Malcolm Turnbull, Liberal Member of Parliament for Wentworth, recently spoke at a Bondi Chamber of Commerce event.
I asked him a question about his views on immigration, pointing out that both sides of politics had promised to cut immigration and that this would be bad for Australian business. I invited him to outline how migration should be managed for the benefit of the Australian community.
Mr. Turnbull gave a very measured and sensible response – something that has been absent in relation to the immigration debate in the current election campaign.
Mr. Turnbull made reference to his recent speech at the National Population Summit in relation to Population, Cities, and Infrastructure.
He indicated that migration needs to be driven by labor market demands. Migration has been at high levels for the last few years, but this has been key in reducing skills shortages and fostering economic growth.
Mr. Turnbull made reference to Mr. Abbott’s proposal for the population level to be set through the Productivity Commission. He indicated that the Productivity Commission people are the ultimate economic rationalists and would be able to set population planning levels at a level appropriate for the Australian economy.
He indicated that Ms. Gillard’s commitment to keeping the Australian population at a sustainable level was largely meaningless.
Many people using the sustainability argument against population growth claim that we don’t have enough infrastructure to support a larger population and that this will result in higher-density cities with more congestion and lower quality of life.
Mr. Turnbull made the point that high density is not the problem – it’s the solution. Property is the most expensive in the high-density areas, which indicates that people actually prefer high-density living. Infrastructure is also easier to provide in high-density communities.
Mr. Turbull said that Sydney’s record on building infrastructure is very poor – he cited the example of the Shanghai Metro which was opened in 1995 and now carries over 6 million passengers a day.
It is refreshing to see such a reasonable view being expressed. The current debate on immigration verges on xenophobia and focuses mainly on illegal maritime arrivals – these form only a very small proportion of Australia’s migration program.
Mark Webster is the Director of Acacia Immigration Australia and NSW President of the Migration Institute of Australia (MIA). All the views expressed herein are his own.