SABRA LANE: The Federal Government is unveiling a population policy today. It will cap the nation's permanent migration intake at 160,000 people for the next four years. That's about the level it's at now. It's a reduction of 30,000 places. It's also introducing a new skilled worker visa covering 23,000 migrants. But it will require them to live in regional areas of the nation for a minimum of three years as a condition for them securing permanent residency. It's also promising better fast rail links to some regional cities to help relieve congestion. The Prime Minister Scott Morrison joined me a short time ago, but we began with questions about the New Zealand investigation. Prime Minister thanks for joining AM.
PRIME MINISTER: Thank you Sabra.
LANE: How would you quantify the threat of right wing extremists in Australia?
PRIME MINISTER: I think it's serious and I think it always has been and that's why at the federal level our agencies have always taken it seriously. And the work that they've done over a long period of time I think has greatly assisted us, particularly in recent days when we've been responding to the issue, the terrible tragedy in Christchurch, the terrorist attack, to ensure that we're well prepared for the response that was needed here.
LANE: The New Zealand minister over there Andrew Little says that authorities there were only really alert to this midway through last year. What assurances can you give Australians here that their investigations are on point?
PRIME MINISTER: The Australian investigations picked up immediately and we've been assisting not only directly with the inquiries in New Zealand but also providing assistance and coordinating that investigation linking up with other countries around the world. When it comes to our knowledge of white supremacists or separatists or other extreme groups like this, we have got quite a bit of intelligence in these areas and it goes back quite a way on these groups. So we'll continue to act on that and that is very much informing our participation.
LANE: Where would you suggest voters in the upcoming federal election put One Nation and the Shooters Party?
PRIME MINISTER: Well we're not having any preference deals with One Nation, we’re not having any preference deals with the Greens or Labor for that matter. You know, when the nominations are all set that's when our preferences are determined.
LANE: Yeah. Will you instruct your organisation to put them somewhere?
PRIME MINISTER: Well we'll wait for who is on the list of every candidate all around the country. I mean, as we've seen in the past, there can be some individuals who present very, very extreme views even beyond those of some of those you've mentioned. So I mean, we'll wait to see what all the nominations are and that's our normal process. It was at the last election that Labor did a preference deal with One Nation. I recall it. The Member for Dobell was elected on the basis of it.
LANE: Is a censure strong enough for Fraser ending in Parliament? Some want him suspended for the rest of the term.
PRIME MINISTER: Well look, the suspension is a matter that the Senators will consider. I understand that's being discussed, but in terms of a motion that is currently being moved by the Government with the support of the opposition I think is highly appropriate. But I think he should face the full force of the law, personally, and that is what I expect state and territory police authorities to be looking at.
LANE: In regards to assault, or in regards to hate speech?
PRIME MINISTER: I think there are a range of avenues open there and I'd expect people to be applying the law.
LANE: Onto your announcement today, this intention has been flagged for a long time. The rate that you want is one that Australia is currently close to. Is this confirmation of something already happening?
PRIME MINISTER: What today is is about a comprehensive plan for Australia's future population growth. I want to see Australians getting home safer and earlier to spend time with their families. I want to see tradies being able to get on site, not sit in traffic jams. And that means you need a balanced, responsible migration settings but it also means taking opportunities outside the big cities. Whether that's in Adelaide or Darwin or in regional locations like Newcastle or places like that, it's about seizing the opportunities where they present and relieving the congestion burden where it's really impacting on quality of living. And so that's what the plan is designed to do and that means busting congestion with the infrastructure investments we've made, planning for future population growth together with the states and territories to take on a much bigger role, moving from determining less than a fifth of the total intake to more than a quarter. And then of course continuing to bring Australians together and working on the social cohesion, the social fabric which provides the very opportunity for continued prosperity and Australians living well together.
LANE: The Chamber of Commerce and Industry's James Pearson has described this shift as an economic own goal. He says it's very disappointing that you're imposing a lower cap. How do you respond?
