TRANSCRIPT OF PROCEEDINGS AT PRODUCTIVITY COMMISSION, MELBOURNE
ON TUESDAY, 8 DECEMBER 2015 AT 12.59 PM
MARY DROST 62-71
PROTECTORS OF PUBLIC LANDS VICTORIA
JULIANNE BELL 71-19
ISLPR LANGUAGE SERVICES
DR DAVID INGRAM 79-85
AUSTRALIAN MIGRATION OPTIONS
LIBBY HOGARTH 86-96
ROBERT GRACE 25-104
MICHAEL VAN LEEUWEN 104-
RESUMED [12.59 pm]
MR LINDWALL: Good afternoon. Welcome to the public hearings for the Productivity Commission Inquiry Migrant Intake into Australia. My name is Paul Lindwall, I’m the Presiding Commissioner on the inquiry and my fellow Commissioner here is Alison McClelland. The inquiry started with a reference from the Australian Government in March and covers the impacts of immigration on Australia and the scope to use alternative methods for determining the migrant intake, including through greater use of charging.
We released an issues paper in May and have talked to a wide range of organisations and individuals with an interest in the issues. In August we held a workshop on the economic modelling used to inform the inquiry. We released a draft report in November and have received about 80 submissions since the release of the issues paper. We’re grateful to all the organisations and individuals who have taken time to meet with us, prepare submissions and appear at these hearings.
The purpose of these hearings is to provide an opportunity for interested parties to provide comments and feedback on the draft report. Following these hearings in Melbourne, hearings will also be held in Canberra and Sydney. We will then be working towards completing a final report provided to the Australian Government in March 2016. Participants and those who have registered their interest in the inquiry will automatically be advised of the final reports released by the government which may be up to 25 parliamentary sittings day after completion.
We like to conduct all hearings in a reasonably informal manner, but I remind participants that a full transcript is being taken. For this reason, comments from the floor cannot be taken. But at the end of the day’s proceedings I will provide the opportunity for anyone who wishes to do so to make a brief presentation. Participants are not required to take an oath but are required under the Productivity Commission Act to be truthful in their remarks. Participants are welcome to comment on the issues raised and other submissions. The transcript will be made available to participants and will be available on the Commission’s website following the hearings.
For any media representatives attending today – and I don’t think there are any, but who knows – please see one of our staff for a handout which explains the rules.
Participants are invited to make some opening remarks of no more than five minutes. Keeping the opening remarks brief will allow us the opportunity to discuss matters in greater detail. I think we’re welcoming Mary Drost. Is that correct?
MS DROST: Mary Drost, yes. I’m convenor of Planning Backlash.
MR LINDWALL: We might just say – straight to the – I usually ask for you to say your name and organisation. But could you repeat that, please?
MS DROST: Yes. I’m Mary Drost and I’m the convenor of Planning Backlash which is a coalition of about 250-plus resident groups from across Melbourne and city, coast and country. I didn’t do a written submission because I didn’t know about this until Friday.
MR LINDWALL: Really?
MS DROST: That’s when I telephoned to see if I could come and speak, if that’s what – put submissions in. However, in the meantime, I have received Denis McCormack’s submission. I’d just like to point out that I totally support what he’s been saying through it. Then I’ve got a lot of views that I’d like to express.
MR LINDWALL: Please.
MS DROST: This will go on for a lot longer than five minutes, I’ll tell you, because I want to really spell out quite a few things. My interest in population growth started back in 1973 when I read the Limits to Growth, which you probably know. Have you read that?
MR LINDWALL: I have.
MS DROST: The Club of Rome. I’ve been watching ever since then what’s been happening in the world. I’m in the UK quite a lot. They’re very concerned about the migrants they’re getting there. They’re really getting strict. But with the new party that’s getting a lot of support to stop the – get out of the EU and stop the migration from everywhere. I’m very interested in what’s happening in other countries. My husband came from Holland and I spend time there. I said, “How is it you’ve got a stable population and you’re doing very well financially?” They said, “Because we’re going into super high tech,” because nobody’s doing manufacturing much anymore, so super high tech it is.
