Anthony Albanese has pushed back against questions about the nation’s near-term migration intake by accusing a journalist interviewing him of using rhetoric plucked from what he described as a Coalition scare campaign.
The Prime Minister said Australia’s higher than usual migration forecasts in the near future were effectively a “return to normal” as he brushed off concerns about the added pressure on the housing market as nothing more than Coalition rhetoric.
Treasury is forecasting 400,000 people will have migrated to Australia by the end of this financial year and another 315,000 people will have moved here by the end of 2024 – higher than usual numbers following the reopening of Australia’s international border.
Migration is forecast to largely return to normal patterns from the 2024-2025 financial year, with net overseas migration forecast to continue at 260,000 people in the 2025–2026 and 2026–2027 financial years.
The Coalition has seized on the figures to accuse Labor of having no plan to house the more than one million people who are expected to move here over the next five years at a time when Australia is already experiencing serious problems with housing affordability and rental availability.
Speaking to ABC Radio Brisbane on Wednesday, Mr Albanese said it was important to “not be sucked into a scare campaign about what the migration levels are”.
“What has occurred is that there’s a temporary lift because, unlike previously when people were coming in and going out, what occurred was that no one was coming in while the borders were closed,” he said.
“So students, for example, in their 10s of 1000s, who make a major contribution to our economy, normally we would expect numbers of them coming in and the same number leaving. That is what has occurred in the past.”
More migrants such as students were forecast to come to Australia than leave over the next couple of years, which explained the higher short-term forecasts, Mr Albanese said.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has been grilled over the budget’s migration forecasts. Picture: NCA NewsWire / David Crosling
Treasury noted in the federal budget handed down last week that higher forecast for net overseas migration in the near future is largely driven by fewer temporary migrants departing Australia than usual, rather than a greater number of people arriving.
Additionally, the budget papers said net overseas migration was cumulatively almost 500,000 lower than expected prior to the pandemic by the time border restrictions were relaxed at the end of 2021.
Asked on Wednesday if he was telling Australian citizens the federal government had no concerns they would feel the effect of more than a million migrants coming into Australia “in any adverse way”, Mr Albanese said the journalist was “using the Coalition’s rhetoric”.
“We understand there’s pressure in the housing market, but what we’re doing is putting in place a whole series of measures,” he said.
“And in addition to that, our migration plan means we’re dealing with the mess that we inherited, where over a million people were waiting for visas.”
He said Labor’s migration plan would result in fewer people moving to Australia, who would be “the right migrants in the right places to fulfil the labour needs that are required in this country”.
The federal government is planning to deliver its strategy to overhaul the federal migration system later this year after a recent review, saying it will ensure the migration system “delivers the skilled migrants needed to address persistent skill shortages”.
Opposition Treasury spokesman Angus Taylor says the government needs to have a better migration strategy. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Martin Ollman
Earlier on Wednesday, Opposition treasury spokesman Angus Taylor took aim at the government for Treasury’s recent migration forecasts, which showed 1.5 million people would move to Australia by the end of 2028.
“The budget has the Australian population growing by substantially more than the size of Adelaide over the next five years, but with no plan to address housing supply and infrastructure needs,” he told the National Press Club in Canberra.
But Mr Taylor refused to name the net migration figure the Coalition would support over the same period, despite repeated questions about the matter, saying only that the “right number” would depend on “complementary initiatives”.
“It’s not our Budget, it’s Labor’s. But the point is that you’ve got to make sure that you have the housing, the infrastructure, the services, the sporting fields,” he said.
Mr Taylor rejected suggestions the opposition’s rhetoric had emboldened fascism after a group of neo-Nazis gathered in Melbourne on the weekend as the Coalition was out prosecuting its migration argument.
“We don’t take responsibility for the behaviour of nutters in Melbourne,” he said.
“I mean, if they’re gonna go and do that sort of stuff, we can’t take responsibility for their heinous behaviour and we certainly don’t condone it.
“But we will argue the case for what’s right for Australia every day of the week, and, of course, that’s what we’re doing here.”
Peter Dutton made migration fears a feature of his budget reply speech last week, in which he claimed the government’s “Big Australia approach” would drive up inflation and worsen the housing crisis.
The Opposition Leader aired concerns about the effect Australia’s short-term migration intake could have on the housing crisis.
However, even with a stronger short-term outlook, the federal budget noted total net overseas migration is not expected to catch up to the level forecast prior to the pandemic until the end of 2030.
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