Department of the Environment

Archived media releases and speeches

The Hon Tony Burke MP
Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities

Launch of Sustainable Population Strategy Issues Paper

E&EO Transcript
Press Conference
16 December 2010

TONY BURKE: Thank you very much for coming. If I can first of all indicate I understand there's a very, very strong desire for people to be able to get further information on the terrible and tragic events with the accident at Christmas Island. Both the Prime Minister and, I understand, Chris Bowen will be making statements with the latest information later today. I'm not privy to the latest information on that but those statements and those opportunities will be made during the course of today.

Today the reason that I've called the media conference is to release the issues paper on a sustainable population strategy for Australia.

The way we've conducted this issues paper and the way we've dealt with the public discussion has been quite different to how these issues have been dealt with in the past.

I took the view when I first was given the population portfolio in April, which later became the sustainable population portfolio, that most of the different complaints or concerns that people had referred to challenges that in some part of Australia were correct.

Regardless of the different views that were being put, there tended to be a part of Australia where they rang true, whether it was people in the outer suburbs of a city who discovered they no longer had half an hour of daylight at the end of the day after a long commute home because of what had happened with congestion, or whether it was areas under the resources boom where people were desperate and crying out for more workers and simply were not able to find them.

So my view, in wanting to have a sensible process for the public discussion, was that we needed to separate out these different perspectives, these different arguments and, in doing so, create an opportunity for the public discussion to bring in all of those different perspectives so that the strategy which we're still working towards for April of next year was able to be informed not by arguments about arbitrary total figures for the country but an informed discussion about the spread of people across Australia and how that works.

It feeds into a number of the regionalism debates that are currently going on, although this time around it's happening in a different way because there's some market drivers of regional development that haven't been there previously, whether it be the resources boom, whether it be the voluntary movement of retirees looking for a sea change or a tree change, or whether it be some of the new market opportunities that will come with the rollout of the national broadband network where previously jobs that only could have been created within the CBDs of major capital cities will now be possible in many other parts of Australia.

To feed into the ways of dealing with these different issues across different regions we formed three separate panels.

I want to thank all members of the panels for the work that they've put in. And what we did was get people with a similar perspective into the three different groups.

I have two of the chairs present here with me today. I want to thank all three chairs: Bob Carr, who can't be with us today but is represented by one of the panel members in Bill Forrest; Heather Ridout; and Graeme Hugo.

The Bob Carr panel involved a number of people who largely had a concern, in part about the environmental implications, but with a number of concerns about the limitations that Australia as an arid continent would face with a growing population.

Heather Ridout's panel was very much made up of people who saw the economic opportunity that can come with a higher population, and also were very conscious of the impact of skill shortages on the limitation that that could provide to economic growth.

Graeme Hugo's panel involved a large number of people who didn't necessarily have strong views on what the size of the population should be but did have strong views on the impact if we don't plan for it, and plan for it effectively.

I'll invite each of the chairs and Bill Forrest, in representing Bob Carr, to say a few words. But, before I do, each of their - those panels, as part of the issues paper that's being released today, the full independent reports of each of those panels are there. So what you will find is a wealth of contradictory views, a wealth of different perspectives that I think will go a long way to kicking off a strong and vibrant public discussion over the coming weeks and months.

It is still the intention to drive this through to the release of a strategy in April of next year. We were pushed - and I'd refer to some of you on this - during the caretaker period. We lost quite a bit of time there in the progress of this, and the caretaker period took somewhat longer than had been originally envisaged as well.

The release of the issues paper today means that the timing of the release of the strategy should be back on track, that we should be able to do that with April and start to step onto some new turf of planning issues that previously Australia has never planned.

Possibly the best example of how the distribution of our population in Australia has become so far out of kilter has been what you find in some of the high growth resources areas. When fly-in, fly-out has effectively become the only option for many people wanting to work in those regions, it means we haven't planned the distribution of people across Australia well enough.

