The Opposition leader, Simon Crean, has released details of a proposed immigration policy that could force up to 45 per cent of new migrants to live in rural or regional centres to obtain permanent residency.

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Mr Crean has released a discussion paper at the New South Wales state conference of the Labor Party in Sydney exploring ways to ease population pressure on the nation’s major cities.

He says there would be no cut in the overall migrant intake but there should be incentives for migrants to settle outside major population centres.

Mr Crean says there could be a points system where migrants’ applications would be treated favourably if they commit to living in regional areas.

He says the policy is still being finalised.

“But it is a genuine commitment to meeting the twin objectives of a soundly-based population for this country but ensuring that benefits don’t put additional pressure on cities like SYDNEY and that we encourage more of the population coming to this country to move out into the regions.”

The Federal Immigration Minister, Gary Hardgreave, says Labor has not outlined how it will force migrants to stay in the regions.

The Opposition Immigration spokeswoman, Nicola Roxon, says it would be a step-by-step process.

“Perhaps if families are prepared to settle in regions they should be able to get extra points and be able come to Australia more easily.

“We’d like to look at ideas that they be given some temporary residence while they’re living in a region. And, once they’ve shown a commitment to staying in that region be given their permanent residency rights in Australia.”

Immigration lawyer Anne O’donoghue says the plan could prove a disencentive for business migrants.

“You may not always get the best immigrants in those circumstances, you may get immigrants who are prepared to go to regional areas, but you’re not be getting the best or the brightest.”

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