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Is Australia racist? ‘Intense’ migration debate sets tone for 2025 election

An intense debate on whether Australia – a popular immigration destination in the Asia-Pacific that’s been hit with rising living costs, rents and home prices – was letting too many people into the country, kicked off last month after opposition leader Peter Dutton criticised planned migration figures in the government’s new federal budget for being too high.

He blamed migrants for housing shortages, causing road congestion and straining public services, prompting cries of xenophobia and fomenting a bitter national debate over whether Australia was a racist country.

The architect of the budget, Treasurer Jim Chalmers, responded on Wednesday by saying in a press conference that Australia must manage its migration in a responsible way that recognises “you don’t solve a housing shortage or a shortage of nurses in aged care by making the skills shortage worse”.

Immigration experts say the inflammatory rhetoric could deter potential migrants, but predict that Australia’s current migration policy – which has already reduced numbers while prioritising skilled workers – is likely to remain in place at least until next year’s election.

Abul Rizvi, a former senior official in Australia’s immigration department, described the current political focus on immigration as the “most intense” that he had seen in his 35 years of watching national policy.

He said it all but confirmed that the debate on immigration – containing a mixture of substance and “smoke and mirrors” laced with xenophobia and self-interest – would dominate the election.

“The policy on [international] students is certainly tightening,” Rizvi said. “From a permanent migration perspective, the current government is basically steady as you go. From a political rhetoric