Tony Abbott may have won over some of his conservative colleagues with his calls for tighter immigration laws – but Labor MP Shayne Neumann is, unsurprisingly, far from impressed with the new proposal.
The former prime minister has called for a cut on immigration, so levels are nearer those seen during John Howard’s time in power, in an effort to ease up pressure on housing and jobs.
But while he blamed the growing problems on the number of incoming migrants, Neumann, who is shadow minister for immigration and border protection, has blasted the claims – instead pointing the finger at Abbot’s leadership, as well as that of current PM Malcolm Turnbull.
Branding Abbott a “hypocrite”, Neumann told Starts at 60: “Australia is a country built on migration and has welcomed 7.5 million migrants since World War II – through family reunion, humanitarian visas and skilled migration. Tony Abbott is a hypocrite – during his time as PM, Abbott oversaw the Migration Programme at its highest levels compared to any other prime minister.
“The only people to blame for stagnant wages, unaffordable housing, and clogged infrastructure are Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull.”
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.
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 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. Since 2012, the planned migration intake has sat at 190,000. And during Tony Abbott’s time as prime minister, from 2013 to 2015, the number of people actually entering the country as migrants hit or came very close to that planned intake. The same occurred in 2015-16, but numbers dropped to 183,608 from 2016-17.
Speaking on Aussie radio station 2GB recently, 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 to the planned intake being “seen as being closely tied to economic growth”, the government’s website says.