A CSL vice-president, Andrea Douglas, said the sweeping reduction in the types of 457 visas showed how the Turnbull government’s laudable innovation policies – including the $500 million Biomedical Translation Fund – can be undermined by changes in other areas.
“Our message is, it could be very devastating but we are confident we can work with the government on it. We understand that on the 1st of July they’ll come out with a revised list of occupations. We are hopeful that in discussions with CSL and others that list will become more palatable to medical research and biotech,” Dr Douglas told The Australian Financial Review.
CSL, Australia’s most successful biotech company, has about 40 foreign workers on 457 visas in its Parkville research laboratories and Broadmeadows production plant, where it has spent more than $450 million over several years on new production facilities for its blockbuster Privigen immune deficiency therapy and Alburex albumin product.
The company has written to immigration minister Peter Dutton, industry minister Arthur Sinodinos, health minister Greg Hunt and employment minister Michaelia Cash to point out how the exclusion of skilled categories such as biochemist, microbiologist and production manager from 457 visa eligibility could hamstring its global operations.
Dr Douglas said CSL relies on being able to move highly skilled workers between its plants in the US, Europe and Australia to transfer skills and stay at the forefront of the fiercely competitive blood products market. The Broadmeadows Privigen plant is modelled on a plant in Bern, Switzerland, and its top manager and several other key executives are foreign workers on 457s.
“We have no other industry in Australia so often we do need to bring in highly skilled people from overseas because that’s where the industry is,” Dr Douglas said.
“We are expanding our capacity at Broadmeadows. We are putting in new innovative processes that are modelled on our Bern site, so we are bringing in highly skilled people from that facility to transfer that knowledge to here and that does go from the most senior people to more junior people. It’s all about trying to create that capacity in Australia so what we can make innovative products here as well.”
CSL invested in the Biomedical Translation Fund because it believed in the need for more commercialisation of research and is concerned that proposals to cap cash rebates for R&D spending by small companies under the R&D tax incentive could undermine the participation of biotech start-ups in the BTF and the effectiveness of the initiative.
Dr Douglas said CSL was thrilled with the government’s innovation push 18 months ago “but what we are finding is that policies are not necessarily working together”.
“They put in place the Biomedical Translation Fund, which we think is fantastic .. and then they make changes to R&D tax incentives which will make it harder for the BTF to work. Small companies in the biotech sector will suffer the most from caps on the refundable amount.
CSL’s Paul Perreault keeps his eye on the long game.
Courtesy of the Financial Review by Ben Potter
A classic case of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing. More brutally it is an example of how the political posturing to distance themselves from what they perceive has become a toxic visa program, can have unintended and potentially damaging consequences.
This re-branding action and consequent restrictions could have been easily avoided by the government adopting a robust and consistent compliance and sanction regime from the start, rather than the hit and miss system in place now.