There will always be some people - many people - who would prefer that sort of working environment but you only have to look at the massive explosion in property prices in some of those resources areas to see that there is a desire for communities to be built, there is a desire for better housing supply that our planning needs at the moment are simply not matching what's happening economically. And I think fly-in fly-out is probably the most extreme example of what happens when we don't plan for these issues well enough.

The final strategy will also have to involve working out what we can measure. The government was committed at the election campaign to introducing sustainability indicators. We already have started since we first came to government to measure housing supply. Some of the indicators that can help us measure sustainability more effectively will be floated during - in these issues papers… in the issues paper, and will be floated during the public discussion.

But issues like should we be measuring just as we measure housing supply, should we be measuring rental affordability on a regional scale, should we be measuring what's happening with out land use, or are we going to continue to be a nation where we take our best agricultural land and decide that's a place where we'll put houses.

These sorts of questions of what we measure will help determine when the strategy is implemented how decisions of government at every level are taken in the years to come.

It's a new policy area, it crosses almost every portfolio, it certainly crosses each level of government. And, with the release of the issues paper today, the public consultation process is able to fully kick-off.

I'll ask each of the three people who have joined me here to say a few works, and then be very happy to take any questions.

HEATHER RIDOUT: Thanks very much, minister. Can I start by thanking the minister for giving me this daunting task to be completed in a fairly short period of time.

But I want to also thank the other members of my panel whose names I won't read out but they're in our report. They worked very diligently and the contributions were terrific and we actually enjoyed the process. We were a very high performance small team and there was a great camaraderie and it was a very good functioning panel, and I think that was very positive.

We approached our task with confidence about the fact that we can actually manage well a growing population. We also approached it in the knowledge that, whether we have a net migration of 70 or 180, we're still going to have a growing population. And what we're dealing with is five or six million people and how we best manage that. So that is a very important point.

We looked at virtually not only the economic case, we looked at the social case, the environmental case, across every possible area - water, energy, food - and on every measure we felt there was a positive case for increasing our population but doing it in a balanced way.

So we along the way, I think, put some pretty good facts forward and debunked quite a few myths, and that was very key to our process.

I think a growing population, well managed, is really the source of all good things. It will enable renewal, it will enable a more diverse and a more dynamic economy in society.

Very importantly, over the next 40 years, China is going to exceed the whole of the G7 in its economic weight, and India is not far behind. And we need to be open to our region and restrictive immigration is just another form of protectionism which is completely at odds with the fact of where our economic future lies.

So with that I'll take questions after, but the report goes into all the issues and tries to do it in a balanced way. It's not the yes it's just a why case, and I will finish by saying that the population strategy debate that we're having is the organising principle for a lot of discussions we need to have in Australia particularly for example infrastructure management.

We haven't been doing this well for 15 years, Infrastructure Australia has a chance to do it really well so I think there's a whole lot of debates that need to be had in Australia that can be had under this heading, and I really congratulate the minister on opening this debate up in a constructive way.

Thank you.

GRAEME HUGO: I too would like to thank the minister, the department and my panel for what's been I think a very exciting part of what I hope is going to be a longer process. Our panel believes quite passionately that Australia's at a bit of a crossroads with respect to population. The decisions that are going to be made over the next couple of decades are really going to be very important for Australia of the next three or four decades.

We believe that Australia's population offers a number of challenges into the future which we're going to have to meet as a nation, but we also see it as having a very substantial number of opportunities, and we've tried in our report to highlight both the challenges and the opportunities.

We feel that the discussion on population of Australia thus far has really been very unproductive, that it's been polarised, it's been hijacked by interest groups, and the vast majority of the population haven't had their say. And what we hope is that this process is going to lead to a broad based national discussion about the future of our population because people are important and it's really crucial that we have a discussion which is informed by the best science, the best knowledge but at the same time involves the majority of the population.

We believe that there is no simple single bullet solutions to dealing with Australia's population into the future. That's been the trouble I think in the past, people have sought single, simple solutions and in fact it's quite complex, and we're going to have to deal with that complexity. On the one hand we've got a need to grow our workforce, there's a manifest need of that, not just because of the growing economy but also because of the ageing of the baby boomers who make up such a high proportion of the workforce.