PRIME MINISTER: I think once James has the opportunity to actually read the policy I think he will react in a more measured way -
LANE: I've spoken to him personally this morning.
PRIME MINISTER: He's entitled to his view but I think what Australians need and our economy needs is a balanced and responsible migration plan. I mean, under this plan we're seeing increased places for employer nominated skilled visas. Under this plan we're seeing opportunities for more regional visas where there are some more than 40,000 job vacancies in regional Australia. So this is about ensuring that our migration plan is tied towards where the opportunities are and relieving the congestion which can slow economic growth. I mean, a tradie isn't getting paid when they're sitting in a traffic jam. They get paid when they get on site.
PRIME MINISTER: And his members who are tradies will want to get on site and have a good migration plan that helps them do that and infrastructure to back it up.
LANE: This announcement comes three days out from a crucial state election where population growth and congestion are very big issues there and where the incumbent Liberal Party is in trouble. What's the public to make of this timing?
PRIME MINISTER: That this is an important plan that we've been working on from the day that I became Prime Minister. I took these matters to COAG last December. This has been the product of an enormous amount of work. And I said that it needed to be finalized before we handed down the Budget because the migration settings, as handed down in the Budget Sabra which as you know is in less than a fortnight. I think the issues that relate to this matter in the New South Wales election are the outrageous comments by Mr Daley. I mean, Mr Daley has basically said that Asians take Australian jobs and I've just find that abhorrent with all the talk about these issues lately. I mean, I denounced those comments and I think Bill Shorten should do the same.
LANE: What is the economic… where is the economic modelling and what are the economic benefits of your announcement, given that migration is a very strong economic stimulus?
PRIME MINISTER: Well the fiscal impacts of this plan are no impact, it has no impact on the Budget and that's what we've been working through and that's why it is, I think, a very responsible level of intake. There are others who would have liked to have seen lower levels of intake. I don't share those views. This level of intake I think is the one that continues to support the important employer nominated skill stream. 70 per cent of our intake under this plan is skilled and that's the program which helps drive the economy forward. So this is a positive plan for the economy. There is nothing to suggest that this would do anything other than support our current growth levels in the economy, whilst avoiding the serious congestion problems which can slow our economy down.
LANE: 23,000 migrants will be required to live in regional areas under this plan. How will you force them to do that and will there be jobs for them?
PRIME MINISTER: No, look that is a misrepresentation of the plan. What it is is the opportunity for 23 classes for skilled migrants to settle and remain in regional Australia. No one's being forced anywhere. This is an opportunity for people and we're talking about places outside the big cities. So that includes Adelaide, it includes Darwin.
LANE: Sure but how you can you can't compel them to live in those places.
PRIME MINISTER: Well what the visas will do will say that if you have complied with the terms of the visa to live in a regional area, then you will be able to apply for permanent residency. Now this is what is very important at the end of the day, if you comply with the arrangements particularly for the issues around where student visas where there will be extra incentives for students to go and study in regional areas, which will be very good for regional economies, then the ticket to permanent residency will mean being able to have maintain your provisional requirements of your visa to live in those areas. Now, that that is a very big incentive. When people come to Australia on those visas and there is a requirement for them to be in particular places, and it can be all over the country. It's not in one particular area. And if there are no jobs in those places, they won't go there. They will go where there are jobs and where places and cities are looking for them to come. I mean, Adelaide, Arana, Kalgoorlie, Darwin, Warrnambool - all of these places have been telling us that they actually want to see more people and there'll be opportunities for them to go there and where they take up those visas, whether they're state sponsored or whether they're under the new visa forms we're announcing today, then that will provide them with a better pathway towards permanent residence. So it's done through incentive, that's where it's done.
LANE: All right. Prime Minister we're out of time. Thank you very much.
PRIME MINISTER: Thanks very much Sabra.