Then I picked up this thing from the Embassy of Switzerland in Jakarta. It talks about what they are doing. They’ve got a population of 8 million, they’re rich and it’s stable, but you can’t go there to live. They talk about how they’re getting along financially, which is very well, because they’re also going into really high tech things. Then I look at the third world which is growing like mad and with masses of young ones and poverty. It looks like the rich countries are the ones with the ageing populations but the poor ones are the ones with the huge youth that are growing like mad.
I lived for 21 years in Jakarta, Indonesia. My experience there has been interesting because when I first went there Jakarta was a city of 3 million and it was completely manageable. I used to drive myself everywhere. When I went there the governor of Jakarta, Ali Sadikin, when he first became governor he called in a United Nations city planning expert. He said, “What do I do with the city?” and they said, “Close it. Don’t let it grow any bigger.” The bigger a city gets the harder it is to manage. The megacities are beyond human management. So he closed it.
When I met him recently I said, “Whatever has happened to Jakarta?” and he told me the story. I said, “What happened?” and he said, “Suharto would never agree to the plan, so I was forced to open it.” He said, “Look at it now; a nightmare.” It’s a polluted, gridlocked nightmare of about 10 million because they have not been able to keep up with the infrastructure that you need. That’s my experience of cities that grow fast. Face it, Boston in America maintain that the optimum size of a city is 4 million.
Face it, how many cities in Europe – you think about this – are as big as Melbourne? Not many, not many at all. London, Paris, Berlin, I don’t know, Moscow perhaps, but there’s not many cities – the cities in Holland, nobody’s over a million. Okay, so we come to Melbourne. I’ve been watching it grow because of immigration. Back about 14 years ago, 12 years ago, they brought out Melbourne 2030. It was going to grow by a million by 2030. That was 3 million. Here we are 2015 and it’s already over 4 million. So they said just build around the stations and use the public transport, use the infrastructure that’s there.
So we are now about 10, 12, 14 years behind the infrastructure that we need. Melbourne is growing faster than any other developed city in the world. Over 2 per cent, which means we double in 35 years. When Ted Baillieu first got in as Premier I went to see him and I said, “Put all these people on the table. We’re short of public transport, hospitals, schools, roads, sewerage, everything. It’s overloaded. What are you going to do about it?” He said, “I’ve got no money,” and that’s the fact. They keep talking about these great things they’re going to do with all the public transport. It’s all in the never-never.
If you look at the data how it is; way down the track. Melbourne can’t be a London. London is 8 million. I spent time in London; I know London well. They have just recently finished tunnelling 42 kilometres from Heathrow out to Canary Wharf without disturbing what’s above and they’re increasing the underground system all the time. The first underground in London was 1863 Baker Street. You can see the steam on the ceilings there. And they’ve kept on increasing, increasing, increasing, so that millions can ride underground.
Melbourne can never have that. We keep spreading. Even if you want to compact it, you do not have the infrastructure. I live near Camberwell Junction. After heavier rain you can smell the sewerage, all right. And I’ve got a letter from Yarra Valley Water saying that sewerage is at maximum capacity from Camberwell Junction towards the city. Every time in VCAT I produce this letter and say, “This is what they say,” and they keep – and I say, “You keep approving more and more toilets. It’s going to get worse and worse.”
Everything is behind. The schools are overloaded. I’ve had some connection to Armadale Primary School. There’s almost no playing fields left. It’s all temporary classrooms everywhere. The hospitals are overloaded. They haven’t got the money to do it. Now, this is Melbourne, which increased by 95,500 this year, which means we got an extra – how many – 50,000 cars on the road. According to Bob Birrell, that’s how you work it out. This is going on in Sydney as well. Sydney and Melbourne are the two worst and people in the cities are sick to death of the increase because of the increase of migration.
