PolMin
Australian Political Ministry Network Ltd
Policy Briefing Paper

ALP’s Regional Immigration Plan

Introduction

On Saturday 4 October the Federal ALP Leader, Simon Crean, addressed the NSW ALP’s annual conference in Sydney’s Town Hall. Towards the end of his speech he announced the release of new research undertaken by the ALP think tanks’ policy research center, Chiefly Research Centre, on regional immigration policy. He said: “It contains new ideas to get all levels of government working together to provide incentives for new migrants to settle where the nation needs them the most - in our regions - taking the pressure off our capital centers”.

This paper provides a brief overview and analysis of the policy proposal.

Policy Proposal

The policy seeks to address improve the financial and population health of regional Australia (defined as those centers with a population less than 350,000). “It is concluded”, the proposal notes, “that new immigration measures can play a key role as part of the package of measures that are required to improve regional outcomes for Australia”.

The key proposals are:

• A binding 45% minimum regional share in new migration to be achieved within 3 years
Establishment of new National Infrastructure Council to improve co-ordination for required infrastructure
• A new two-staged (temporary to permanent) visa for independent skilled applicants for regional residence
• A new regional points bonus scheme for past or existing temporary visa holders/applicants
• Adopting real cost parity for threshold standards for regional migration (i.e., make it cheaper to enter Australia is the person opts to reside in regional Australia)

Assessment

The proposal notes that the plan requires public support, “some conditions that need to be met to sustain that support. One is the strong maintenance of the bona fides of the entry program, including firm and clear border security arrangements in place. Another is fair and balanced distribution of migrant arrivals in the Australian community”. In short, the proposal does not challenge Australia’s current asylum seeker policy.

It appears to be implied that Australia’s current asylum seeker policy will be assumed under this policy. That is, an asylum seeker could find it easier to gain refugee status if they agree to reside in regional Australia. However, this will require regional Australia to be equipped with the necessary infrastructure for the resettlement of asylum seekers.
The proposal seems to fail to recognise that internal and external migration to capital cities such as Sydney and Melbourne occur because this is where jobs can be readily found and a higher standard of living. The proposal does not adequately address the issues of jobs and higher standards of living. The proposal seems to assume jobs and higher standard of living will flow as a result of increased migration - the question is: how long would migrants have to wait in regional Australia before these flow-on effects eventuate?

Labor’s shadow immigration spokesperson, Nicola Roxon, in a media release accompanying the proposal said “In seven years, the Howard Government has failed to produce any ideas of significance on this critical issue despite our changing population profile”. If the proposal contains the thrust of the ALP’s plan, then, the same criticism would apply. The proposal offers nothing new or of substance.

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The Australian Political Ministry Network Ltd (PolMin) is a national independent membership organisation committed to bringing about systemic change in Australian society through the influencing of public policy for the common good in accordance with the principles of Catholic social teaching.

- received by CathNews 7/10/03