Population growth inquiry up for discussion after Liberal senator airs concerns about infrastructure

Australia’s population is set to hit 25 million in August, and Liberal senator Dean Smith wants to start a discussion about how infrastructure is going to keep up with demand.

The West Australian senator has suggested a parliamentary committee could be the way to go in figuring out how to deal with Australia’s needs as the population grows faster than expected.
“Population issues are broader than immigration issues, but wherever you go across the country you can see different sorts of population challenges,” he told the local media.
“In regional communities you might see lack of population-growth opportunities, in our biggest cities you can see some of the real challenges of congestion and infrastructure deficits.”

Original forecasts predicted the nation would not hit the 25 million figure until 2042. Just seven years ago, the date was revised to 2027.
“So if the future projections around population growth are inaccurate … then how is that impacting on the infrastructure decisions, employment-opportunity decisions that we might be making as a country?” Senator Smith said.

As well as looking at how best to plan essential services and infrastructure, Senator Smith wants to examine the annual migration intake.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has agreed to talk to the WA senator about the idea of launching a parliamentary committee, but said the Government’s migration program was already tightly controlled.
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton recently acknowledged the current cap of 190,000 people per year was regularly discussed within Government, while backbencher Tony Abbott and One Nation senator Pauline Hanson have both pushed for lowering that figure.

Last financial year, the number of permanent migrants coming into Australia fell to 163,000.
“We have worked very hard to restore integrity to the migration program … we’ve listened to the Australian public,” Mr Dutton said today.
Senator Smith said he supported a “moderate” drop in net overseas migration.
“I think the moderation is important because we need to give ourselves some time to breathe, pause and reflect to make sure the predictions are the best they can be. And if they’re not, let’s correct that,” he said.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said he would discuss Senator Smith’s idea with his Labor colleagues but warned against the challenges presented by population growth being blamed solely on immigrants.
Senator Smith conceded there were problems with how people were currently discussing the issue of migration, but said there was a need for a measured, respectful debate.
“The critical point here is to maintain public confidence and public endorsement in our population-growth benefits. It’s important because we want to maintain social cohesion.”
Smith wants to see regions benefit from population growth.

One of Senator Smith’s biggest concerns is with where population growth is happening.
“We know that the population story across our country has not been uniform. The great bulk of our population growth is actually happening in our major cities,” he said.
Senator Smith said he would like to see regional areas benefit from population growth, without issues like congestion and crowding.
“As a senator from Perth, I’m interested to make sure that we get the benefits of population growth without having to pay the high price that perhaps Melbourne and Sydney commuters are having to pay,” he said. “I want to make sure that other cities are immune from some of the negative consequences of unbridled population growth that has been poorly predicted and poorly planned for.”
In New South Wales, a state-government-sponsored marketing program has seen nearly 4,000 people relocate to its biggest regional cities since 2010.

Evocities chairman Kevin Mack said governments needed to get on board to redistribute the growing population more efficiently.
“The challenge is for the Government to [answer]: ‘How do we provide attraction for people to move to the regions?’,” he told AM.
“We need affordable housing, we need a whole raft of infrastructure in the regions to cater for that demand and ultimately, unless you have the infrastructure to cater for the demand, you can’t service the industries.”

Australia’s migration rates the lowest they’ve been in 10 years

National migration rate hasn’t been this low since 2007 and it’s all to do with Peter Dutton waging war on “fraudulent” claims.

