The mistaken "fact", as Cities Minister Alan Tudge described it, has been used as a central justification for a plan to draw more migrants to the regions.
Regional migration is part of a plan from the Government to address congestion that also includes spending more on infrastructure and coordinating better with local authorities.
But the latest Migration Program Report actually shows a decrease in the number of skilled migrants intending to live in New South Wales and Victoria.
The controversial claim made by Mr Tudge was that 87 per cent of skilled migrants go to Sydney and Melbourne.
It was first used in newspaper reports in August attributed to the Department of Home Affairs that quoted Mr Tudge.
The figure was subsequently used by the Minister in a prominent speech setting out the Government's plan to draw more migrants from cities to regions.
"The fact is that 87 per cent of all skilled migrants are going to Sydney and Melbourne, and nearly all of the humanitarian intake," he told the Menzies Research Centre in October.
"We want to have a more even distribution."
When contacted by the ABC, Mr Tudge's office clarified the figure. In a statement a spokesperson said: "Eighty-Seven per cent of skilled migrants go to Sydney, Melbourne and other capital cities."
The discrepancy is significant according to other available information.
The 2017-18 Migration Program Report released at the end of October showed 57 per cent of migrants intended to live in New South Wales or Victoria.
That's a decrease of two percentage points compared to the previous year.
However, the true share of skilled migrants moving to Australia's two largest cities is likely to be closer to 57 per cent than 87 per cent.
Regional visa on the Government's radar
Mr Tudge still maintains the need to address congestion in Australia's biggest centres, citing population growth of between 2 and 3 per cent in Sydney, Melbourne and south-east Queensland, driven mostly by migration.
"This growth in Sydney and Melbourne is putting extraordinary pressure on infrastructure and pushing congestion to record levels," his spokesperson said.
"At the same time, many regional areas are crying out for more people to address skill needs, boost local economies and strengthen local communities."
However Migration Institute of Australia national president John Hourigan criticised the Government's handling of existing regional schemes, and said it needed someone with the expertise, "to turn the rhetoric into substance and make regionalisation of the immigration program happen".
"If the Government had a real commitment to regionalising the immigration program, it would commit sufficient resources to ensuing that existing applications were finalised within short timeframes," he said.
An ABC investigation last month found regional migration was at its lowest level since 2008-09, even as the Government talked up a renewed regional push.
Labor immigration spokesman Shayne Neumann said the Liberal Party was "all talk and no substance" on migration policy.
"Under the Liberals, processing times for regional visas — such as the Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme — have ballooned out of control and it can take over two years to have these visas processed," he said.
"This prevents migrants from resettling in regional areas, even when they want to."
But Mr Tudge was adamant "unprecedented" growth in Australia's biggest urban areas was prompting a policy refresh.
"As part of the Coalition's population plan, visa incentives will be used to encourage more migration to regional and low-growth areas that want to grow," his spokesperson said.
A five-year requirement for migrants to remain in regions has been discussed.
The Government is expected to announce its population and migration plan before the 2019 election.
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