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Demonising overseas skilled workers

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.

These assaults reeked of Labor’s founding philosophy in the late 19th century, ostensibly to keep out cheap, foreign labour. As part of the anti-457 campaign, Labor’s then immigration minister Brendan O’Connor falsely claimed that more than 10,000 temporary work visas had been rorted; Labor’s policy response was to impose stricter tests, more frequent fines and more red tape. As reported by Stefanie Balogh yesterday, those alleged rorts were a fraction of what was claimed by Labor. The independent Fair Work Ombudsman referred 1267 employers of 457 visa holders to the Immigration Department for monitoring during the past 16 months; the overwhelming majority of sponsors had complied with their obligations, while the audit found up to 25 serious employer breaches. In a brutal irony, it was actually Labor in the Hawke-Keating reform era that gave birth to the 457 visa scheme — a program that is demand-driven, valued by employers, flexible and has served the nation well. It’s another reminder of Labor’s serial misadventures under the hapless Ms Gillard, when the narrow interests of her beloved unions ruled.

Courtesy of The Australian

Administrator’s note

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..