Tony Abbott has ignited a war of words with his Liberal colleague Scott Morrison, after he questioned the former prime minister’s calls for immigration cuts.
Abbott has called for tighter immigration laws, reminiscent of those seen during John Howard’s time in power, in an effort to ease up pressure on housing and jobs.
While he believes the current levels of immigration are “unprecedented”, and are having a negative effect on housing and wages, treasurer and former immigration minister Morrison disagrees. He launched a lengthy response to Abbott on 3AW radio shortly after hearing his views, and said linking immigration to the cost of living would “cut off your nose to spite your face”. He even claimed Abbott’s proposal would cost the economy around $4-5 billion in the next four years.
Now, Abbott has fired back. Speaking on 2GB radio with host Ben Fordham, he said: “Scott’s problem is he’s been captured by his department. Treasury is always in favour of more migration. The point I make is we cannot let the treasury’s rules determine what is in our long term and medium term best national interest. We cannot let the tail wag the dog, so to speak.”
He added: “We’ve got to decide what we think is in our long-term best national interest and then tell treasury this is what should happen.”
Fordham pointed out that Morrison believes more Australians would be feeling the pinch without the current support that immigration brings, but Abbott simply insisted that he was wrong.
Abbott himself was born in the United Kingdom, and it has led some to accuse him of hypocrisy, but when asked about the comments by Fordham, he insisted he’s in full support of immigration – just not the current rate of it.
According to Australia’s official parliamentary library, the migration program’s planned intake rose from 74,000 to 140,000 per year between 1996 and 2007, when Howard was in power, with the annual rate sitting at around 110,000 for most of that period.
The planned migration intake is the number set annually for the number of migrants Australia is willing to accept, with the number mainly based on skills shortages in the labour force and the granting of family visas that allow Australian passport holders to bring relatives or partners into the country from overseas.
The number of planned migration places rose sharply under Howard successor Kevin Rudd, from 152,800 to more than 190,000 in 2009, but fell after that in response to the impact of the global financial crisis on economy, which led to “a decline in the need for additional skilled labour”.
But Abbott claims they began rising dramatically again in recent years, putting extra pressure on housing availability, and wages. The official stats bear out his claim. Since 2012, the planned migration intake has sat at 190,000 but according to the Department of Home Affairs statistics, Australia had a net migration intake of 183,608 from 2016-17, coming in under the planned 190,000.
Speaking on 2GB originally, he told radio show host Mark Levy the recent “gossip” surrounding Barnaby Joyce’s scandal had been a “very serious distraction” from the real issues – including immigration, wages, housing and more.
Asked about Jim Molan’s recent senate speech in which Molan called for a reassessment of immigration levels, Abbott said such a move was essential, adding that the program must be run “in Australia’s national interest”. “Just at the moment we’ve got stagnant wages, unaffordable housing, clogged infrastructure and there is no doubt the rate of immigration impacts on all of these things,” he said.
Referring to official government figures on the rise of immigration numbers over the last few years, he insisted on the show: “That means every five years we are adding – by immigration alone – a city the size of Adelaide to our population. This is a very very high rate of immigration, absolutely unprecedented by historical standards.”
He did insist he is “all in favour of immigration but it has to be the right immigration, under the right circumstances, that’s right for our country, including the recent migrants”. Abbott’s comments echoed those made by Immigration Minister Peter Dutton on the same radio show the week before, when he said Australia needs to reduce the amount of migrants to “where we believe it’s in our national interest”.
Previous increases in the immigration program were due to the planned intake being “seen as being closely tied to economic growth”, the government’s website says.