Australia’s migration rate is the lowest it’s been in 10 years, largely due to Peter Dutton and the way the Department of Home Affairs has cracked down on “fraudulent” migrants.
In the past financial year, the nation’s migration rate has dropped by 10 per cent with 21,000 less people being allowed into Australia.
Speaking on the media show the last week, the Home Affairs Minister said the drop was about “restoring integrity to our border”.
“Looking more closely at the applications that are made. Making sure that we’re bringing the best migrants possible into our country,” Mr. Dutton said.
Mr. Dutton said the people who were being rejected the most were those making “fraudulent claims”, admitting some people trying to gain access to Australia were “overstating their qualifications” with false documents.
The nation’s immigration intake hasn’t been this low since John Howard was prime minister.
The 2017/18 intake plummeted to 162,417 and there has been a 46 per cent increase in visa refusals, while skilled migrant numbers dropped by more than 12,000, and the family stream was cut by 15 per cent to 47,732.
“I want to make sure we scrutinize each application so we’re getting the best possible migrants,” Mr. Dutton said. “People who are going to work. Not be on welfare. People who will integrate into our community.”
Mr. Dutton said one area the Department of Home Affairs was specifically cracking down on was false relationships and accused the Labor government of “ticking and flicking” through applications to meet the annual target of 190,000 migrants.
“We want to make sure particularly that people coming through the spousal program that they are in legitimate relationships,” he said.
Senior Labor frontbencher Anthony Albanese agreed with Mr. Dutton, telling that the government had toughened up the system.
“Of course it’s a good result if there’s more integrity in the system,” Mr. Albanese said.
Despite the drastic drop, Mr. Dutton agrees that Australia’s migration system is still “pretty generous”. “We’re a destination for many people. 65 million people in the world that are displaced.
“Our country is built on migration. We’ve had wonderful people who have come to our country over a long period of time. We have a lot to protect. Lot of values that those migrants believe in strongly. Ultimately apart from our indigenous population all of us are from migrant stock. We want to make sure we get the best people into our country so we can protect our values. As you say we’ve been listening to concerns that Australians have had.”
Australia’s deportation rates are also on the rise after the Migration Act was amended in 2014 that enforces all migrants pass and maintain a “character test” to stay here.
The amendment gave Mr. Dutton the powers to expel anyone he deems a risk to Australian society and has resulted in thousands of deportations since December 2014 when the law was changed.

New visa pilot to attract the best of global talent to Australia

Highly skilled workers from around the world will have a new visa pathway into Australia as a part of the Government’s new Global Talent Scheme pilot program.

From 1 July all businesses will be able to sponsor highly skilled and specialised workers who will help to grow their businesses and create more jobs.

The pilot will run for 12 months and provide businesses with a streamlined process to sponsor overseas workers with cutting edge skills, where there are no suitable Australians available to fill the vacancies.

The Government has been consulting with industry, the start-up sector and tertiary institution leaders, who informed the initial design of the scheme and will provide additional advice during the pilot.

The scheme includes two streams – one for established businesses and one for start-ups.

All businesses sponsoring workers to Australia under the scheme will need to demonstrate that they have been unable to source suitable individuals in the Australian labour market.

Australia’s immigration rate to fall again as work visa approvals drop

There may be as many as 25,000 fewer migrants in 2017-18 than planned

Australia’s migrant intake will be substantially down this financial year – possibly 25,000 below the 190,000 planned figure – led by reductions in the number of skilled and sponsored working visas.

The migration program has been at 190,000 since 2012-13 but dropped to 183,000 last financial year and will fall further again this year.

Figures disclosed at Senate estimates and visa statistics reveal the number of visas granted in 2017-18 is likely to be 165,000 – the lowest level in seven years.

To 30 April this year the Australian government had granted 138,086 permanent visas divided broadly into two-thirds skilled, one-third family (and excluding humanitarian visas, which sit outside the migration program figure).

“It’s probably down on where we were this time last year,” a first assistant secretary for the Department of Home Affairs department, Christine Dacey, told estimates last month.

Extrapolated to the full year ending 30 June, it appears likely about 165,000 migration visas will be granted.

The figures obtained for the first six months of the 2017-18 financial year show a 15% drop in the number of permanent visas granted, from 92,477 to 78,190.

Comparing the first six months of the 2016-17 financial year with the first six months of the 2017-18 year, the figures show substantial falls across most visa categories, but most particularly among skilled independent and employer-sponsored work visas.

