Thursday, 20 June 2013
Migration Amendment (Temporary Sponsored Visas) Bill 2013; Second Reading
I am very pleased to rise to speak on the Migration Amendment (Temporary Sponsored Visas) Bill 2013. This is a protectionist bill. This bill is about protectionism in the labour markets at the behest of the unions, pursuing an agenda which they have been following for many years. It is also about another form of protectionism: trying to protect a vulnerable Prime Minister attempting to shore up the support of the union movement and the caucus members in this parliament, whose votes are determined in accordance with directions from the union movement. In an attempt to secure the support of the union movement, the Prime Minister and her government are introducing a poor piece of policy which is fundamentally protectionist in the way that it operates.
This is a bill which has been introduced in response to pressure from the union movement. It is not a bill which seeks to address a question of economic policy which is in the interest of Australia as a whole. It is a bill which contains a series of flawed and ill-judged measures. In particular, it will require employers who wish to sponsor 457 visa holders—that is, those who wish to bring into Australia workers with skills which they are unable to find in the Australian market—to go through what is called labour-market testing, which in reality is a series of onerous, detailed, expensive and time-consuming barriers to the use of this visa class. Another objectionable measure in this bill is to create yet another class of inspectors who are able to knock on the door of employers all around the country and come in and check what is going on.
In the time available to me today I want to make three points about this bill. Firstly, it is driven by one objective and one objective only, which is to respond to the demands and the sectional agenda of the union movement. Secondly, I want to argue that it is a piece of poor policy which in turn reflects very poor process, because this bill has been rushed through with little detailed investigation of the issues, little consultation with stakeholders apart from the union movement and little analysis justifying the purported benefits. Thirdly, as a consequence of these factors, this is a bill which is likely to do serious economic damage.
Let us start with the proposition that the motivation for this bill being before the House today is to respond to the protectionist agenda of the union movement. Of course, if you are a union boss, you quite like the idea that you are able to block certain classes of people coming into the country. You quite like the idea that you are able to run simplistic arguments about restricting people coming in from overseas who, in the rhetoric, will 'take Aussie jobs'. Of course that appeals to the narrow and sectional interests of union leaders. The point that I seek to demonstrate is that it is that agenda which is being reflected in the bill that the government has put before the chamber today.
I look, for example, at policy item No. 8 in the policy statement issued as part of the ACTU 2012 congress:
Congress believes that rigorous labour market testing requirements must be implemented for all elements of the skilled migration program to ensure that overseas workers are not brought to Australia where there is labour available locally …
I look to a statement by the national construction secretary of the CFMEU, one of Australia's largest, most militant and most influential unions:
Mr Noonan said that everyone should be concerned that the proportion of 457 visas granted onshore to overseas workers already in Australia had grown from 43% to 51% in the last 12 months …
I quote from the submission by the Australian Workers' Union in December 2011 to the Migration Program consultations being conducted for 2012-13. The Australian Workers' Union had this to say in their submission:
It is clear that the increased projected use of 457 may lead to a lack of opportunity for local applicants to participate in the labour market. The AWU has long supported measures that adequately test whether there is a true need for particular skills to be imported at a point in time.
There is ample evidence that imposing greater restrictions on 457 visas and imposing a labour market-testing requirement is something that the union movement has been seeking to achieve for a long time, and I have cited several statements from union leaders and union organisations supporting that proposition.
That is the reason why this parliament is considering the bill today. The parliament is considering this bill today because this particular restriction on the tightening of section 457 visas has long been at the top of the agenda of the union movement. It has nothing to do with good economic policy, it has nothing to do with whether it serves the interests of the Australian nation and the Australian workforce as a whole and it has everything to do with whether it is part of the agenda of the union movement and whether, in turn, a Prime Minister who is desperately in need of protection has chosen to leap on this particular issue to give effect to the protectionist agenda of the union movement.
Secondly, I want to turn to the proposition that in substance the measures before the House contained in this bill represent poor policy and, in turn, that that reflects a very poor process, with inadequate consultation and inadequate investigation of the substantive issues. I note first of all that this bill has been granted an exemption from the normal requirement to have a regulatory impact statement. Yet again we see this government running through normal process requirements and disregarding them, and it generally does that when it has something to hide. We can, I think, infer quite confidently from the fact that the Prime Minister has chosen to waive the requirement for a regulatory impact statement the expectation that if such a statement were to be prepared what it would have to say would not be terribly favourable to the cause.
