The Labor party have demanded that the federal government provide specific details about its’ plan to manage population policy by redirecting up to 45% of skilled migrants to regional Australia.
The Coalition recently announced its’ reaffirmed commitment to funnelling migrants into rural areas—spearheaded by the Alan Tudge, the Minister for Cities, Urban Infrastructure, and Population—however, reports suggest that the federal cabinet has failed to even decide on an approach.
According to government sources the policy is still being developed and has yet to receive cabinet approval. Questions have also been raised over whether it will be logistically possible to implement sweeping conditions to the skilled visa program.
Earlier this month the Population Minister, Alan Tudge, refused to reveal which visas will be targeted by the new scheme when questioned by the media.
“The key issue here is the distribution of the growth rather than the growth number,” Tudge said.
“If we had a better distribution of the growth, we wouldn’t have quite the same pressure that we have on Melbourne and Sydney and south-east Queensland.”
However, this has failed to placate the Australian parliament, with Labor senator Jenny McAllister saying that the new policy needed concrete details before the community can decide whether it is worth supporting.
“It’s not really a plan. This is just a sort of generalised discussion,” McAllister said.
“I think that’s where the flaws lie.”
Critics have also pointed to Scott Morrison’s time as the opposition spokesperson on population, when he dubbed the idea of sending migrants to regional areas as “false hope”.
“Of those who are coming into the country, less than 10 per cent of them currently go out and settle in regional areas and rural areas,” Morrison said.
“So to hold out some false hope that this problem is going to be solved because a population minister is going to fantastically move people around like has never been done in our history is I think unfair to the Australian people.
“The history of settlement over centuries is that people will come and they will gravitate to areas where there’s population,” he said.
However, the federal Trade minister, Steve Ciobo, said that while the government wants a “national conversation” about rural immigration, he was “very much in favour” of high migration.
“There are considerations that need to be taken into account in how we set policy,” Ciobo said.
“What we’re looking at our policy tools to make sure we enjoy the benefits of migration but do so in a sustainable way by making sure we focus on dispersal. These things aren’t impossible.”
“I’m sure that through the national conversation we can achieve an outcome that’s going to reflect what it is that Australians want in terms of that economic dispersal,” he said.
Experts have also called into question the government’s plan to redirect geographic migration at the federal level. Instead, development groups have suggested that a “locally-led migration scheme” would be significantly more effective.
According to the CEO of Regional Australia Institute, Jack Archer, the idea of “forcing people who want to be in cities to go to the regions” misses the point entirely.
“It’s about getting the right migrants for the regions and having a system that makes sure we can match different migrants into those opportunities. The implementation has been very onerous and clunky in terms of demonstrating need. We think they can be pretty easily reformed to work much better and expanded to different places in the country to prioritise the job needs of specific regions,” Archer said.
“We have national skills lists that don’t exactly meet or reflect what a region needs. We have big capital city labour markets and then we have regional labour markets, which are different mixes of skills and needs.”
“What you end up doing is incentivising a temporary stint in a region rather than permanent settlement, because the person’s fundamental aspiration is most likely still to be in the urban areas but they’re happy to spend a couple of years in a regional area to get there,” he said.
Archer’s opinion was also shared by a demographer and social researcher from the Australian National University (ANU), Liz Allen, who argued that placing restrictions on where migrants can settle won’t work.
“Restrictions can be logistically very difficult to enforce, are quite costly and require a high degree of administration,” Allen said.
“If we start placing restrictions on people’s movements we could undo the fantastic migration scheme that Australia has, which is world renowned, demand driven and evidence based.”
The CEO of Absolute Immigration, Jamie Lingham, also offered his support for a demand-driven migration program.
“Absolute Immigration supports demand-driven migration as opposed to ‘human accumulation’. We have the ability to use the migration program to attract and retain people to areas that need them the most,” Lingham said.
“Regional and rural Australia is facing significant issues retaining skilled workers, which is having flow-on effects in a number of industries. We believe that the role of government is to ensure that they are not settling migrants in areas that are facing overpopulation, congestion and overburdened essential services, when other areas of Australia are suffering due to a lack of settlement.
“We also believe that the government needs to focus on the roles that these areas require, and provide concessions to ensure that migrants remain and settle in regional areas,” he said.
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