Australian opposition promises fewer migrants

Australia`s opposition wants to cut annual immigration to 170,000 people.

Sydney: Australia`s opposition leader Tony Abbott on Sunday vowed to slash the nation`s migrant intake if elected prime minister, but said he wanted citizens to have more babies to boost the birth rate.

Abbott, who is standing against the country`s first woman leader, Labor Prime Minister Julia Gillard, in August 21 polls, said he wanted to cut annual immigration to about 170,000 people -- down from some 300,000 two years ago.

"Let`s have an immigration programme that people can support, that they don`t think is out of control, that they don`t think is subcontracted to people smugglers," Liberal Party leader Abbott told reporters in Canberra.

Abbott, who was born in Britain, acknowledged Australia was an immigrant society and said if elected prime minister he would not cut employer-nominated immigration categories designed to plug skill shortages in the economy.

But he said while he supported foreign students coming to Australia, he gave no guarantees on the number of student migrants.

"What I don`t want us to be doing is selling immigration outcomes in the guise of selling education," he said.

Abbott also said he was eager for Australians to have more babies.

"I would like to see our birth rate improve because even now, despite the uptick in the birth rate over the last few years, it`s still significantly below replacement level," he said.

The government accused Abbott of playing with immigration figures, saying his promises were in line with current projections which showed net overseas migration set to drop to between 230,000 and 250,000 people by July 2010.

"All Mr Abbott has done is add up the current projected cuts in net overseas migration arising from existing government policy and call it his policy," Sustainable Population Minister Tony Burke said.

Population growth and the separate problem of boatloads of asylum seekers arriving off northern Australia are key election issues for Gillard, who herself was born in Wales and moved to Australia as a young child.

Bureau Report

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