Melbourne, March 29: Australia goes to polls in the month of May. If all the opinion polls turn out to be accurate, Scott Morrison and his coalition parties will not be in government after the polling day. While the government ministers and members will not admit in public, their chances of winning are not great.

And Alan Tudge, a hugely talented minister, beating all the odds, is adamant that they (the Coalition) still have a chance.

… I think that we’re still absolutely in the race to win this and we’re still fighting all the way to hold onto government”, he said talking to Bharat Times.

Alan Tudge is the minister for Cities, Urban Infrastructure and Population in Morrison government. And if the daily drag of getting to and from work is to go by, Alan Tudge’s job is perhaps the most difficult of all ministers in the cabinet. He is constantly under barrage of questions from the media and society in general on the issues of overcrowding of our cities and clogged roads, every morning and evening when people have to go to work and come back home.

While the Urban Infrastructure is already a hugely cumbersome task to take on with constant nagging by the states for more and more funding commitments from the feds, Tudge’s additional responsibility of managing the Population portfolio is no less herculean task. And with migrant intake thrown in the mix, it makes the argument explosive, particularly in the current international clime.

If the government plans to cut the intake, there are a large number of pressure groups vying for their interests and interest groups to be taken into consideration before the government makes any decision, particularly in relation to source countries. Wherever the axe is going to fall, there is going to be a corresponding group leader calling on the minister and fighting the cut.

The life of the person with such high stakes, with a 24/7 pressure on him/her as the determinant factor on what to and what not to think – can only be described as living in a pressure cooker. But as a true leader would, Alan Tudge, has shown, he is undaunted and getting on with the job of nation building, taking decisions which are best in the best interests of our nation.

To discuss these issues, he spoke exclusively to Bharat Times. and provided a 4 step solution.

Excerpts from the interview on tackling overcrowding and clogging of the roads, transport infrastructure and population including annual migrant intake:

Really there’s there’s four things which we have done. The first is to slightly reduce the migration rate down from one hundred ninety thousand people to 160000 people… So this brings it down by close to 20000 … and then within that we’ve put some additional incentives for people to go and settle in and Adelaide or Hobart or a regional area rather than everyone necessarily choosing to come to Melbourne or Sydney.

How are you going to monitor or police that?

By telling migrants should they move out of those areas before the stipulated time, their chances of PR in Australia will be in jeopardy.

“… it’s straightforward because we already do this on a small scale with the 4 8 9 visa where people have where people come in on that visa and you have to go to a regional area for two years (previously now three) on that visa. And if you breach that visa condition just like if you break any visa condition you can put in jeopardy your long term prospects in Australia.”

And to emphasise the effectiveness of the framework, Mr Tudge highlights 489 Visa program’s success rate.

“… we find that you get a 99.8% compliance rate”,  Mr Tudge added

Are there any exceptions?

“Well if there is if there’s reasonable ground for … there might be a family tragedy … health issue … then of course those things get taken into account right. But otherwise the expectation is that you accept a visa to go to Adelaide and you get work in Adelaide you live there…”.

The evidence shows that five years later more than 85 per cent of people are still there, Mr Tudge adds.

What proportion of 160, 000 (migrant intake) is going to be subject of 489 Visa program?

“There’ll be 23000 positions which will be available only for 489 Visa. So effectively we’re replacing that 489 visa yet with this 23000 positions which will be available for people to apply for accepts and then they’ll be able to go in and live in Adelaide or in Hobart or in a regional area and you’ll have to stay there for three years as part of your condition of that visa before then being granted permanent residency.

So if say twenty three thousand it’s one hundred and thirty seven thousand still who can flock our main cities. What are we going to do about that?

“This is where we’re trying to get the right balance on the one hand we are dropping down that permanent migration rate plus providing incentives to go to the regions in the small and the smaller cities to address congestion challenges. On the other we’ve got to make sure we balance out the economic considerations as well to make sure that businesses can get workers because sometimes they can’t find Australians to do the jobs so they need to be able to sponsor somebody in.

So will you then agree that the pain that we experience on the road every morning every afternoon is kind of going to stay on for some time…

On 137,000 still freely coming to Melbourne and Sydney, Mr Tudge’s attempted defence:

“…it (137,000 or migrant intake adding to our capital cities) keeps the working age population healthy because if we don’t have a relatively strong migration Australia very quickly gets old. As a nation and then you find you don’t have that many workers who are paying the taxes to sort all of the expenses which come in your old age yet there’s nearly all the expenses that you have as a person on the public purse occur when you’re older, your pension for your health care particularly and then aged care.

Well it’s just let let let me say so that was the first elements of the plan is to reduce the migration rate down and encourage more people to go to the smaller cities in the regions. Yes that’s step one.

There’s also incentives by the way within that step for international students to go to other areas as well because they’ve been a big part of our population.

Step two is actually significantly more money into roads and rail to address congestion as rapidly as possible. And so we’re putting 75 billion dollars worth of infrastructure investment as we speak in roads and rail. Included in that is a fast rail plan where we want to connect up the big cities like Melbourne to the orbital cities like Geelong like Ballarat and Bendigo so that people can enjoy the lifestyle of Geelong and cheaper accommodation and less congestion and still be able to commute to Melbourne on a regular basis.

Step three then is developing a better planning framework with the states and territories so that population growth doesn’t run ahead of infrastructure development in the future because that’s what’s happened I think over the last decade.

“So in some respects we’re easing the pressure point one we’re building the infrastructure to address congestion and we’re planning better for the future.

The fourth element of the plan is just to ensure that we continue to be a very successful multicultural country by having infrastructure in place to welcome people into the country and ensure that they’ve got the opportunity to integrate. So we’ve always got to continue to work on that.

“… so that when people come here because of the lifestyle and the opportunities and the fresh air and everything and we want to maintain that of course…

But your efforts presuppose an equal kind of commitment from the state governments as well and there’s a fair amount of politics…

You know certainly we’ve got to work much more closely together on this and that’s what that population planning framework is designed to do.

Whether the goodies the Coalition is delivering will yield them any desired results, only time will tell. At the moment there seems to be a deluge of money to offer all sorts of sweeteners which suddenly come to the fore each election and 2019, with the Morrison government looking already consigned to the history books, sweeteners may be a lot sweeter and a whole lot of them.

But for the daily grind on the road each morning until and after election, will be faithfully the same, unlike many other fundamentals of life shifting ground.

And on the question of regional migrants sneaking into the two big cities, adding to the congestion every morning, the minister assures that they will have to do their regional visa time in those regions, or else…!

-R. VenuGopal with DM


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