SYDNEY • Prime Minister Scott Morrison's government pledged to freeze Australia's refugee intake numbers for the next three years as it thrust immigration to the heart of its campaign for re-election.
The number of asylum-seeker visas granted each year will be kept at 18,750 for the next term of government if the Liberal-National coalition retains office on May 18, Minister for Cities Alan Tudge said yesterday.
He told Sky News the announcement was part of the government's overall plan of capping migration to ease congestion in the nation's biggest cities.
Mr Morrison's centre-right government is trailing the main Labor opposition party in opinion polls ahead of next month's ballot and putting immigration policy back in the headlines is an attempt to remind voters of its success in managing border security.
He made the announcement alongside Mr John Howard, the second-longest serving premier in Australian history, at his first official appearance on the campaign trail.
"We've got our borders and the Budget under control," Mr Morrison told supporters, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. "We make decisions about who comes here based on what's in Australia's interests."
The opposition Australian Labor Party (ALP) has pledged to increase the number of humanitarian visas available every year to 32,000 - a plan that Mr Morrison claims will cost the Budget an extra A$6.2 billion (S$5.9 billion).
Mr Morrison challenged ALP leader Bill Shorten to say exactly who he would allow into Australia under his immigration plan.
"We've been upfront with Australia. We're reducing the cap on our migration intake and capping the numbers of people we let in under our humanitarian programme that's one of the most generous in the world," he said.
"We're telling people where we'll be taking migrants from, who they will be, the skills we want them to have and working with regions to settle people in towns that want and need more workers, skills and students," Mr Morrison added.
With the five-week campaign almost at the half-way mark, the opposition is also playing to it strengths.
Mr Shorten was expected to pledge to spend an extra A$4 billion to subsidise childcare if Labour wins, the Sunday Telegraph reported.