Pressure is ramping up on the Turnbull government to stem Australia's 'unprecedented' migration levels, with Tony Abbott jumping on Peter Dutton's comments that the national interest needs to be put first.

By Joe McDonough

Posted on February 21, 2018

Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott has called on the Turnbull Government to commit to reducing Australia’s migration levels to what the nation had during the John Howard-era.

In an address to the Sydney Institute on Tuesday, Abbott insisted reducing the current level from 190,000 to 110,000 a year was necessary “at least until infrastructure, housing stock and integration has better caught up”.

Following on from Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton’s comments last week, that the intake of migrants must be slowed “where we believe it’s in our national interest”, Abbott said a short-term cut is clearly in Australia’s best 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,” Abbott said.

He said an average of 110,000 immigrants a year moved to Australia during Howard’s reign, and since 2006 “it’s been running at double that rate”.

“That means every five years we are adding – by immigration alone – a city the size of Adelaide to our population.”

Every five years we are adding a city the size of Adelaide to our population.

Dutton admitted earlier that it was a “perfectly legitimate argument” that Australia’s cities were “overcrowded” including “gridlocked traffic in the mornings” and use of services like hospitals.

“We have to try and encourage people out into regions, we have to reduce the numbers where we believe it’s in our national interest,” he said.

“It’s come back considerably and if we have to bring it back further, if that’s what required and that’s what’s in our country’s best interests… that is what we will do.”

Abbott said it was more than just population clustering, with immigration levels “absolutely unprecedented by historical standards” and “on a per capita basis, vastly higher than any other developed country”.

Plenty of heavy-hitters tackling the immigration issue

The comments from Dutton and Abbott stemmed from Jim Molan’s first Senate speech. The former Major General of the Australian Army turned Liberal politician, said he was concerned that the country was bursting at the seams.

“I am concerned that the level of legal migration, now that we control our borders, is in excess of the capacity for our cities to absorb, both culturally or in terms of infrastructure,” he said.

“We are approaching limits on this, if we have not already exceeded them. I don’t have the answer, but I certainly have the concern.”

Entrepreneur and philanthropist Dick Smith is another who has been lobbying long and hard to slow down the intake and “population plan”, which equates to the country welcoming a new migrant every two minutes and 20 seconds.

Australia is now the fastest growing country in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and NSW and Victoria recorded their highest ever levels in the previous financial year.

“It’s just an absolute disaster for our children and grandchildren,” he said in December.

“It will destroy Australia as we know it today. We’re going to end up like the US where you have something like 50 million people on the dole who will never have a job.

“It’s just complete madness. With automation and robotics there will be fewer meaningful jobs, we’ll end up just being a nation selling coffee to each other.”

Smith also rubbished claims that his political alliance with Pauline Hanson meant his stance was race-related.

“That’s ridiculous,” he said. “The ethnic people who come here don’t want Australia destroyed. They want their children to have jobs. Borders are for self-interest — we should be thinking of our own children and grandchildren.

“What I’m amazed at is there’s no discussion,” he continued. “I get stopped in the street all the time, people say: ‘Dick, it’s terrible, 14% youth unemployment, my grandkid can’t get a job.”

It will hurt the budget — Scott Morrison

Treasurer Scott Morrison has taken a swipe at Abbott’s suggested reduction, saying it would only harm the economy.

“If you cut the level of permanent immigration to Australia by 80,000, that would cost the budget, that would hit the bottom line, the deficit, by $4 billion to $5 billion over the next four years,” he said.

“If you did what Tony Abbott suggests, then you would only reduce the proportion that was skilled migration and you’d have a bigger proportion which was family migration – which ultimately gets more dependent on welfare.

“People who come as skilled migrants pay taxes… They make a net contribution to the economy.”