I wonder how many illiterate Afghans they will choose — or won’t they be given a choice about that? When the Federal government does not choose many of Australia’s migrants — the “asylum seekers” — giving the States power to choose seems a bit of a joke, if not a total illusion. It should be a good recipe for corruption, though

THE Bligh Government is set to draw up a migration plan for the state that could act as a brake on southeast Queensland’s rampant population growth while ensuring regional centres receive a steady supply of skilled workers. Premier Anna Bligh said the plan would allow Queensland to choose which skilled migrants settled in the state.

Under new processing arrangements to be introduced by the Rudd Government, migrants nominated by Queensland would receive priority over applications by independent skilled migrants. “The State Government for the first time will have some influence on the migrant intake,” Ms Bligh said. “It will ease some of the pressure off the southeast corner and ensure migrants are taken with the skills the state needs.”

She said some significant new industries would emerge over the next five years and be big job drivers. She said over the next 10 years, cities such as Gladstone, Rockhampton and Toowoomba were likely to experience high population growth due to the ongoing resources boom. “The requirement of the LNG industry alone means Queensland will need more skilled labour, and the timing of these projects will be influenced by the access to skilled labour,” she said.

Ms Bligh was speaking ahead of tonight’s Our Future, Your Say public forum, sponsored by The Courier-Mail, where she will debate issues surrounding population growth with Brisbane Lord Mayor Campbell Newman, Sunshine Coast Mayor Bob Abbot and Griffith University urban planning Professor Brendan Gleeson. The Government’s southeast Queensland regional plan envisages another 2 million people making the region their home over the next 20 years, sparking concerns about whether the state’s infrastructure will be able to cope. Statistics show that net overseas migration is now Queensland’s biggest source of population growth, followed by natural increase.

Ms Bligh said that 48 per cent of the state’s population growth was due to overseas migration, while 35.5 per cent was due to natural increase and just 16 per cent was due to net interstate migration. “In the last five years, Queensland’s net overseas migration has more than doubled while net interstate migration has almost halved,” she said.

Ms Bligh said she understood why many people felt the pressure of population growth. “It’s putting pressure on our roads, on our health services, on all sorts of areas of our lives,” she said. But she said the growth was also a chance to build a vibrant city with more jobs, better productivity and more opportunities for children. “It really is a double-edged sword and the question of when is enough enough is a pretty hard one to answer.”

She said state and local governments could introduce a population cap by ceasing to approve housing developments but such a move would have “diabolical” consequences. Housing would become unaffordable for essential workers such as nurses, teachers and police officers, she said.

She said regional Queensland still offered many opportunities to absorb population growth. “The challenge is to spread that population around the state in a more even way so that we don’t overload some parts of the state and see the pressures build up to an unsustainable level,” she said.