The number of employer-sponsored visas fell from 22,843 to 16,047, driven largely by changes to the 457 visa regime.

Skilled independent visas officially fell from 24,289 to 20,989. This large headline fall masks a significant change in the makeup of the program. A deal struck between Canberra and Wellington now enables some New Zealanders who have lived and worked in Australia for five years to apply for permanent residency, and a pathway to citizenship.

These are likely to displace thousands of other skilled migrants who might otherwise have been granted a permanent visa in the migration intake. Figures released in April show more than 9,000 New Zealanders have applied to take up this option.

Fewer migrants were sponsored by states, territories and regions, while business innovation and investment visas (for people starting a business in Australia) were largely unchanged.

Media reports have suggested that cabinet this year discussed lowering the planned migration figure by 20,000 but that it was rejected. Ministers have variously denied that the figure was debated, or stated that debate over the size of Australia’s migration program was part of regular discussions within government.

The home affairs minister, Peter Dutton, has said the government already had, and would reduce migrant numbers “where we believe it’s in our national interest”, citing traffic gridlock and unaffordable housing in cities. But he also said he supported immigration at its current levels.

While issues around choked roads, strains on schools, hospitals and other infrastructure, and house prices are politically sensitive for the government, migration adds an estimated 1% to Australia’s gross domestic product every year, Treasury modelling indicates, because it counters Australia’s ageing population (migrants tend to be younger than the average Australian).

Over the past two decades the country of origin for most migrants to Australia has shifted from places like the UK and South Africa, to China and India.

A 2016 Productivity Commission report predicted the population would reach 40 million by 2060, and argued the future size of Australia would be largely determined by the country’s migration policies.

“In the absence of a formal population policy, Australia’s immigration policy is its de facto population policy. As such, immigration has broad-ranging and enduring implications for the economy, society and the environment.”

Family visa applications processing taking up to 50 years

Limited places and a very high demand for some family visas have ballooned the waiting periods up to half a century.

Indian migrant Puneet Mittal has always wanted his parents to live with his family in Australia. This year he applied for a permanent visa under the Non-Contributory Parent visa for his parents. But it won’t be before 2048 that a decision on their visa applications is made.

Mr Mittal’s father is in his late sixties and mother is in early sixties. They have been given bridging visas and can stay in Australia, but can’t access Medicare benefit until their applications are decided.

Mr Mittal says the three-decade waiting period is “comical”.

“By the time my parents’ applications are processed, they will not be in good health as they are now and may not be considered medically fit for the visa grant,” he tells SBS Punjabi.

“I am pretty sure, they are not going to get a permanent residency. I just applied for the visa so that they are saved the hassle of reapplying for the visa repeatedly.”

The Department of Home Affairs has recently published the current processing timeframe for some family visas. While applications for parent visas are likely to take approximately 30 years, the timeframe for processing Aged Dependent Relative and Remaining Relative visa applications is “up to 50 years”, according to the Department’s website.

These applications are assessed in order of lodgement and are placed in a queue accordingly.

Once the cap for a particular year has been met, the remaining assessed applications are queued for processing in the subsequent year.

According to the information released by the Department of Home Affairs on migration planning levels, it will grant a maximum of 1500 parent visas, 7,175 contributory parent visas and 500 other family visas including Remaining Relative and Aged Dependent Relative visas. The cap of 500 on other family visas is down from last year’s 900.

Because the annual migration planning allows only a small number of visas under the parent category while the demand is increasing, a huge queue has now built up which will take decades to clear.

Government considers forcing regional migrants to stay rural

Australia has several visas designed to bring skilled migrants to the bush – but many leave for the cities once they secure a permanent place.

The Turnbull government is considering changes to regional skilled visas to “bind” migrants to rural areas even after they secure a permanent place in Australia, multiculturalism minister Alan Tudge has revealed.

The minister said many migrants who were specifically sponsored for regional jobs were later quitting those jobs and moving to the cities, perpetuating skills shortages in regional towns.

