Australia’s political leaders have agreed to work towards establishing a national framework for managing population growth, but there’s likely to be no change to the permanent migrant intake.
The new system is aimed at breaking down a disconnect between the federal government’s population planning – including its migration intake – and the needs and planning of states and territories.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison revealed the agreement after his first Council of Australian Governments meeting in Adelaide on Wednesday.
He said the framework would involve greater information sharing to inform annual migration programs, infrastructure programs and investment in hospitals, schools and other services.
The initiative will also involve better assessment of skills needs across the country, Mr Morrison said.
“All of that is designed to protect the quality of life that Australians have, to grow our economy, and ensure that we get the growth where we need that growth,” he told reporters.
State and territory treasurers will be tasked with creating the framework, beginning the process when they meet in February.
Population will also become a standing agenda item for future COAG meetings.
Mr Morrison said he hopes the new system will help break down a disconnect between the number of migrants that Australia accepts, and the work done at a state and territory level.
Australia currently accepts about 160,000 migrants each year, despite having a higher cap of 190,000.
Looking forward, Mr Morrison said he hasn’t seen any evidence contradicting years-old advice to the immigration department that a migration intake of between 160,000 and 210,000 is “safe”.
Researcher Peter McDonald, who Mr Morrison chose to advise the meeting on population, told the meeting the 190,000 cap had worked well for eight years, and there was no need to change it.
Professor McDonald said Australia was facing a labour crunch due to baby boomers retiring, and migration was needed to fill job vacancies over the next decade.
The migration rate will next be set in the April federal budget papers.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, who has been lobbying for migration numbers to be cut as a solution to congestion, welcomed the pact saying it is important for states to have a greater say on the issue.
“At the end of the day it’s when the states have good input into what our needs are, into the process … proper planning can happen.”
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said the framework acknowledges infrastructure and the national population were “essentially the same issue”.
South Australian Premier Steven Marshall, who wants more migrants, said each state had different needs.