Australia's conservative coalition plans to slash immigration

Australia's immigration levels are unsustainable and will be slashed under a coalition government, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott says. The coalition would cut the annual migrant intake from the current level of 300,000 to 170,000 in its first term of government, he said. "Three hundred thousand is just not sustainable," Mr Abbott told reporters in Canberra on Sunday.

The plan was separate from the asylum seeker issue. Mr Abbott said skilled migration programs would continue. "We will maintain, though, various employer-nominated categories because it's important that business has the skills as a people that it needs," he said.

Mr Abbott, who was born in London in 1957, said he was a migrant himself. "The coalition parties are pro-immigrant parties but it's very important that our immigration program has the support of our people and that is what this policy is designed to do."

Immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said a coalition government would restore migration growth to the long-run average of 1.4 per cent, down from the two per cent now and slightly higher than the global average of 1.2 per cent. Cutting the intake would preserve the quality of life for future generations of Australians, he said.

"That was the fundamental dishonesty of the prime minister last week," he said. "If she doesn't like our number, she should say so. If she thinks our number is too low or too high, she should say what her number is."

Asked what a coalition government would consider as an acceptable population level for Australia, Mr Abbott said it would be "a lot lower" than the 36 million by 2050 figure nominated by former prime minister Kevin Rudd. "We would be guided, not ruled, by a white paper which we would commission shortly after coming to government, which would inform decisions that would be announced at some time next year."

Mr Abbott said a coalition government would take advice from a productivity and sustainability commission about the compatibility of population levels with economic and environmental sustainability. "But it will always be the government responsibility to set the number," he said.

The opposition leader said Prime Minister Julia Gillard was keen to talk about population but not be honest about the role of immigration in the debate. "You cannot have a population discussion without also having an immigration discussion," he said.

Mr Abbott challenged Ms Gillard to nominate an alternative figure if Labor did not agree with the coalition's intake target.

Economic forecaster BIS Shrapnel has said annual net migration from overseas - which includes permanent migration and longer-term but temporary stays - will fall from 298,900 over the year to June 2009 to 240,000 over the year to June 2010, then to 175,000 in 2010-11 and 145,000 in 2011-12. BIS Shrapnel said the slowdown reflected a slackening in the job market and fewer enrolments by foreign students.

Mr Abbott said he was "all in favour" of Australia selling education to overseas students. "But what I don't want us to be doing is selling immigration outcomes in the guise of selling education," he said.


Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).

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