“If they’ve come in on the basis of being employed in a regional area, then we think it’s not an unreasonable expectation that they stay in that area for a certain amount of time,” Mr Tudge told reporters in Melbourne.

“We’re looking at ways that we can effectively bind people to the regions if they’ve got a sponsorship to go to those locations.”

Australia has a handful of visas specifically on offer to those who want to work in a regional area, including the Skilled Regional (887) and the Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme (187).

Last year, out of the 184,000 migrants given permanent places in Australia, there were nearly 12,000 regional visas granted under those schemes.

Those visas require the applicant to work in a regional area for a number of years or to be sponsored by a regional employer – but they do not force the migrant to stay in a rural area once the visa conditions have been satisfied.

Mr Tudge said the government was looking at the issue but there was no specific plan on how to “bind” the migrants long-term.

The head of the Home Affairs department, Michael Pezzullo, told a Senate committee there could be “legal” challenges in restricting long-term freedom of movement, but said it would not be a “fatal flaw or concern”.

Nationals MP and assistant minister for families David Gillespie said it was “very frustrating” for companies who sponsored regional migrants when they later “hightailed it” to the cities.

Regional employers often felt “shortchanged” when they paid for a migrant’s airfares, only for them to leave the area a short time later.

“We do have freedom of association, freedom of speech and freedom of movement,” Dr Gillespie told media on Tuesday.

“But it leaves a sour taste if someone sponsors someone to come here on the basis that they’re going to work in a regional centre and then they skip town at the first opportunity.”

Dr Gillespie would not comment on the government’s legal options but raised the example of overseas doctors, who often came on visas that linked their Medicare billing to a regional centre for up to 10 years.

Australia permanently closes the Investor Retirement visa for new applicants

The visa, started in 2005, allowed people to live and work in Australia for up to four years. The government says it no longer aligns with Australia’s economic priorities.

The Department of Home Affairs has ceased accepting new applications for the Investor Retirement (Class UY) visa from today.

The government says the Subclass 405 (Investor Retirement) visa that allowed visa holders to live and work in Australia with their partner, no longer aligns with Australia’s economic priorities.

The closure of the visa was announced in the Federal Budget on May 8.

The Department will not accept any new applications for Investor Retirement (Class UY) visa made on or after 1 June 2018. Those already on this visa may apply to renew the visa.

The change also does not apply to applications that have already been made, but not yet decided.

This Investor Retirement visa allowed people over the age of 55 years with no dependent children and designated investment of $75,000 in Australia and an annual income of $65,000 to live and work in Australia for up to four years.

The visa, first offered in 2005, also encouraged retirees to settle in regional areas where the required investment was $500,000 and the required annual income $50,000.

The government says the economic benefits of this visa at the time when it started do not align with Australia’s current economic priorities.

Vivid Sydney 2018 Festival Program Announced Celebrating 10 Years of Creativity and Innovation

The world’s largest festival of light, music and ideas, Vivid Sydney returns in 2018 with a spectacular new precinct at Luna Park, the return of much-loved Customs House, and a fantastical blend of everyday objects and Australian-inspired motifs on the sails of the Sydney Opera House.

Minister for Tourism and Major Events, Adam Marshall said, “Vivid Sydney has delighted and inspired people from around Australia and the world. With the Festival now in its 10th year, visitors and locals alike can once again expect to be mesmerised by the Vivid Sydney program, with larger installations and a gripping Music and Ideas offering, so I encourage visitors to start planning their trip early to get the most out of this year’s exciting line-up.

“Over 23 nights from Friday 25 May to Saturday 16 June, Vivid Sydney will paint the Harbour City in the colour and spectacle of Vivid Light, take over Sydney stages with Vivid Music’s electric performances and collaborations, and provide a global forum for thought-provoking debate and creative discussion at Vivid Ideas.”

