Turnbull admits a ‘Big Australia’ will erode living standards

By Leith van Onselen

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull gave an interview late last week on 3AW’s Neil Mitchell program (starting at 7.50 mins) where he tied himself in knots over Australia’s immigration program.

Below are the key exchanges with my analysis:

Neil Mitchell: Is it time for a pause [in the migrant intake] while we workout how big we want to be?

Malcolm Turnbull: The thing that is driving the increase in foreigners in Australia – which is included in this term net overseas migration (NOM) – is foreign students, who are not part of the permanent migration system, and tourists and business visitors.

There are around 200,000 more foreign students in Australia today then there were a few years ago. That is the single biggest driving factor. So if you feel there are more foreigners on the tram – and you can’t get a seat on the tram – that is because of that… they are most likely to be students and visitors.

Malcolm Turnbull is being highly misleading with these statements.

First, tourists and business visitors generally are not included in NOM, since they do not reside in Australia for more than 12 months out of 16 months (i.e. the 12/16 month rule for NOM), whereas students only do if they are here for more than 12 months out of 16 months.

In actual fact, net short-term visitor movements into Australia are negative, thus relieving Australia’s overall population pressures:

Second, the claim that the 200,000 increase in foreign student numbers is to blame for our major cities’ population pressures ignores the fact that the 2016 Census revealed that Australia’s population increased by a whopping 1.9 million people (+8.8%) in the five years to 2016, driven by a 1.3 million increase in new migrants:

Moreover, 86% of migrants (1.11 million) settled in Australia’s cities, versus just 14% (187,000) that settled in Australia regional areas.

The truth of the matter is that it is the permanent migrant intake that is the primary driver of Australia’s population increase since, unlike temporary migrants who must ultimately leave, these migrants stay in the country and often have children, thus continually adding to Australia’s population base.

Back to the interview:

Neil Mitchell: How big should Australia be? Have we got an idea anywhere in government that this is the optimum size and this is what we aim for? And we don’t allow it to get any bigger than that?

Malcolm Turnbull: The migration program. You’ve gotta, you know slice it up into the different components. We have a lot more tourists coming into Australia. And I think we are all in favour of tourism.

Neil Mitchell: Yeah, but I’m talking about permanent population. How big do we want to be?…

Malcolm Turnbull: The size of our population should be that level that enables all of us to have a better and better standard of living.

Neil Mitchell: What is that?

Malcolm Turnbull: Well it depends entirely on the infrastructure.

Neil Mitchell: We have to plan, surely?

Malcolm Turnbull: That’s what we are doing.

Neil Mitchell: So what’s the figure?

Malcolm Turnbull: Neil, it is not a particular figure. The question is, you can have. If you have more people in a particular area, right, and you do what governments all too often do and fail to put in the transport and amenities then there will be congestion and people will be disappointed and unhappy. If, however, you plan ahead, which is what I am doing and this is what the federal government is doing in a way that no previous Prime Minister has done, getting involved and planning ahead, then because you have the infrastructure you can have more people, you can have greater density, and you bring with it greater liveability and amenity.

So, Malcom Turnbull explicitly admits that Australia’s immigration intake “should be that level that enables all of us to have a better and better standard of living” but also admits that “it depends entirely on the infrastructure” and that “governments all too often… fail to put in the transport and amenities” leading to “congestion” and people being “disappointed and unhappy”.

Therefore, by his own admission, Australia’s mass immigration ‘Big Australia’ program is lowering living standards and should be drastically reduced.

Furthermore, Infrastructure Australia’s recent report showed unequivocally that living standards in Sydney and Melbourne – the primary destination for migrants – will be further lowered as each cities’ population balloons to 7.4 million and 7.3 million respectively by 2046, irrespective of whether these cities build up or out. That is, traffic congestion will unambiguously worsen, as will access to jobs, schools, hospitals and green space (see below graphics).

Given mass immigration is a guaranteed recipe for reduced liveability and amenity, again by Malcolm Turnbull’s own criteria, shouldn’t Australia’s immigration program be drastically cut?

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  1. Our prime minister represents average Aussies pretty well.

    The age of non-accountability:

    “I am just rubber stamping the immigration numbers our civil service department has recommended. And the state governments are responsible for planning for their infrastructure needs. I am not to blame.”

    “I am just taking loans my bank has recommended. And the financial regulators are responsible for regulating the lending standards of our banks. I am not to blame.”

  2. I have a theory……..somehow the fortunes of Malcolm Turnbull and Holden are connected via a symbiotic relationship in the force, like in the Star Wars movies.

    It’s the only possible explanation, both are an on-going live event car accident.

  3. What happens when immigration is cut:

    Number of Indian students in Britain peaked in 2010 at 60,322. Falling to 18,154 in 2012 and 11,119 in 2016.