I’ve had people say to me, “Oh, but Australia is a big country,” and I say, “Yes, but have you ever done what I have done? I have driven from Adelaide to Darwin, all right. It’s a big country of desert.” I didn’t see running water after I left Adelaide till I got almost up to Darwin. Katherine, that’s the first bit of water you see right up near Darwin. I’ve flown in a light aircraft from Mildura across to Broome; desert. I mean Australia is a strip of fertile country around the edge. And we are full.
I remember Bob Carr came out a few years ago when he was Premier of New South Wales saying Sydney is full. Well, I think Australia is full now and I think it’s high time we reduced the immigration substantially, back to where it used to be, around about 70,000. I believe it was about John Howard time that upped it, very foolishly upped it, unnecessarily. There’s the cost of the migrants to the country. I’ve read that it’s been estimated by I’m not sure which professor this was because I haven’t got the papers of that one, that every migrant costs the country $200,000 in infrastructure.
MR LINDWALL: Could I ask you a question about that?
MS DROST: Sure.
MR LINDWALL: Because I’ve heard other people say that, but no one has provided any evidence to this inquiry about how that’s calculated.
MS DROST: Do you know what, I’ll find out for you and let you know, because I know it came from one – I’m not quite sure of the professor up at Brisbane – what’s her name, Jane, Janet O’Sullivan or something – but I know the figures have been quoted at 200,000, because of the cost of all the extra things they need. Why should we have to pay for that? Okay, they’re going to come into the country. Let them pay, all right.
MR LINDWALL: Don’t you think that a person who works pays through their taxes over his or her lifetime?
MS DROST: They’ll be paying for the next lot to come in, not for them. We’re way behind now. It takes a lot of work to pay taxes of $200,000. And a lot of them are not high earning anyway when they come. I think the cost is something that really has to be taken into account.
MR LINDWALL: I dispute the $200,000.
MS DROST: You think it’s not high enough?
MR LINDWALL: I think it’s a lot less than that. I don’t think that’s a credible number.
MS DROST: I can’t accept that. I really probably think it’s more.
MR LINDWALL: Well, please provide evidence about that.
MS DROST: But most certainly it costs the country each person that comes in I think more than they can produce in many years.
MS McCLELLAND: Could I also ask a question too. Do you have any estimates of the infrastructure loss, you know, where the lack of infrastructure is and what would be needed to have the appropriate infrastructure? Given that is a key issue, the infrastructure not keeping up, so where are the critical infrastructure gaps and what would help to overcome those gaps?
MS DROST: I tell you go out on the roads now - - -
MS McCLELLAND: I mean quantifiable.
MS DROST: I don’t have any figures of those. I haven’t ever seen any figures of those. I don’t know whether they’ve been made. But I do know that the government here do not have the money to catch up where we’re behind now. I just have this horror of Melbourne doubling in 35 years and without the infrastructure we will end up like Jakarta. Do you know it’s a polluted, gridlocked nightmare because they have not kept up with public transport or roads. The last year I spent in Jakarta I did not see the blue sky once. You go up in a building like this, you’d building there, it’s just grey murk covering everywhere because you have so many cars.
MR LINDWALL: You’re not suggesting Melbourne is like that though? Melbourne is not like that.
MS DROST: If you double the population and you put in all the - - -
MR LINDWALL: If we doubled the population of Melbourne, it wouldn’t be like that?
MS DROST: Hopefully it won’t be like that, but it’ll certainly be gridlocked like they are.
MR LINDWALL: Not necessarily. It depends upon the provision of infrastructure, ultimately.
MS DROST: But they’re not doing it. They’re not doing it.
MR LINDWALL: In cities of all varying sizes through the world – and some are much bigger than Melbourne and they have better infrastructure and they have nowhere near as much congestion. So you could argue, I guess, that there’s been a failure with planning and provision of infrastructure.
MS DROST: I mean, London is ahead with the infrastructure. We are years behind, all right. I spent time in London and I know.
MR LINDWALL: Well, Paris is a much bigger city than Melbourne too.
MS DROST: And Paris has a wonderful metro.
MR LINDWALL: Then the question surely is - - -
MS DROST: I know Paris well.
MR LINDWALL: - - - why doesn’t Melbourne have a wonderful metro?
