House debates

Wednesday, 19 June 2013


Migration Amendment (Temporary Sponsored Visas) Bill 2013; Second Reading

1:30 pm

Photo of Dennis JensenDennis Jensen (Tangney, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

I quote:

With an increasing share of 457 visa holders going to WA and Queensland, demand-driven migration is delivering migrants effectively to the regions where they are needed — exactly how the 457 visa program is supposed to work.

And anyone who tries to tell you the 457 visa program is not working, needs to take another look at the facts.

Those are not the words of the member for Cook or any of my coalition colleagues, but of the Labor Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, the member for Gorton. He said that on 19 July 2011 in an address to the Australian Mines and Metals Association migration conference.

The amendments contained within the bill, if passed, will introduce the following: labour market testing, extra time provided to workers after ceasing employment with their sponsor and sponsorship obligations and compliance. Under the amended legislation, sponsors must undertake labour market testing, or LMT, in relation to subclass 457 nominated occupations. To demonstrate LMT, the sponsor will be required to have sought a suitably qualified Australian citizen or permanent resident within six months prior to the submission of an application for nomination approval. The introduction of LMT for subclass 457 visas is likely to affect companies hiring trade occupations in the first instance, but could extend to occupations in the manager and professional categories in future.

The Irish Echo compared the income figures for 53 migrant communities. The ABS data shows that people born in the Republic of Ireland command greater wages than those born almost anywhere else, including Australia. The median weekly income for Australian-born workers is $597 a week, while the figure for 'all overseas'-born workers is $538. Detailed census data provided to the Irish Echo by the ABS shows that over a 10th of Irish nationals living in Australia listed their annual income as $104,000 or more, nearly twice Australia's median annual salary. I raise this on point of relevance to highlight the nonsense of the premise of this bill and as an appeal to the hypocrisy that is inherent, given the heritage of the Prime Minister and the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship.

There are a number of questions that need to be answered in relation to this bill. First, how can it be the case that a bill that purports to have as its raison d'etre protecting Australian jobs and, latterly, society, can endanger those same jobs and society? I refer here to the weakening of the English language requirement for a successful grant of a temporary sponsored visa. Communicating effectively is the kernel of the new world of work, and that is the type of work this visa was designed to facilitate. This subclass of visa, the 457 subclass, was intended for high-skilled professionals delivering high-value-added product to give the Australian marketplace a competitive edge. If the English language requirement is diminished and diluted, if even a jot, then how can it be said that this bill will strengthen demand for the local labour pool or unite our communities? That premise of protecting Australian workers is the critical selling point of the bill, yet under its provisions as is, the bill fails before it even starts.

If we may move from the bickering and bloviating, then the story of the real economy and the real Australia is very different. I have received urgent appeals from the Australian Industry Group, the Business Council of Australia and the Migration Council of Australia to put paid to the petty pandering of Labor to its union paymasters. Political navel-gazing must end. Short-term solutions are no solutions. Only the coalition can offer real solutions—and real solutions are what is required. Those bodies writing to me presently provide millions of Australians with livelihoods. They generate wealth and opportunity in their communities. They know the value of hope, reward and opportunity. That is something the Gillard government and Labor can never say. How many of the Gillard ministry have ever risked it all on a good idea? How many have hired staff? How many have ever had to compete globally?

In the strongest possible terms I stand with the Australian Industry Group, the Business Council of Australia, the Migration Council of Australia and any other fair dinkum Aussie who supports a fair go. Industry is concerned about the level of consultation. It is right that it should be, as a desperate and disoriented government rushes through significant changes to fix alleged abuses without subjecting inadequacies to its own regulatory impact statement process. The RIS exemption for the new labour market-testing requirements in the bill cites 'exceptional circumstances'. It is unclear what these circumstances are, given that the minister's department has provided no hard evidence of a systemic problem with the scheme. Unwarranted additional regulation of the 457 visa scheme has risks. The minister would do well to remember the words that I am sure he was taught at the Christian Brothers in Kerry: Ni he la na gaoithe la na scoilb. Translation: a windy day is not for thatching. Meaning: desperate political stunts backfire.

The Australian public are not stupid. Since 2007-08 Labor has cut resourcing for compliance work in DIAC, including 457 monitoring, by over $20 million or 30 per cent. Monitoring visits to employers are down by 67 per cent. The number of sponsors formally warned has also dropped by two-thirds. With spending set to rocket with this 'five minutes to midnight' bill, will the additional $3.4 million for inspectors be just another Labor lemon, another pink batts? Is such a scale-up possible in such a short period of time? Just as Labor cannot protect our borders, they cannot police the immigration system here in Australia.