    The number of Chinese students in Britain grew by 15% to 88,258.

    There were also increases in the number granted to students from Pakistan (up 36 per cent to 1,141), the US (up 6 per cent to 15,039) and Hong Kong (up 5 per cent to 9,332).

    Indian “students” admitting to the BBC on camera that their ultimate aim is to settle in England: http://www.bbc.com/news/av/uk-politics-21464696/indian-students-on-uk-visa-rules

    The number of Indian students in Britain totalled 24,312 in 2007. So the numbers today are less than half compared to 10 years ago! But the genuine ones will still come over and other nationalities will study in Britain instead.

    Another video by the BBC on Indian students: http://www.bbc.com/news/av/business-34800343/indian-students-turning-away-from-uk

      • Yes. Chinese students will keep coming over. Most of them currently go back anyway. I have met rich Chinese students who went back.

        I have studied with rich students from the subcontinent who went back. The dirt poor ones stay and work for $10/hour cash.

        The rich ones do not work here while studying.

      • I would say that only the incompetent and/or unambitious ones would stay in Australia. Mainlanders are far more likely to view Australia as a retirement village than a place to build a life.

      • PR is a big drawcard for the majority.
        If that is taken away a very sizable chunk will not come.

    • Jacob: “Most of them [chinese students] currently go back anyway.”

      Is there any data on this?

  4. Sally McManus on the insiders program blamed industrial relations laws and also temporary workers and 457 visas for low wage rises. Could UE comment on this. Should we just get rid of temporary workers and not worry about the permanent migration intake? and just protect overseas students from predatory employers like those 7/11 guys. Do we need to tighten up our kiwi intake as was mentioned in passing on insiders?

    • With the flick of a Regal pen, New Zealand can be part of the Commonwealth of Australia, tomorrow! (Hence the regs being what they are?).

      “The Commonwealth shall mean the Commonwealth of Australia as established under this Act.
      The States shall mean such of the colonies of New South Wales, New Zealand, Queensland, Tasmania, Victoria, Western Australia, and South Australia, including the northern territory of South Australia, as for the time being are parts of the Commonwealth, and such colonies or territories as may be admitted into or established by the Commonwealth as States; and each of such parts of the Commonwealth shall be called a State.”


      • Why doesn’t New Zealand become apart of the commonwealth of Australia? Why didn’t they become apart of Australia when we federated in 1901? It would be a lot easier for everyone.

    • Philly SlimMEMBER

      why do we even let foreign students work?? its meant to be a quasi “export” industry but that only works if they bring the cash here. If they undercut aussie youth for 7/11 jobs then what’s the point???

      I did my Masters in the US and was on a student visa – we couldn’t work except for either (a) on campus employment via the university (ie. a tutor or some such) or (b) a 10 week internship in your field if you were doing a 2 year degree. The university had to sign this off.

      Our system is rubbish.

      • why do we even let foreign students work??

        Because an aspect of it is supposed to be cultural exchange.

        Same premise as backpackers/”working holiday visas” for under-30s.

  5. Turnbull is a fraud. Interesting he did highlight the population problems our large foreign student intake is causing. Usually all we hear is what a great export the sector is with no downsides. His refusal to name a population target reveals just what an exercise in blatant autocracy the Big Australia fraud is. What’s more telling is Shortens silence on this issue. My guess is he will deliver hollow platitudes about the “centrality of migration to Australias story”. Remembering of course when my friend called his office to ask why our permanent intake had tripled compared to the 1945 to 2000 period, he was told we accepted more permanent migrants now because our population was larger these days. Ok thanks Mr Shortens office, that answers that, then. In other news, Peter Hatcher, otherwise known as Paul Kelly Junior, preposterously claimed in Fairfax on Saturday that reducing immigration numbers was populist and that the current intake represented the “centre ground.” The comments section was almost entirely in objection to his nonsense. The powers that be and their spokespeople certainly have a challenge defending and promoting A Big Australia these days. Julie Szego in The Age tried to claim people objecting to Melbournes massive growth were “immature”, Melbourne has grown up she said and so should we. The idiot.

    • I read that interview as Turnbull getting ready to do a token migration decrease.

      In his style and his manner, he is bound to do it only after kicking and screaming first, way way way too late and significantly after he might have been able to claim some credit/leadership brownie points for the decision.

      What a disappointing person he is.

    • Turnball is a fraud, nuff said
      does anyone have an update on how Big Clive Vs Turnball is going?

      • No – Turnbull is not a fraud – he’s a self-interested crook. The “look at me, I’m a fraud” is merely a façade…

  6. Speaking of infrastructure, they locked student newspapers out of the budget lock-in again this year.

    Reason given: no space available.

  7. Turnbull’s right. Population growth creates a better and better living standard for his favourite people. That’s why we have Lucy’s three city Sydney plan.