MS DROST: Because they haven’t got the money to put it in.
MR LINDWALL: But why not?
MS DROST: And they are talking about putting a little strip in somewhere under the ground that - - -
MR LINDWALL: But don’t you think that if you have more people – and I’m not arguing for this, I’m just saying that – I’m trying to just ask you a question to defend yourself here. That if you have more people coming in, they themselves pay the taxes which then provides the money for the said infrastructure.
MS DROST: But it’s not happening, is it? They’ve been coming in for 10 years.
MR LINDWALL: We don’t charge for roads. We put out a public infrastructure report last year and we recommended road user charges which would then provide the revenue source for providing these particular roads.
MS DROST: But it’s been getting further – they’ve been coming in and we’re getting further and further behind with infrastructure. I mean, the schools are just overloaded. I’m talking about the state schools.
MR LINDWALL: But is there a policy where you can direct – can you think of a policy that you could recommend to us where many of the immigrants would be discouraged from going to Melbourne and Sydney and go elsewhere, to regional cities, which have a - - -
MS DROST: I tell you what, I talked to Bendigo and Ballarat people and Geelong people, they don’t want to grow either like that. What I said to the Minister was, “Start a new city. Start at Canberra, start a new city if you want all these people coming in, but don’t crowd them into our cities because it just isn’t working.” Look at the some of the letters to the newspapers regularly now always criticising the population growth.
MR LINDWALL: If you look at our graph on page 61 of our report you’ll see that, in fact, Switzerland – you just cited an example of Switzerland – has a higher percentage of people born overseas than Australia. I mean, immigration per se is not necessarily the problem there.
MS DROST: In fact, Switzerland – I know somebody who tried to go there to live. It’s terribly hard to get in there. They don’t want people anymore now, they’re full.
MR LINDWALL: If you’re a EU citizen you’re entitled to - - -
MS DROST: They’re not EU.
MR LINDWALL: - - - work in Switzerland.
MS DROST: Switzerland is not part of the EU.
MR LINDWALL: It’s part of the Schengen zone actually and you do have full work rights or living rights in Switzerland.
MS DROST: Anyway, England, I tell you, was sick to death of people coming in from the EU as well as other places. I want to talk about - - -
MR LINDWALL: Could I ask another question, please, about – what you’re talking about really is world population growth. Right?
MS DROST: I’m talking about Australian population growth. I want to see it stabilising at about 26, 28 million, no more. I don’t think we have the water for it. Do you want to live on desalinated water? Go to Dubai. It’s a nightmare. I mean, seriously, we haven’t got the water for it.
MR LINDWALL: We’re surrounded by water. It’s a matter of desalinating - - -
MS DROST: And the cost of that? Why do we need it? We don’t need it. We’re not any better off because of it. Look, I’m going to leave just some of these things here with you. Australian immigration intake, how it’s increased, the numbers keep increasing. This is a statement from the Boroondara Residents’ Action Group, which I’m the vice president. Here we have from Callum Pickering The Big Australian Illusion, okay. Australia has the highest population growth in the developed world. They’re very interesting articles those. And here, The Tenuous growth Link Between Population and Prosperity by Katharine Betts from Swinburne.
MS McCLELLAND: Someone quoted her yesterday.
MS DROST: I’m going to leave these with you.
MR LINDWALL: Please, yes.
MS DROST: Because they’re very well worth reading. She talks about the myth of the ageing population.
MS McCLELLAND: Yes, that was cited to us yesterday.
MR LINDWALL: Yes, it was.
MS McCLELLAND: We have that reference. Thank you.
MS DROST: You can read the whole thing. I want to also discuss something that’s not PC. Because I’m sick of being PC.
MR LINDWALL: You’ve got five minutes. Yes.
MS DROST: Yes, I haven’t got long. But I’m sick to death of multiculturalism. I think it was a mistake to start multiculturalism.
MR LINDWALL: What do you mean by “multiculturalism”?
