The Australian government is planning a significant change to immigration policy ahead of the federal election by slashing the annual intake of permanent migrants by 30,000, the Australian reports.
The government's new plan — which has reportedly already been authorized by the Expenditure Review Committee of Cabinet — centers around managing population growth. The "congestion-busting" policy will see the number of permanent migrants capped at 160,000 and will force a percentage of skilled migrants to work outside Sydney and Melbourne for five years.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison was forced to address criticisms over the timing of the new policy, which comes just days after the New Zealand terror attack that claimed 50 lives. Morrison said the migrant cut had nothing to do with anti-immigrant sentiment.
"Managing population growth is a practical challenge for governments — that’s what it is. Other debates about race or tolerance should not hijack it,” Morrison explained. "Just because Australians are frustrated about traffic jams and population pressures encroaching on their quality of life does not mean they are anti-migrant or racist."
“We’ve got a lot of shires and councils saying that they want more people, so this facilitates that”— Sunrise (@sunriseon7) March 19, 2019
Prime Minister @ScottMorrisonMP announces his plan to cap immigration numbers and force migrants into regional areas. #auspolpic.twitter.com/PV8ITNQpXW
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has condemned the timing of the government's announcement. The new policy, Shorten stated, was a classic example of “dog-whistling by political leaders about immigration."
"Dog-whistling about immigration needs to stop because the crazies, the extremists, they take comfort when there is approval given to go down this slippery path of starting to bag immigration,” he told reporters in Perth.
Read More: Australia's Migrant Intake Hits Lowest Level in 11 Years
The Federation of Ethnic Communities Councils of Australia (FECCA) revealed that cutting the migrant intake “sends the wrong message to the Australian community.” The discourse around congestion, FECCA Chair Mary Patetsos announced, should revolve around improving infrastructure capacity, not cutting migration.
"It is extremely important that following the atrocities in Christchurch political leaders not conflate the issue of congestion with migration. To do so is not only erroneous but irresponsible,” she stated in a press release. “Care must be taken at this time to reassure Australians from ethnically and culturally diverse backgrounds that they belong and are welcome in Australia.”
Read More: Australia Signals It Will Step Away From UN Migration Agreement
For the past seven years, Australia has capped permanent migration at 190,000.
However, the recent introduction of strict new visa integrity measures saw just 162,417 migrants enter Australia in 2017 — a 10% fall from 183,608 in 2016 and the lowest level in over a decade.
Last year, Australia failed to sign the Global Compact on Migrants and Refugees, an agreement between 160 countries that fosters international cooperation and provides greater support for those leaving their homelands in search of a better life.