On the other hand there are very very substantial environmental constraints so it's going to be a balancing act in which we're going to have to lead to compromises I think between those two areas.

But the thing is it can be done, and I think the real challenge that we face is coming up with new solutions which other nations haven't done, and it really is a very substantial challenge not just for the Government, we believe that it isn't just policy which is crucial, the behaviour of Australians is going to have to change significantly, we're going to have to become much more sustainable in the way in which we live, but we also believe that the country is up to it. So we look forward very much to the discussion. Thanks very much.

TONY BURKE: Thanks, Graeme. Bill Forrest.

BILL FORREST: Thanks, Minister. And I'm not going to be able to do a charismatic impersonation of Bob Carr, so sorry about that.

Can I think the minister as well and the department for their support for this process, and I think it is off to a very good start. I'm thinking you will see differences of views between the three papers, but I think all three panels in terms of my quick cursory glance at it have tried to get to the evidence and tried to get on top of what is driving what we now see as we're here now because we don't have a sustainable growth trajectory as we speak.

The environmental impacts, and I guess the Sustainable Development panel's report is more of a cautionary tale. We don't - we acknowledge at this stage that we're not in control of what we need to be in terms of environmental sustainability around biodiversity, around water quality, around water generally, around climate change. The minister's reference to traffic congestion issues we have in our major urban centres. We're struggling with the provision of even things like health and education services. We have productivity declining, under employment and unemployment still [Indistinct] is quite diverse.

So they're the sorts of things that the Sustainable Development Population Advisory Committee was trying to deal with. I think it was also grappling with the how inextricably prosperity, GDP growth is linked to population growth, or is not, as the case may be as you look at some of the evidence. So I think we're off to a good strat in terms of an engaging and discursive process to try and bring a mature debate to what has been a very difficult issue over a long period of time.

So I look forward to it, I think the committee as well, it's been a very hectic process for us, but I think there's been a huge amount of goodwill from the committees and from all parties, so I look forward to a very positive and constructive dialogue going forward.

Thanks, minister.

TONY BURKE: Thank you very much. Let's take any questions.

QUESTION: Minister how are you going to balance - I mean like the Murray Darling Basin Committee you've got these wildly divergent views in these three reports, how are you going to sort this out by April?

TONY BURKE: Well in the first instance I don't want to pretend that when we get to April we will suddenly have solved every problem in Australia's distribution of people. This is a new area of policy, a new area of responsibility for Government. It's something that has been a conversation over barbecues for a long time with people saying why doesn't Government do something about this. We're now at the beginnings of doing something.

Now the mixture of what can be done by programs, what can be done through better information, what is simply done by measuring things which we currently talk about through anecdote but don't have formal systems of measurement I don't think can be underestimated.

Once we pick what those sustainability indicators are that of itself will be a very important information tool for all levels of Government, and it's important that information be made available on a regional basis as well.

To date we've tried to manage these issues as the only statistics that matter are national figures. Now national figures are important for parts of the debate. National figures for example are really the only way to work out your challenges of an ageing population and what htat means to your tax base and things like that. But for almost every other issue, whether it be congestion, whether it be skills shortage a national figure doesn't help you if everyone's living in the wrong spot.

So what we will get in April will be the first steps of Government addressing something which up until then has been simply vacant space.

QUESTION: Maybe this is a stupid question, but doesn't the ABS, the ATO, these sorts of organisations already measure a lot of this information? I mean we know where population is growing on a state by state or a city by city basis for example, we know that things are growing. Doesn't the Government already have this information to hand?

TONY BURKE: In terms of the information I referred to of what's happening with land use for example and the extent to which land use is going to be subject to an endless expanse of urban sprawl. Now we don't have good measurement of that at the moment. We have never tried to provide the information to help inform the decisions of local and state government. It's - that sort of information simply hasn't been measured. And I'm not committing these are the issues that will be sustainability indicators, I want the public discussion to help inform that, but if we simply work on the basis that we already have all the information we need then we'll keep going down the path we've been going, and I don't think anyone who's sitting in a traffic jam at the end of the day or any employer who looks around and says why can't I find a worker will thank us for leaving it at the status quo.

