declared Sydney was “full”, Mr Morrison has echoed the rhetoric, warning Sydney families had reached breaking point.
“Population growth has played a key role in our economic success. But I also know Australians in our biggest cities are concerned about population,” he said.
“They are saying ‘Enough, enough, enough’. 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.”
Dutton triumphs in internal battle over migration
Delivering the Bradfield oration in Sydney, Mr Morrison’s speech also confirmed that Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton had triumphed in an internal battle over cutting immigration that flared when Malcolm Turnbull was still prime minister.
In April, it was reported that Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton had proposed cutting migration by 20,000 but that Mr Turnbull and Mr Morrison had “knocked the idea on the head”.
At the time, the stoush was seen as the first sign of Mr Dutton pushing his leadership ambitions, particularly after he held a press conference declining to deny he was pushing for the change.
Revealing he had written to state premiers inviting them to contribute to a national strategy and framework on population, Mr Morrison flagged he was putting the debate firmly on the table for COAG at its next meeting on December 12 in Adelaide.
The Morrison government is preparing to cut the immigration ceiling of 190,000 for the first time in eight years, focusing on increasing skilled migration to avoid affecting the budget bottom line.
“We have become, especially in Sydney and Melbourne, a victim of our success,” Mr Morrison said.
“Our population growth has three sources, natural growth occurring from the life decisions of Australian families, permanent overseas migration, and temporary migration made up of students, temporary workers and so on.
“Over the current decade, around 42 per cent of the growth has occurred naturally and migration has accounted for about 58 per cent.
“Over the two decades to 2016, our national population grew by six million and migration made up 54 per cent of that increase.”
Mr Morrison also stressed that population growth had provided the country with benefits that we often take for granted.
“It is a key reason why we have been able to sustain strong growth in our economy and national incomes that are the envy of the developed world, contributing almost a fifth of the growth in Australia’s GDP per person over the past 30 years.”
Regional centres want more migrants
But Mr Morrison said that migration could be diverted to regional centres.
“Tasmania wants a bigger population. They want growth. They don’t want to lag, they want to lead,” he said.
“Many of the smaller cities – and the regions – want more people. South Australia, the Northern Territory, Western Australia, communities in North Queensland like Rockhampton have all said the same.
“In Sydney, we face a different issue.
“A booming economy – with 4.4 per cent unemployment – and over 300 cranes up over this skyline – this city has become a magnet for Australians wanting a better life.”
“In 2016-17, Sydney’s population increased by 107,000. In other words, Sydney grew by almost 2000 people a week, every week. A suburb a week.”
Labor warns of ‘smoke and mirrors’ on migration
Labor sources claimed the speech was the Morrison government’s latest attempt to talk about migration without doing anything.
ALP sources said it was worth noting that despite the much-publicised “cut” of 21,000 to permanent migrants in the past financial year, the number of people on bridging visas or waiting for applications to be processed increased by 38,000.