Politics Analysis

Tehan’s tripe on immigration is not helping good policymaking

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Dan Tehan on Insiders (Screenshot via YouTube)

A recent interview with Dan Tehan has proven that the Coalition is still clueless about immigration policy. Dr Abul Rizvi reports.

AFTER HIS MADE-UP numbers and zero policy substance in his interview on Insiders, Opposition Immigration spokesperson Dan Tehan has doubled down on his tripe in an interview on Perth radio.

Tehan is rapidly developing a Trump-like habit of making things up that can easily be fact-checked against publicly available information. He knows the Murdoch press or the usual radio shock jocks will not fact-check him just as they didn’t with this rubbish forecast of net migration by the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA).

So, let’s have a look at his Perth radio interview.

The first question he is asked is about the current high level of immigration and housing crisis.

Tehan says:

“We've been asking the Government this question now for 12 months and they refuse to answer it.”

Tehan, of course, doesn’t explain that the seeds of the current immigration boom were sown by Coalition Government policies even prior to COVID when student numbers were rising strongly, particularly in the private VET sector and lower-tier universities.

This was exacerbated by his Government during and immediately after COVID, which introduced policies such as unrestricted work rights for students, fee-free visa applications for students and working holidaymakers, and the special COVID visa that just about any temporary entrant in Australia could get.

He also makes no mention of the fact that during the second half of 2022, the Coalition was complaining the Labor Government had been too slow to increase immigration.

A more truthful response Tehan could have given is to explain the above and then say the Labor Government had been too slow in reversing many of the Coalition Government policies it inherited.

From a housing perspective, Tehan could have explained that the immigration boom has been comprised almost entirely of:

  • students, who tend to live in student accommodation near universities;
  • working holidaymakers, who tend to live in backpacker accommodation; and
  • visitors extending stay, a phenomenon that took off under the Coalition Government leading up to 2019-20.

He should have explained why the Coalition Government’s forecast of migration and population growth set immediately before the pandemic had Australia’s population at very similar levels to where we are now. What were the Coalition’s housing policies to deal with that?  

But Tehan was happy to let people think migrants are the main source of the housing crisis when he well knows the crisis is the result of many factors, of which migrants are but one.

If he wants to be a good future immigration minister, he will need to be able to explain to radio shock jocks that migrants are not the cause of all problems.

Tehan was then asked about Dick Smith’s suggestion that immigration should be reduced to 75,000 per year because:

“The more people that come to Australia, the less quality of life Australians are going to have. Is he on track there?”

Rather than carefully explaining why Dick Smith is wrong and that in the last 20 years, the Coalition never has and in future never would try to get immigration down to 75,000 per year, Tehan happily panders to his radio hosts’ prejudices and says Smith “is on track”.

Is Tehan really saying the Coalition will try to reduce migration to 75,000 per year? Of course not, but Tehan was happy to let people think that.

Tehan continues with his political scare line that the Labor Government is pursuing a “big Australia” policy without once mentioning the array of changes the Labor Government has made to Coalition Government policies to try and get migration down (in conjunction with some policies that also increased net migration).

He could have explained that turning around surging immigration takes time and that it’s important to manage that carefully. But telling people the truth is not how politics is played.

Tehan is then asked how people get a permanent visa to Australia. Rather than explaining the broad streams under which people migrate to Australia, he immediately starts talking about English-language testing.

It is hard to believe Tehan doesn’t know that there are no English language tests for people entering via the family stream or the humanitarian program. And that secondary applicants in the skill stream also don’t have to sit an English test.

Without providing a shred of evidence, Tehan then says:

“I'm not quite sure whether the Government is making sure that people do have the requisite language skills that they need.”

Tehan should have explained that every skills-assessing body has its own English language requirement and there are rigorous English tests that skill-stream primary migrants must pass. He could have pointed out that the Labor Government has recently increased the English language requirement for students and temporary graduates above the level required by his Coalition Government.

But that would not have suited the misleading impression he was trying to create.

Tehan then makes the extraordinary claim that the Government hasn’t put carpenters on the skills list. Carpenters have been on the skills list since Australia started its post-war migration program. They are on the current list. While we do not attract sufficient numbers of carpenters through the skill stream, that is because of other reasons that I doubt Tehan understands.

Tehan may have been confused about tradies not being included in the tiny temporary entry group that must earn a minimum salary of $135,000 per annum and be processed within seven days. But that makes no difference to the number of tradies we get. Carpenters are included in the temporary entry group that must earn a minimum of $70,000 and are processed in 21 days.

Tehan doesn’t explain that when Opposition Leader Peter Dutton was Home Affairs Minister, he allowed processing times for skilled temporary entry visas to blow out massively to many months and a huge backlog while freezing the minimum salary at $53,000. If Tehan wants to understand poor immigration policy and what not to do, he needs to look no further than how Dutton managed immigration.

Tehan finishes up the interview with this statement:

“I've been saying now for well over 18 months, [immigration is] too high.”

I have not found a single public statement from Tehan saying immigration was too high 18 months ago.

If he thought immigration was too high 18 months ago, why did he not point that out to his leader, Peter Dutton, who said in September 2022:

“We do need an increase in migration numbers, but we'll see what the Government actually delivers since this might take many months, if not a couple of years in the making.”

So when Dutton was saying in late 2022 that it would take months or years to increase migration sufficiently and was urging the Labor Government to slam on the immigration accelerator, Tehan wants us to believe he was warning Dutton that migration needed to be cut? Only the most gullible would believe that.

Whenever he has been asked which visa categories he would cut or how he would cut them to reach the reduced (but unknown) level of immigration he has allegedly been advocating for 18 months, Tehan has had nothing to say other than he will tell us before the Election.

The reality is that Tehan has no idea what he is talking about – as his silly comment about carpenters not being on the skills list shows – and is just making it up as he goes along.

Dr Abul Rizvi is an Independent Australia columnist and a former Deputy Secretary of the Department of Immigration. You can follow Abul on Twitter @RizviAbul.

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