QUESTION: So can I just clarify then, Minister, as James said for example on water three committees have had very different takes on what sustainable water use and resources will be. In April are you going to be able to, not definitively, but sort of address some of those individual issues like water, infrastructure and where the Government's going on those? And when will we see some ultimate figure for - at the bottom - at the sort of bottom line figure of what you think a sustainable population target might be?

TONY BURKE: Oh the issues paper very strongly, while it's generally just opening up discussion, there is fairly strong language there rejecting the concept of a target. And it goes in part to in the past there have been different attempts where people have come up with targets, they've always been wrong. Let's not pretend that we can second guess the future needs of every different region in Australia.

If targets had been set 20 years ago what would we have known about the resources boom that's going on now? The concept of targets, whenever it's been half way tried has always fallen over, and it's something that I don't see as a particularly helpful policy tool.

QUESTION: About water?

QUESTION: Minister, you...

TONY BURKE: Sorry. Yeah, I did refer to the water issue. In April, we will not deal with every issue in this document, and I'm not going to pretend that we'll be able to.

What we'll be doing in April will be taking the first steps on a sustainable population strategy. We'll be working out the first stages of, what are the things that are currently not measured that we can start measuring, doing so on a regional basis and regularly reporting.

We'll be looking at what are the programs that we might be able to introduce or the areas of policy that we might be able to adapt slightly that will have an impact on some of the toughest pressures which are going on.

I'm not going to second guess today what they will be. That's one of the reasons for the public discussion.

QUESTION: Minister, you've mentioned a couple of times today the person that spends extra time in traffic on their way home. During the election campaign, the Prime Minister mentioned this person as well. It's obviously something the government's very concerned about.

So what would you say to the person who may be listening to this this afternoon on their way home from work while they're sitting in traffic, who hears that you're having this report and they're the person - or one of the people you're worried about dealing with?

What do you say to them that you can do for them other than having, you know, three more reports and having a discussion and having another report next year? What are you going to do for them?

TONY BURKE: Okay. First thing, there's more than one person in that situation, as everyone in the outer suburbs in our major cities knows. Secondly, there are a number of ways of dealing with congestion, and it's - and the issues that work through Anthony Albanese's portfolio in terms of transport are part of that. But let's not forget, when you have good urban planning, every local job is a car off the road.

As long as we have situations where you have a great distance between where the jobs are and where the homes are, you necessarily put more pressure on people with traffic.

Increasingly, we're having situations of master planned communities. And when we have those communities, one of the key features of them is not simply the variety of affordable housing supply that they might have, the openness of the parkland that's put in place, but also the availability of local jobs.

We always talk about it in terms of the time you spend in traffic. That's actually not the worst of it. The worst of it is the time you don't spend at home, and that's why I phrase it quite deliberately as to whether or not you get that half an hour of sunshine at the end of the day. That's just gone.

Are we going in April to suddenly be able to fix all these things? I'm not going to pretend that we are, but there are a number of ways of dealing with these challenges. Transport infrastructure is one of them, urban planning is another important part of it.

QUESTION: Minister, how prepared are you going to be to take the tough decisions?

I mean, just to give one example on congestion, one of the reports here today recommends congestion charging as a way to deal with it. The Henry review recommended that, and you guys have shied away from it time and time again, and it keeps being recommended. So how prepared are you going to be and make tough decisions like that?

TONY BURKE: We've got one of the members of the Henry review here beside me.

HEATHER RIDOUT: Very proud member.

TONY BURKE: Look, I'm not going to make statements about taxation policy. I'll leave that to Wayne and the ministers in his portfolio.

But I want to make clear with what's in these reports, I don't want to limit the discussion that now happens across the community by the comments I make today. Certainly, anything on taxation policy, the comments that Wayne has made on those, Wayne Swan as the Treasurer, those comments stand.

