Scott Morrison says a “fair dinkum process” will be used to cut Australia’s permanent migration cap, but Labor says funding infrastructure is a better way to tackle congestion.
The prime minister hinted earlier this week the migration cap will be cut to deal with congestion in Sydney and Melbourne, but he declined to put a figure on it until the next budget.
“I’ll follow the process and come to the right answer. But I’m not going to pull a figure out of the air,” Mr Morrison told 2GB radio on Wednesday.
He has signalled plans to cut the annual permanent migration intake from 190,000 to about 160,000 a year. Australia took 162,000 migrants this year.
But Labor leader Bill Shorten says a bigger congestion issue than permanent migration is the 1.6 million people in Australia on temporary work visas.
“I understand why people are frustrated with congestion but simply pretending that tweaking one number is going to change all of that is mischievous,” he told reporters.
“You need to properly fund the infrastructure.”
Mr Shorten last year promised to triple the cost of temporary work visas to encourage employers to hire locals, but also plans to introduce a “smart” visa to attract highly skilled migrants.
“You can’t be serious about migration levels when you don’t talk about the 1.6 million people here on temporary work visas,” Mr Shorten said.
Mr Morrison wants to push ahead with a cap reduction in time for next year’s budget.
“What I announced the other night was a fair dinkum process to actually get the actual level right,” Mr Morrison told 2GB.
Immigration Minister David Coleman said the idea to cut migrant numbers made “absolute sense” to prevent more overcrowding in Sydney and Melbourne.
But Mr Coleman said any proposed changes would take into account the need for skilled migrants and the economic benefit they brought.
Population Minister Alan Tudge said migration had been important to Australia’s success but the future of Sydney and Melbourne needed to be taken into consideration.
“They are very fast-growing cities, infrastructure hasn’t been keeping up and we just need to ease back on that while allowing more people to go to other parts of Australia,” Mr Tudge told the Nine Network.
Labor’s immigration spokesman Shayne Neumann said Mr Morrison locked in Australia’s annual permanent migration intake as immigration minister and then as treasurer.
“If he was wrong about that, he should explain why he was wrong,” he said.
Mr Morrison wants state and territory leaders to bring their own population strategies to the next Council of Australian Governments meeting in December.