Canberra: Peter Dutton has confirmed reports he discussed cutting Australia’s immigration rate, contradicting Malcolm Turnbull’s repeated denials that the conversations took place.
The prime minister emphatically denied a report in the Australian Dutton had suggested reducing Australian’s immigration intake by 20,000 last year, a proposal which was reportedly shut down by Turnbull and Scott Morrison before it made it to cabinet.
“It is completely untrue, it is completely untrue, it is completely untrue,” Turnbull said on Tuesday. “ The article, the claim in the article, is false. Full stop. OK? Full stop.”
But asked about the report on Wednesday, Dutton, confirmed that discussions canvassing different options had taken place, while maintaining he was not contradicting his leader.
“I’m not going to going into comments or discussions and who said what and who was in the meetings and the rest of it, others can speculate on that,” he said. “I don’t, as a policy and I never have, commented on what’s been discussed in cabinet or subcommittees or whatever it might be, or gatherings of cabinet colleagues.
“But as I say, as immigration minister, as Scott Morrison did, as Chris Bowen did, Philip Ruddock, whoever you like to nominate … of course there are discussions of what the figures should be, the benefits of different aspects of migration, there is obviously a debate about congestion and about housing affordability and the government is alive to all of those concerns, about geographic placement of people out to the regions, they are all issues that we considered.
“There are big changes that we made in relation to the 457 visa changes that we announced recently.
“There was obviously a debate within cabinet, discussions which take place within different gatherings and between colleagues …
“I’ve seen the comments of the prime minister yesterday and I fully endorse those.”
Dutton said he supported the government’s position to maintain the ceiling at 190,000 but confirmed “as you would expect … I have canvassed different options around the composition of that programme”.
He added: “Of course I look at different options but the government’s taken a decision to set the Nom [net outward migration] there and I think it’s been roughly that since 2012. I note that last year it was down from that by about 7,000 to roughly 183,000, and I haven’t, of course, seen final figures for this financial year, which we’ll know about in the next couple of months. But I would expect the number to be less than 190,000 this year anyway, which is then treated as an estimation.”
Dutton did not deny the report when it was published, only reaffirming that he supported the government’s position of maintaining the 190,000 immigration ceiling.
Tony Abbott repeated calls for a cut in Australia’s immigration levels earlier this year, arguing the nation’s capital cities were already too congested and struggling to cope with population growth, having begun advocating for change to the numbers in 2017.
Dutton, who has publicly stated his leadership ambitions, originally backed the idea, which had also been floated by new Liberal senator Jim Molan in his maiden speech, before walking back his comments and pledging his support for the government position.