    It’s the liberal way. Take the cream (privatise the profits) and isolate the pain away from the elite (socialise the costs).

    The problem isn’t LNP. They’ve always been self serving elitist scum.

    The problem is we no longer have an alternative in Labor to vote for.

  8. St JacquesMEMBER

    I do so hope that the LNP hold onto government at the next election by their fingernails, and with an even bigger shortfall in the Senate. Whilst many, manny people and groups – the ALP, the Greens, the vast majority of politicians at all levels, business lobbies (especially the Big End of Town), the RBA, Treasury, orthodox economists, academic sellouts, and especially the FIRE sector deserve the credit for destroying Australia through their combined stupidity, ignorance, arrogance and straight out greed, the LNP really deserves the title of the party that turned Oz into the Pacific Argentina. We’re much much closer to that destination than peoole think.

    • I agree. We’re living by selling the country and debt. We’ve loaded up on consumers in a country that’s not producing anything. That’s going to end really badly and fast.

  9. What a peanut. He made the same arguments that SloMo made on Tom Elliott’s program last week – all completely incoherent.

    • Yeah i thought the same thing. Obfuscate and waffle and try to confuse people. These guys have turned bullshitting into such an art form that I don’t think they could give a straight answer even if they wanted to. I’m glad Mitchell stuck to his guns.

    • How about the comm games mob Nuremberg Defense over the closing ceremony, and from what I hear, the whole frigging show.
      they say class actions are planned??? (more class actions)
      I expect someone has already given beattie his cyanide pill.

      • Was with some Gold Coast leccy’s on the weekend….they said traffic has been half what it normally is during the games. They were all pretty quiet about the size of their post games order book.

  10. I listened again to Mr Turnbull. Note how he reduced the problems of population growth to “not being able to get a seat on the tram.”

      • adelaide_economist

        He catches it pretty frequently but only for the cameras and only in the non peak times when there’s usually a reasonable amount of space for him and the advisers, security and media to comfortably fit in for the five minute trip.

  11. UE: Can I again implore you to PLEASE approach that Infrastructure Australia report with EXTREME caution regarding access to hospitals. Overall it is a strong graphic to use, but it is a complete fraud on the hospitals point because it refers only to how much of the greatly expanded population will live close to one of Sydney or Melbourne’s existing hospitals. There are no new hospitals planned or described anywhere in that report. Putting up a few thousand units across the road from a hospital makes things worse, not better. But according to the (intentionally) dishonest way the report was constructed, this would be a good thing. Listening to Turnbull and others, I feel that there is a carefully constructed script that says ‘acknowledge a little bit of crowding on public transport and roads, but don’t concede that the public hospitals are overcrowded and that we might need to build more of them’.

    The bureaucrats hate the notion of building new hospitals because they are now too difficult and expensive to construct with all of the standards / rules / policies that have been generated in the last 50 years – see the recent examples in Perth and Adelaide. Even once they open, their operating budgets are just black holes for public money. But if the deal is no more public hospitals for Sydney or Melbourne no matter how much more immigration we get – and from all the indications that I have I believe that is what the senior bureaucrats intend – then that should be made public.

    • Seems that Sydney and Melbourne are then ripe of the deployment of MASH units.

      And hey – why not, demountables – like they’ve done with the schools.

      FMD – my country.

  12. Chinese student numbers are down compared to this time last year and look like remaining that way for a few years at least. That’s why most teachers have been put on part time next term when usually it’s busy time and we’re knocking work back. Lot of people not happy but I can see the greater good.

    By the way…according to a student, going rate these days for a sham marriage is $200k.

    • I wonder if the Chinese are more represented in the academic 9University) sector than in the vocational training sector which appear to be predominately non – Chinese and mainly Indian.

    • Total Chinese student numbers increased in 2018, something like 7% in total with a 30% increase in applications.

      What part of the sector are you in ELICOS? Because there is NO reduction in higher ED.

      • At one of the big unis in their foundation courses. I don’t know the exact numbers- couldn’t be assed to attend the last all staff info session. BUT, here on the front line things are definitely down and work is getting harder to come by.

  13. Frankly I dont care why anyone is coming here or for how long other than short term tourism – 3 months max – if they are to be allowed in Sydney.
    Sydney is full. The roads are full, you have to stand on trains if you can get on. Many Buses are full and so are many ferries in peak hour. Town Hall station in afternoon peak is a death trap witing to happen. emergency weaiting rooms are falling behind service times. Elective surgery times are blowing out. Schools are overcrowded and losing play space – we are now moving to vertical schools with no real open space at all.
    Stop all grrowth in Sydney population except for natural increase (which is about neutral anyway).
    I’m sure Melbourne can make the same case.

    How many of the jobs “created” during the coalition’s term have gone to non-citizens or non-permanent residents? Why don’t journalists ask this question?