There are many different ways of dealing with these sorts of challenges. The public consultation that happens over the next few months is real.

QUESTION: So where exactly does this policy stand then, in terms of other government policies? For example, with the Murray- Darling Basin Authority proposal, does that - does this override what they come up with, given that that's one of the issues that's raised here, or does that feed in to this?

TONY BURKE: What we're talking about here is taking the first step in a very long-term path of changing the way we think in Australia.

So the Murray-Darling Basin reform process is on a timeline that has just over a year to run, okay? So don't presume that anything on that timeline is suddenly going to be turned on its head in April. It won't be.

But we have an area of policy where Australia is paying a price in terms of efficiencies. We're paying a price environmentally, we're paying a price in terms of the strength of our communities by never planning and engaging in this space at a federal level.

Many of the levers do rest at a state government level and a local government level, but I don't think the Australian people have anything other than an expectation that at a federal level we become part of the solution. The Australian people expect us to become part of the solution, and that's the way we're approaching the pathway up until April.

But you're not going to find, I don't want to build up expectations that in April, in one hit, there'll be a media conference from me and everything in federal government policy is going to turn on its head. It won't.

A lot of the information we need to inform these sorts of decisions isn't even measured at the moment. We have a portfolio that has now existed for about, what, six months? No, about six to eight months in the government - eight months it's existed now in this portfolio.

So in April it will have existed for 12 months and we'll be putting the beginnings of the architecture in place to make sure that the future doesn't look identical to the past in how we've dealt with this.

QUESTION: Minister…

TONY BURKE: Then, and then Malcolm.

QUESTION: So given you say a lot of these levers are state and local government, isn't it a bit misleading to the public to suggest that with this strategy some of these big problems will be solved?

TONY BURKE: I think I've actually said the opposite in terms of don't expect that we're suddenly going to solve them, so I don't accept the premise of the question.

Not all of the levers are at a state and local government area. In terms of the extent to which our skilled migration program is targeted specifically to where jobs are, and the work that Chris Bowen does in that area, that - I'm not going to pretend that state and local government are in charge of that policy; they're not.

There are a number of areas, including infrastructure, where Anthony Albanese works very cooperatively with the states in working through those policy areas.

But the areas that we measure, anything that we come up with in the sustainability indicators and where we go in those parts of the policy will inform the decisions of every level of government. And over the last few months I've had many, many, many meetings with local government. And one of the issues that they have repeatedly raised with me is that if we can provide better information, better measurement information, that does make a difference to how they're able to inform their own decisions.

It doesn't have to be the Commonwealth coming in over the top telling them what to do every step of the way. The mere fact that we don't even bother to collect this information at the moment - well, if that changes in April, that of itself will have an impact. How much further than that we go, let's have the public consultation. The consultation is real. Mal.

QUESTION: I'll just take a proposition in one of the papers. These problems of city living, the congestion, provision of facilities, are they more likely to be solved by an increased population or by maintaining current population growth?

TONY BURKE: The first thing is an increased population is happening no matter what. Even if, Heather referred to if immigration levels were at 180 or at 90 you would still have an increase in population. If immigration levels were at zero you would still have an increase in population because in Australia we have natural growth, and natural growth primarily driven by an ageing population.

So higher population is a given. The Australian population is growing in number either way.

The question that you asked though, Mal, also presumes that we can't do anything in urban planning. If we can improve the availability of local employment, if urban planning is done more effectively in a way that we avoid the continued creation of dormitory suburbs, then that of itself has a massive impact on congestion because congestion is very much driven by one simple premise and that is you have a substantial distance between where you live and where you work. That's why I gave fly-in fly-out as a most extreme example of that distance.

QUESTION: The nature of...

TONY BURKE: Sorry, if I can go there, and then Laura.

QUESTION: Is the government ever going to express a view on what is an appropriate level of population growth?

TONY BURKE: In terms of a total figure as a target, we...