Vivid Sydney is owned, managed and produced by the NSW Government’s tourism and major events agency Destination NSW and in 2017, attracted a record-breaking 2.33 million attendees to Vivid Sydney, delivering an incredible $143 million of visitor expenditure into the NSW economy.

For the 10th Anniversary celebrated artist Jonathan Zawada creates an artwork that transforms the Sydney Opera House into dynamic digital sculptures inspired by the Australian environment. Other highlights include the powerful laser beacon illuminating the harbour from on top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the welcome return of Customs House as a venue and the many light sculptures that stretch for more than 2km around the harbour foreshore. Expect live bands as well, including some of the best Australian and international acts, at iconic venues and intimate bars and clubs around the city. Vivid Ideas is where you can explore fresh thinking across tech, design and culture with leading industry practitioners and luminaries.

Parent visas: Sponsorship rules reset as government completes backflip

The Turnbull government has fully reversed a regulation that effectively doubled the income requirements for visa sponsors.

The Coalition has officially scrapped its changes to so-called Assurance of Support visa sponsorship rules, weeks after media revealed a government backdown was negotiated to prevent a Senate defeat.

Social services minister Dan Tehan tabled the documents in parliament on the last week to complete the reversal, less than two months after the changes were introduced.

The government struck a deal with the Greens to restore the old rules when it became apparent the party had enough support from Labor and the crossbench to defeat the changes on the floor of the parliament.

The new requirements were brought in at the beginning of April and meant residents needed much higher salaries to bring their parents to Australia on a visa.

An individual trying to sponsor their two parents would need to prove they earn an annual income of $86,607, up from around $45,000 under the previous rules.

While the rules were in place for a number of weeks, the minister agreed that anyone who applied in that window would be reassessed under the old rules.

Greens senator Nick McKim thanked the minister for “engaging” on the issue and welcomed the “change of heart”.

“No doubt the government could see the writing on the wall, in terms of the Senate being prepared to support our motion,” he told earlier this month.

The reversal came following weeks of backlash from migrant communities, with the Chinese community in particular launching a sophisticated petition campaign.

The changes would have impacted tens of thousands of migrants on Australia’s long waiting list for visas who were still being vetted by the Home Affairs department.

$50-a-week wage rise will boost jobs: ACTU

The Australian Council of Trade Unions has released projections that claim its push for a $50-a-week rise in the minimum wage will create up to 57,000 jobs.

Unions have projected a $50-a-week rise in the minimum wage will create as many as 57,000 jobs in the first year after being introduced.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions’ projections rely on two methodologies outlined in a reply submission to the Fair Work Commission’s annual wage review.

They say between 40,000 and 57,000 jobs will be created a year after the minimum wage is lifted by $50 a week, with a further 27,000 to 30,000 in the second year.

“When people on lower wages get a pay rise they spend it in the local economy, and that creates more jobs,” ACTU secretary Sally McManus said.

The union peak body wants a $50 wage boost for the nation’s lowest-paid workers.

But employer groups have warned that figure would reduce the job security of low-paid workers and lower employment opportunities.

Treasurer Scott Morrison said the union movement was a “closed shop” that catered only for people who were already employed.

“We’ve got a plan for stronger economy, unions just have a plan for stronger union bosses,” Mr Morrison told reporters in Geelong.

He said jobs were created through backing business to invest.

Ms McManus said the Turnbull government and business lobby were trying to keep wages down by running a scare campaign against higher wages.

“That’s the same discredited, untruthful, damaging trickle-down economics this government loves to roll out,” she said.

The projections have been released as the ACTU’s Change The Rules campaign gets into full swing following a major rally in Melbourne earlier in the week.

The demonstration on Tuesday kicked off a series of marches across the country in April and May as part of the biggest campaign since the “Your Rights At Work” push in 2007 that helped bring down Work Choices and the Howard government.

The first projection uses information about households of people on low incomes, while the other relies on Treasury assumptions which calculate the multiplier effect of a wage rise.

The Fair Work commission’s decision on the latest minimum wage increase will take effect from July 1.