This parliament, this House, ought properly to be suspicious of any piece of legislation which is put forward and which is not supported by a regulatory impact statement. The suspicion that if such a statement existed it would not aid the cause is reinforced when you look at the clear gap in evidence underlying the stated reason for the bill which is before the House this afternoon. This, of course, is an area where we have seen the inglorious episode of the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship publicly claiming that there have been up to 10,000 cases of abuse in the section 457 visa program and yet he subsequently had to admit that he had made those numbers up. He could produce no evidence—no substantiation—for that particular claim. Indeed, the government's own advisers say that there is no evidence of this claim that there is in some way widespread rorting of the section 457 visa skilled migration program.
Demographer, Professor Peter McDonald, who is a member of the government's Ministerial Advisory Council on Skilled Migration, has described the Prime Minister's rhetoric on this particular issue as 'nasty'. When you think about the problem, which we are told by the union movement and by Labor politicians is widespread, and when you compare it to the remedy contained in this bill, you see that there is an obvious disconnect. We are told that the problem is that there is a large number of people who are employed under substandard working conditions because they have been brought in through the 457 visa program. And yet the key measure in the bill is to do with tests that have to occur in advance of bringing people in, and those tests relate to the availability of Australian employees—Australian workers—with the relevant skills.
The measure that the bill is introducing will add more red tape, more process and more steps to demonstrate that when an employer wishes to bring somebody in under a section 457 visa there are no Australian workers adequately skilled to do the job. That is the key measure in this bill, and it takes only a moment's reflection to see that that has very little to do with the claimed problem which this bill supposedly addresses—the claimed problem about which we have heard so much from the minister and about which we have heard so much from union officials—that there is allegedly widespread rorting and a large number of people brought in under section 457 visas who then work under substandard conditions, and there are various other allegations made in relation to those.
When you have a bill with core measures which do not address the problem which the bill supposedly seeks to address, it makes you very suspicious. It ought to put this House on inquiry and.it ought to put this House on notice that there is something dodgy going on. And, of course, there is something dodgy going on, because what we have is this Rudd-Gillard Labor government—this government of the unions, by the unions and for the unions—responding to the agenda of the union movement. That has been their only consideration, and they have disregarded the likely economic damage which is going to be done as a consequence of these measures.
Let me turn to that point: the likely economic policy consequences of these measures. We should remember how important skilled migration has been to this country's economic growth and prosperity. We should remember that at every stage of our nation's growth we have had a substantial immigration program and that our prosperity, particularly since World War II, has drawn very heavily on bringing in people with skills, talents and capabilities from all around the world. That is a process that continues today, and Australia is very much better as a nation for it.
Every one of us in this place has had the privilege of attending citizenship ceremonies and seeing the great diversity of countries from around the world from which our new citizens come, and every one of us also has had the opportunity to observe how many of those citizens have started their journey to citizenship in other visa categories, including the 457 skilled migration visa category. Certainly it is true that more than half of all permanent skilled visas sponsored by employers are granted to 457 skilled migration visa holders already in Australia. I quoted earlier a union official who said that this was in some way evidence of a problem. On our side of the House, we think it is evidence of a program working well.
We also observe that the core measure in this bill of labour market testing has already been tried and it was found to do more harm than good. It applied when section 457 visas were first introduced in 1996. It proved to be too cumbersome to implement and too difficult to monitor. It was dropped by the Howard government in 2001. Yet, regardless of that precedent and regardless of that historical experience, this government is now proposing in the bill before the House to introduce onerous new labour market testing requirements which will require employers to produce substantial additional documentation. The economic logic here is very difficult to understand when one considers that employers already have a very strong economic incentive to hire Australians rather than to go overseas. It is always going to be cheaper, easier and more efficient to do that. So the stated rationale for adding these additional requirements is comprehensively ill judged.
This is a bad bill introducing bad measures in response to the sectional agenda of the union movement. On this side of the House we reject it. We say it should not be supported.