THE prime minister has defended the timing of his government’s migration intake announcement, despite it occurring days after the Christchurch terrorist attacks.
The alleged gunman from Friday’s attack is accused of harbouring hate against Muslim immigrants, but Scott Morrison says it’s disappointing the incident has been linked to his migration cut.
“This is about managing populations, it’s about infrastructure investments, it’s about congestion-busting on our roads,” Mr Morrison told Seven’s Sunrise on Wednesday.
“It’s about having social cohesion programs … which is more about bringing Australians together.”
The nation’s annual migration intake is being slashed by 30,000 places in an attempt to ease population pressures on congested capitals.
Many skilled migrants will also have to work in regional towns for three years, with international students offered enticements to study outside the big cities.
Mr Morrison says he wants ordinary workers in capital cities to spend less time stuck in traffic, and help struggling rural and regional communities inject life into their towns.
He denied concerns about congestion were driven by racism, saying migrants were an important part of Australia’s social and economic fabric.
The prime minister has also vehemently rejected reports from 2011 that as opposition immigration spokesman he had sought to bank on growing concerns over Muslim migration.
“It’s an ugly and disgusting lie and I reject that absolutely,” he told ABC News.
Wednesday’s announcement sees the government cut the annual migration ceiling from 190,000 to 160,000 places for the next four years.
It does not expect the reduction to have any impact on the federal budget.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has confirmed Labor is willing to lower the annual migrant intake to 160,000 but has warned against “dog whistling” on population policy.
Mr Morrison says Australia has thrived from steady population growth but for the past two decades infrastructure and services have struggled to keep pace.
He pointed out the vast majority of migrants had settled in the biggest capital cities, putting significant pressure on roads and public transport.
In an attempt to arrest this trend, the government is introducing two new visas requiring skilled workers to stay in the regions – which could include smaller capitals like Adelaide and Darwin – for three years before applying for permanent residency.
There will be 23,000 set aside for the new regional visas, which more than triples the number of migrants currently forced to spend two years in the bush.
The number of employer-sponsored skilled migrants allowed into Australia is being bumped up slightly to 39,000 places, but there will be no change to the family stream of the program, which offers 48,000 visas.
Meanwhile, tertiary scholarships worth $15,000 will be offered to 1000 local and international students each year to attend university in the regions.
Overseas students will also be able to work in Australia for an extra year after graduating from regional unis.