Minister, I implore you to put up or shut up. Provide the hard evidence to back up the nefarious accusations of widespread rorting of the system. Provide evidence as to why the existing safeguards are insufficient. Subject any proposed changes to the 457 visa scheme to a rigorous, transparent regulatory impact statement.

Most damagingly, the bill seeks a return to labour market testing which was abandoned following a major departmental review in 2001 that found that it was costly, ineffective and inferior to the system we have today. One of the canons of a good migration system is that it delivers for all the community and does so quickly, cheaply and easily. The current list system of nominated areas of skills shortage is reflective of real market demand and secures reflexivity as a principle to guarantee Australia's global competitiveness. This bill places unnecessary and onerous requirements on employers through detailed reporting requirements of attempts that they have made to hire locally within the previous six months. The new regulations will reduce flexibility and waste time and resources for no discernible benefit. Let us go forward not backwards. The labour market-testing requirement will be largely targeted at jobs in trade and technician categories, estimated to be 40 per cent of all 457 visa applications. Why target these occupations, where unemployment is half the national rate and where skill shortages remain acute?

This bill will work against business investment and economic growth. This bill will impose more red tape and do nothing for competitiveness. The government's claims about excessive growth are also contradicted by official data showing the number of primary 457 visas granted in the first 10 months of 2012-13 is only 1.7 per cent higher than at the same time last year, that is, just 940 more visas have been granted this year than in the same time last year.

This is a Labor bill through and through. Should I be surprised when we are presented with a bill that will put a bill on the door of job creators across the country? After all, Labor is the party of white Australia, of Kevin 'red tape' Rudd, and pink batts and school halls. My electors back in Perth have implored me to ask the question: who is the Gillard government for? The Gillard government has its priorities all wrong. The humanitarian intake has increased from 12,500 to 20,000. Remember the border protection fiasco? Asylum seekers pay no tax, do not work and get provided with means, a means that comes from the hip pocket of every working Australian and every 457 visa holder.

457 visa workers contribute to Australian society. They love this land and give back so much; much more than just tax—but even there they are paying tax from day one. There are no entitlements to benefits. Immigrants are four times more likely to become self-made millionaires. Immigrants have hunger and drive, and that is what our country needs. The efficient operation of the marketplace includes the labour market. Asymmetry of supply of high-value human capital leads to artificial and uncompetitive market rates for labour. This is structurally crippling for our international competitiveness.

This bill is an undisguised attack and attempt to demonise foreign workers. Examine that a little further. Those foreign workers come not from strange places, but the UK, India and Ireland. The Prime Minister is attacking her own family and heritage. How does this attack on skilled migrants do anything to hold the memory and praise the contributions our migrants make every day? It appears that the Labor economic strategy mirrors its political strategy straight from the textbooks of 1972. It is time all right—time for the Labor government to realise that the economy has undergone fundamental and desirably irreversible shifts to a high-value, high-wage, skills-based service economy. So manufacturing, whilst important for those involved in that industry, now accounts for less than six per cent of our economy.

This bill is scandalously political. Think of this: raising the price of a temporary sponsored visa from $350 to $450 to $900 from 1 July in less than 15 months. It is nearly a 200 per cent increase in less than 15 months because, simply put, Labor is addicted to spending. Like any addict, they deny they have a problem. But every time the debt ceiling is raised and a forecast broken, that should be a red-flag opportunity.

I am concerned greatly with certain specific aspects of this bill, namely, the legislative instrument listed to facilitate this bill to act as a starting and enabling piece of legislation. Nowhere in the bill is it clear what labour market testing involves, what it looks like, what it takes to complete and how much it would cost. I am concerned about the lack of third-party oversight and the strength and breadth of checks and balances. Exemptions exist from labour market testing in incidence of major disaster. However, one would assume wrongly that the tragic incidence of a major disaster, natural or man-made, would be beyond politics. Alas, nothing is beyond the politics of this Labor government.

The minister of the day would have the sole entitlement to decide where, and for how long, an area would be exempt from the labour market-testing requirement. Surely, this is open to rorting? It is fragile and facile to think otherwise. An economic event could conceivably be classed as a major disaster under the definition offered in this bill. The parameters need to be tightened up now, and significantly. We must advance fairly and united. Sowing seeds of division is no way to make political gain.


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