Published:  

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government is considering reducing its annual legal immigration cap from 190,000 to 160,000, a 16 percent reduction. Morrison said “Australians in our biggest cities are concerned about population. They are saying: enough, enough, enough. The roads are clogged, the buses and trains are full. The schools are taking no more enrollments. I hear what you are saying. I hear you loud and clear.”

The announcement is a reversal for Morrison, who had been defending the nation's high immigration levels as necessary for economic growth. His population minister, Alan Tudge, said the federal government would consult with state leaders, who are responsible for infrastructure development, on the optimum population levels. “Immigration policy in some respects should reflect the number of people our infrastructure can support as indicated by state governments," Tudge said. Tudge also is considering giving priority to immigrants who are willing to fill vacant jobs in rural areas.

Prime Minister Morrison also recently announced he will not sign the United Nation’s Migration pact, which was already rejected by the U.S. and several European countries, on the grounds it would undermine the annual immigration program.

The influx of immigrants has increased Australia’s population by 50 percent over the past three decades and could double it in less than 50 years. Officials say 75 percent of all immigrants locate in major cities like Sydney and Melbourne and that has compromised the quality of life. Those cities had among the fastest population growth rates in the world in recent years. Melbourne's population – now just over 5 million – increased by 1 million over the last eight years and, under the current immigration cap, could reach 8 million by 2051.

Mark Wilde, a Sydney resident since 1982, complained about the city’s congestion and hour-long commutes to and from work. "The population is growing a bit too quick and the infrastructure is not keeping up. There is too much traffic to get to and from work by car and the trains are getting busier and busier.” Records show Sydney’s train ridership has, in fact, jumped 30 per cent over the last five years.

According to one poll, about 63 per cent of Sydney residents backed reducing immigration numbers and half opposed more local development to accommodate population growth. A recent national poll found that only 29 percent approve of the federal government's handling of immigration while 64 percent disapproved.

Responding to the prime minister’s announcement, Jenny Goldie of Sustainable Population Australia said it is “gratifying the Prime Minister has recognized that there is a cost to immigration -- it's called infrastructure -- and has suggested cutting the intake by 30,000…[But] more needs to come off both the permanent and temporary programs…[and] not just [because of] infrastructure. Urban sprawl leads to loss of habitat for other species… Population growth makes it harder to reach our targets on emissions reduction. It causes general loss of environmental amenity.”

Read more in Australian Financial Review.

Updated: Wed, Dec 12th 2018 @ 2:45pm EST