QUESTION: ...general idea. I mean, you said the population will grow but at some point you've got to say what you think the nation needs to grow by.

TONY BURKE: I think the second half of the sentence you'll be happier with than the first half. So, in terms of a total figure as a target, the answer is no.

In terms of what should the immigration intake be, that's something that we deal with in the Budget every year as to what that should be, and it's tailored to the needs of the economy.

Now the net overseas migration figure which is often cited in some ways - there are aspects of that that can make it a misleading number, simply because it includes a number of things which are not within the control of the government such as how many people leave in any year affects your net overseas migration figure, how many Australians return home affects your net overseas migration figure.

So some of the numbers that are there that oscillate more strongly are those figures that are not strictly governed by the government because we don't control when an Australian comes home or when people leave. In terms of the immigration figures for each year, they're set annually in the budget, and that's the way it should be.

QUESTION: Could I just... just following on from that, I mean, this, these papers really came out of a pre-election debate about the big Australia or not too big Australia, and I noticed that Professor Hugo's report talks about the fact that before the election both major parties went from decades old positions which were supportive in a big expansionary immigration program to talking about being more circumspect about population growth.

It strikes me that what's happened in these reports is that this debate has now morphed into something very different. You're not really focusing on immigration at all - which is probably a good thing.

But how do you actually keep the focus on these issues like regional areas and planning and things like that, and not just descend as we'd previously saw into a pretty raw debate about immigration.

TONY BURKE: It's one of the reasons I wanted to put together the issues paper in the way that we have. I did have a concern that the full gamut of issues that need to be spoken about wouldn't be spoken about unless we had a paper to sketch out the full breadth of what this debate is quite properly about.

I'm told from my department that producing a report involving conflicting opinions is innovative, it just seems like the clear way to sketch out the beginning of a public discussion.

So I believe the issues paper itself provides a very clear framework to avoid the problems that Laura's referred to.

QUESTION: [Indistinct] come out of the context of a shift from Prime Minister Rudd who was comfortable with the IGR projections for population level in 50 years time and liked a big Australia, and Prime Minister Gillard who didn't want to hurtle in the direction of those projections.

Now you're rejecting the idea of targets.

So where are we in terms of that debate now? Are we back at the IGR projections as being acceptable, not targets obviously, but projections? You'd say nothing about whether Australia should aspire to have higher or lower than projected population growth in the long term.

TONY BURKE: Well first of all as you've said towards the end of the question, the IGR never contained targets, the IGR contained a range of different projections that were based on a presumption that you would have a standard level of net overseas migration over the coming years.

We've seen even in the last few years some massive variation in the net overseas migration figure following Chris Evans decisions to improve the integrity of some of the temporary Visa classes which existed which have seen a significant drop in the net overseas migration figures from where they've got to.

So the principles of the IGR, I think always, those projections never dealt with what was the critical question. The critical question was where. If you have any level of population within Australia and you've got people living in areas of high unemployment with heaps of congestion, and you've got massive projects on the other side of the country where they simply can't find workers, then it really doesn't matter what the level of population is - you've got a problem.

The purpose of this is for us to start saying, let's find ways to deal with that problem.

QUESTION: [Indistinct] groups that in the election context interpreted Prime Minister Gillard's remarks as meaning that she wanted something lower than the IGR projections - that was a wrong interpretation was it, and that's not the government's position?

TONY BURKE: Julia Gillard's words in the campaign reflect what Julia believes and what the government's position is, and that is, that whatever the numbers are - they need to be sustainable. That we should not be hurtling towards big arbitrary numbers. We shouldn't be. Precisely what is required in different parts of the country, what you can guarantee at the moment is we are not getting the targeting of the population across the country in a way that best works for our environment, for the communities, or for the economy.

I might just take one last...

QUESTION: The centres we will be targeting, like, at a regional level?

TONY BURKE: And I'll just go here here and here, if that's okay. So on regional targeting in terms of immigration...

QUESTION: Population [indistinct] ...