MS DROST: By encouraging other people who come here to keep their own culture. My husband came from Holland. He wouldn’t even speak Dutch anymore. He said, “I’m Australian.” When it came in here he said, “This is the stupidest thing Australia can do.” I believe that’s absolutely true. In Europe they’ve decided it just doesn’t work. Assimilate or go. That’s the feeling there. Also, the cost of multiculturalism. I don’t know whether you’re aware of this book by Stephen Rimmer, “The Cost of Multiculturalism”. He did these studies – this is back in ‘91 - - -
MS McCLELLAND: No, I don’t think we have it.
MS DROST: He estimated that it was costing the Australian Government $.2.1 billion to sustain the whole multiculturalism thing. I mean, it’s just – what does it cost now? That was all those years ago.
MR LINDWALL: 1991.
MS DROST: Yes, there’s probably much more money now involved to try and keep this whole multicultural thing going.
MR LINDWALL: That would be about 5 or 8 per cent of GDP in those days. So I don’t find that a very credible number.
MS DROST: Well, it’s been well received this idea. It’s certainly a cost to the community and I think it’s unnecessary. I think that if people come here – I mean, I went to live in Indonesia for 20 years and I became totally assimilated, all right, because I thought I’m living here, I’ve got to learn all the culture, I’m not going to offend anybody. I’m totally accepted there now when I go back. I think when people come here they should also become Australian and not bring their – some cultures are horrible, we don’t want them here.
Also, I’m very concerned about where the migrants come from. I mean, are we going to end up – I had a – I’ve got Singaporean friends who sent me a thing on email that they’d seen, a leaked email from China calling Australia the great southern province of China currently occupied by those European colonials. I’m getting a little bit tired of this attitude and I think – often when I walk around the city I wonder what on earth country I’m in. I don’t think- - -
MS McCLELLAND: Do you have any evidence about the harm caused by multiculturalism to provide us with?
MS DROST: Pardon?
MS McCLELLAND: We’ll take that reference to make sure we have. But we are really interested in evidence rather than assertions about - - -
MS DROST: Yes, I can certainly take - - -
MS McCLELLAND: Just please leave us your evidence. Thank you.
MR LINDWALL: Maybe we could write the name down with the list of stuff you’re giving us.
MS DROST: Yes, all right, I’ll do that. But, to me, I think that people are welcome to come here, but I think they become Australian. But I’m also concerned about where they come from. I think we need people here who can contribute and not just take – think about the people who are here now. We’re all starting to resent what we’re seeing. It’s becoming quite a thing, especially - - -
MR LINDWALL: But our skilled migrant intake, according to our own report and data, show that they have very high participation rates, very low unemployment rates and very high wages compared to locals - - -
MS DROST: I just wonder what sort of skill we’re talking about. You have them actually talking about building labourers and building people, because that’s all we’re doing here. All we’re doing is building. My last point is where to from here? When I was in Holland I said, “How come you’re doing so well?” “Because we’ve gone into super high tech.” Switzerland is doing much the same. Whereas all we do is build houses. That’s seriously – bring in more people for building more houses. All we do is build, build, build. Do you want to build all the way to Mildura?
But I’m delighted that the papers I’ve been reading yesterday – this is the Herald Sun yesterday about industry slumping and they’re talking about venture capital start-up things and so on and high tech, which they’ve got to start doing. Then today’s paper there’s a whole big story here about how they’re going to start funding things in universities and to educate. Do you know, I’ve got a young friend who’s just gone off to Silicon Valley, big job over there. We’re losing our top brains to overseas. We’ve got to start doing – why don’t we have a Yarra Valley here, do the same thing here. Keep our brains here.
You know what, another friend of mine in Sydney, he topped Sydney University in engineering. He was offered I don’t know how many invitations to top American universities with scholarships. Of course, he went over there and did a PhD at their expense. They’re getting the top brains going over there. We should be reversing that and having the top brains coming here. Additionally, my brother worked with Prof Graeme Clark who invented the bionic ear, okay. That is one of the few things that’s been a great success for Australia because they developed it here. Whereas so much that’s invented here goes overseas.