Did Dutton and Tehan disagree on immigration levels?

Apr 5, 2024
Immigration and customs sign.

In a recent interview on Perth radio, Opposition Spokesman on Immigration, Dan Tehan, asserted: “I’ve been saying now for well over 18 months, it’s [meaning immigration] too high”.

I have been unable to find any public statement by Tehan 18 months ago that immigration levels were too high. But his leader, Peter Dutton, publicly said in September 2022, that:

“we do need an increase in migration numbers, but we’ll see what the Government actually delivers. Because this can be many, many months, if not a couple of years in the pipeline.”

If Tehan thought immigration levels were too high ‘well over 18 months ago’, he must have said that privately to Dutton and that Dutton ignored him. Or more likely, Tehan never said anything of the sort 18 months ago and is now just making it up. Re-writing history is a favourite past time of politicians.

The fact is the immigration boom that took place in 2022-23, and continues today, was largely because the Labor Government delayed reversing a large number of Coalition Government policies, particularly policies such as unrestricted work rights for overseas students. It only started reversing those policies from July 2023 but by then immigration levels were well out of control.

To get immigration down to the ‘sustainable’ levels Prime Minister Anthony Albanese says he wants, that’s around 235,000 per year, will require Labor to reverse a lot more Coalition Government era policy settings.

And while Tehan won’t say what level he will advocate at the next Election, or how he would get us there, when asked about entrepreneur Dick Smith’s suggestion immigration should be reduced to 75,000 per year, Tehan said Smith “is on track”.
Tehan knows that is nonsense as in the last 20 years, the Coalition has never advocated immigration at anywhere near 75,000 per year. In the 2019 Budget immediately prior to the pandemic, that was the ‘back in black’ budget, former Treasurer Frydenberg forecast net migration at over 270,000 per year over the four year Forward Estimates. That would have given us a population level very similar to what we may have later in 2024.

Tehan knows that immigration at 75,000 per year will never be Coalition Government policy as in practical terms it would be just about impossible to get immigration down to that level. Prior to the massive impact of the pandemic on Australia’s economy and immigration levels, we hadn’t been near net migration of 75,000 since the recession of the early 1990s.

The business community that supports the Coalition would never accept immigration being cut to those levels and the consequences in terms of addressing critical skill shortages, particularly in health, aged care, education, IT and construction, would be severe. The negative impact on some key industries such as international education, tourism and agriculture that employ tens of thousands of Australians would be frightening.

But Tehan was happy for his listeners to think he agrees with Dick Smith as the Coalition is eager to make immigration a key issue at the next Election. It will do that without mentioning that the current immigration blow out was due to Coalition Government era immigration policy settings that the Labor Government was too slow to reverse.

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