TONY BURKE: There are areas where that can make sense, and there are some areas of Australia where that's a difficult argument to justify. Certainly in significant resources projects where they are wanting, fairly quickly, to get up to particular numbers to be able to get a project off the ground, then your question, I guess, answers itself. In other parts of Australia there can be questions that are highly dependent on the levels of infrastructure. There are other parts of Australia where there are some significant environmental constraints that need to be brought in mind.

QUESTION: Is it at all an option for you at any point to change the immigration laws or conditions that say, people can come into Australia and live here, but they can not live in the western suburbs of Sydney or the growth corridors of Melbourne.

They have to live in the areas that need population and be restricted from 10 years from living in these overcrowded, congested areas.

Is that at all an option?

TONY BURKE: To some extent that already happens. To some extent - particularly with the conditions that surround the 457 Visa class. The 457 Visa class increasingly has become employer-sponsored. One of the challenges, though, is we don't tend to get the housing supply near the job in many of these areas of rapid growth.

So one of the key limitations that we have at the moment is not whether people are willing to live closer to work - but whether the housing supply is actually there.

Many of the areas of congestion have faced congestion, less so because of immigration, and more so because of internal movements within Australia. So there's some complexities in all of that. Once again, while I kicked off with it, I'll say it again - the answers will be different in different parts of Australia.

QUESTION: I've actually got a question for Heather Ridout, but first if I can just ask you about Murray-Darling Basin - when do you expect to appoint a new chairman, and do you think this episode that's happened recently will delay the finalisation of their plan?

TONY BURKE: I have no reason to believe that there'll be delays as a result of decisions that Mike Taylor's taken, and as soon as we're able to announce a new chair we will.

QUESTION: This month, next month.

TONY BURKE: As soon as we're able to announce a new chair we will. Mike Taylor, very generously, said that he was quite happy to stay on even into January while we completed that process, and I've thanked him for that.

QUESTION: Just on, Heather, on the restricted immigration comment you made earlier about how that's another form of protectionism - are you arguing for totally unrestricted, or where is your thinking on that?

HEATHER RIDOUT: Our report talks about a balanced immigration program - balanced against a whole lot of objectives. Economic objectives. Cultural objectives. And environmental objectives. So that's really very important.

The other issue that's really important is that there's a whole lot of issues we're going to have to grapple with anyway, and infrastructure is one of them. Climate change has to be a essential part of our response, whether you have no population growth - or very nearly hurtling population growth. What we need there is to decouple growth as much as we can from emissions.

That's a core objective of industry and the government anyway. So I think what we want is the right balance struck. Can I say - I think there's going to be quite tough choices for the Government in these areas. We've under invested in infrastructure for a long time to keep our cash account, being able to, you know, afford increases in recurrent spending.

We need to get back to a very vibrant investment in infrastructure. It needs to be rigorously assessed by Infrastructure Australia. And that body should be given more resources and it should, its role should be strongly enhanced. I have to have a conflict of interest - I'm on it. but I think it is serving a very very important purpose.

But the debt, the idea of how to finance infrastructure raises a lot of hard questions for government that state and local go... state and federal governments that we need to revisit. So yeah. I think it's going to be interesting.

QUESTION: But just on immigration - do you think it's currently too restrictive?

HEATHER RIDOUT: Look, I think the, what we've had is an immigration program, a skilled migration program pretty well targeted to economic need. We are going to have a lot of economic need over the next few years. If Glenn Stevens is right, if Ken Henry is right, we're going to have a lot of need for people.

We are training more. And we need to spend more effort in that area, government, business, individuals - it's a huge task for Australia, but our report goes into a lot of that.

So I think what we want is an immigration program that is responsive to economic need in the short term - and over the medium term. And that has all sorts of other dimensions as well.

TONY BURKE: Okay. Thanks everyone. If I can just flag, we've given out hard copies of these. But I'm also Minister for the Environment, so I'd encourage people to download further copies that they require. It's up on the environment website, www.environment.gov.au, and there's an interface there for people to make submissions as well. Thanks.

ENDS