IMMIGRATION levels would be adjusted every year under a Coalition government to ensure population growth remained economically and environmentally sustainable.In a policy unveiled yesterday by the Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, and his immigration spokesman, Scott Morrison, most categories of migrants, including foreign students, would have their numbers trimmed annually if necessary to keep population growth on a sustainable footing.”At the moment, it’s growing in an out-of-control and unsustainable way,” Mr Abbott said.Under the policy, the Productivity Commission would be restructured as the Productivity and Sustainability Commission.In a system similar to the inflation band the Reserve Bank uses for setting interest rates, the new commission would establish a population growth band with upper and lower limits of growth.The growth band would be set every five years or so, taking into account such factors as the economy, skill demands, environmental stresses and infrastructure such as roads and housing. Each year the migration intake would be adjusted to ensure population growth stayed within the band.The Coalition would also put updated population projections in the budget each year.All migrant streams – classified as anyone with a visa for 12 months or more – would be subject to assessment every year, including foreign students.”The Coalition will exercise flexibility within programs to reprioritise intakes to ensure a primary focus on skilled migration,” the policy says.Population has become a sensitive political issue since late last year when the Treasury estimated that at current immigration and birthrates, Australia’s population of 22 million would reach 36 million by the middle of the century.The Prime Minister initially endorsed the figure, saying he welcomed the prospect of a ”big Australia”. The government has since backed well away from the statement, saying 36 million is a forecast, not a target.Kevin Rudd recently appointed Tony Burke as Population Minister and charged him with coming up with a policy over the next 12 months to keep population growth on a sustainable footing.The most recent Herald/Nielsen poll found 54 per cent of voters found immigration levels were too high, an increase of 11 points since November last year.Also, 51 per cent believe 36 million was too many people, 27 per cent said it was just right, and only 2 per cent felt it was too few.Yesterday Mr Abbott emphasised repeatedly Mr Rudd’s endorsement of a big Australia.”Australia’s large cities are choking on their traffic and Australia’s environment is under pressure everywhere and that’s why the Coalition rejects Mr Rudd’s big Australia population target of 36 million people,” Mr Abbott said.Mr Burke turned on Mr Abbott, saying his claim the government has a target of 36 million ”is a lie”.”It’s merely a projection from Treasury. It is not a target. Not an ambition. Not a policy,” he said.”At least they’ve started to realise this issue is about infrastructure and sustainable growth. The next step for the Coalition will be if they can finally acknowledge regional difference.”Both Mr Abbott and Mr Morrison need to leave Sydney for even a minute and start understanding the population pressures are very different in different parts of the country.”
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