DURING her desperate days of early 2013, Julia Gillard deliberately set off on an ugly, disgraceful and pitiful path by campaigning against migrant workers on temporary 457 visas. Playing to Labor’s wolfish union powerbrokers, whistling an “Aussie jobs first” tune, Ms Gillard pledged to “stop foreign workers being put at the front of the queue” — when the nation was facing acute skills shortages. It was a position that, unsurprisingly, won support from Pauline Hanson. But it was a nativist stand unworthy of a modern prime minister in a nation built on the skills, sweat and toil of migrants. Transport Workers Union chief Tony Sheldon likened the use of 457 visas to human trafficking, a form of slavery — a ludicrous claim given the average salary of participants in the scheme was $90,000 and statistics showed such skilled temporary workers earned more than the industry standard. At the 2013 election, the construction union even assailed foreigners and Tony Abbott, through an advertising campaign that claimed migrants would take the jobs of locals under a massively expanded 457 visa scheme if the Coalition won.
This is not a time to relax, particularly given the Abbott government’s cosy relationship with big business. Previous experience has shown that large companies are just as likely to use opportunities under the legislation to maximise profits, so continued vigilence is required to ensure that the regulations currently in place are enforced against large employers and small without fear or favour.
Complacency is the enemy of the system, but despite populist motivations, the government must recognise that increasing jobless numbers do not necessarily have any relation to the need for particular skilled employment types, necessary for the continued growth and development of the Australian economy..