Wednesday, 19 June 2013
Migration Amendment (Temporary Sponsored Visas) Bill 2013; Second Reading
Just over a week ago I was approached by a resident in my electorate. He was an experienced tradesperson, he was unemployed and he was desperate to get work because he had a mortgage to pay and a family to provide for. He had applied for work at a major construction site in Adelaide where tradespersons were being recruited. He was knocked back for a job that he was capable of doing and he told me the job was given to a foreign worker on a 457 visa. The person I refer to was himself a migrant to Australia who had resettled here some years ago. That experience exposes to me what is wrong with the current arrangements and why the changes associated with this legislation, the Migration Amendment (Temporary Sponsored Visas) Bill 2013, are necessary. Australian residents should not be unemployed because foreign workers are taking their jobs.
I listened with interest to the comments of the member for Cook. Whilst he spoke about productivity, at no stage did he ever speak about the rights and entitlements of Australians living in this country to access the jobs that arise from the productivity and the development of our country. Not once did he stand up for the real Australian people of this country.
We know that unemployment rates in many countries are much higher than they are in Australia. The unemployed in other countries are also desperate for work. I have spoken to some of them who have come to this country on visitors visas and they have told me that they would dearly love to come here just so that they might be able to get work, because they too have families to support and mortgages to pay. So, not surprisingly, they are prepared to travel to Australia if it means getting work. It also means that they are more likely to accept work conditions below those that they would be entitled to and they know full well that if they stand up to unscrupulous employers their work will be terminated and they will be sent back home. There is no doubt in my mind that it is much easier to exploit a foreign worker than an Australian worker.
I am also concerned that the list of occupations for which it is claimed that there are skills shortages can very quickly become obsolete or simply be wrong. It is important that we address that very issue because many of the skills that we bring into this country are based on lists that are compiled by someone somewhere. I do not know who compiles those lists or where they seek their information from, but what I do know is that those lists can indeed very quickly become obsolete because, as soon as you have perhaps a major loss of employment in one sector, it suddenly changes the ratio of people that are looking for work in a particular skill set. So it is important that the skill shortages listed on the Skilled Migration List are not only regularly updated but also reliable and reflect the true nature of what is happening in communities.
In recent times we have seen a shift in job vacancies across employment sectors within Australia. We have seen that because we have seen different employment sectors either go up or down in terms of their general productivity and contribution to Australia. I accept that from time to time there will be genuine skill shortages and it will be in the national interest to bring in skilled workers from foreign countries and that if we do not we will simply be impeding productivity. Where genuine skill shortages do exist, it makes good sense—and in fact it is in the national interest—to recruit from overseas. That is why we have a migration policy based on two-thirds of permanent migration into Australia being tied to meeting skill shortages. We know that bringing in people from other countries is indeed good for the development of this country, as it has been from day one and as it has been particularly since the post-World War II migration period. I spoke about that very matter in a speech in the House only a couple of weeks ago and also about the contribution that the migrants who have come to this country since World War II have made to the development of this nation. This is not a question about the contribution that skilled migrants—whether they be permanent migrants or 457 visa migrants—have made to this country; this is a question about doing the right thing under the current circumstances whereby Australians who are looking for work should be given the opportunity to secure the work that is available before we look offshore to fill the jobs.
Our migration policy is indeed based on supplementing, either by permanent skilled workers or temporary work visa workers, how we meet the needs here in Australia if there is a shortage of a particular skill. Of course, some people will argue that if we have skill shortages we should be skilling or reskilling Australians looking for work. The fact is that the government is doing exactly that but, as we all know, skilling takes time and often jobs need to be filled quickly. However, what we have seen recently at a time when the jobs market has been tight is temporary subclass 457 visa numbers rising from 68,400 in June 2010 to 106,680 in May 2013. That is a 56 per cent increase in numbers in three years. The numbers simply do not reflect what is happening in the jobs market and we all know it. Interestingly, the Migration Council of Australia reports that 15 per cent of employers say that they could have employed locals and that seven per cent of the foreign workers were paid differently. I am not particularly interested in the statistics per se because those figures reflect information that has been brought to me by people in the community on a fairly frequent basis. I see it myself, as I referred to in my opening remarks in my address on this matter. So why were foreign workers chosen over Australian workers by those 15 per cent—or whatever the number is—of employers? It is very likely because they were paid less and they could not complain because, if they did, they would be sent home. That is why labour testing needs to be reinstated. Employers need to show what steps they have taken to recruit locally and they need to show that no suitable local person was available to fill the job.
This government understands how important it is for Australians to have a job. That is why, when the GFC hit Western economies hard, the Labor government committed to an economic stimulus package, investing in community infrastructure, school infrastructure and transport infrastructure. The government did this not only to build necessary infrastructure for the future but also to ensure that Australians had jobs and that Australia did not go into recession. And we did that whilst at the same time growing the Australian economy by around 14 per cent and creating some 950,000 new jobs.
The changes within this legislation ensure that employers must go through a robust process if they want to employ a foreign worker ahead of an Australian worker. I see nothing unreasonable about that whatsoever. The process they must go through, for example, is that they must demonstrate that they are not nominating positions where a genuine shortage does not exist. In some cases the English language requirements have been raised. The market salary exemption will rise from $180,000 to $250,000. On-hire arrangements of 457 visa workers will be banned. Compliance and enforcement powers will be strengthened. I also welcome the provision that extends from 28 consecutive days to 90 consecutive days the period that a subclass 457 visa holder has to find an alternative job with an employer sponsor or to arrange their personal affairs at the conclusion of a sponsored employment.
The member for Cook referred to a letter from the Business Council of Australia which oppose these changes. I assume the letter was sent to all members, because I have received one and I have a copy with me. The Business Council oppose, in particular, a return to the labour market testing. They oppose having to justify why they need to hire a foreign worker ahead of an Australian worker. I believe that most businesses do the right thing and I believe that most businesses act responsibly and that they comply with Australian law. But within society there will always be unscrupulous employers who do not do the right thing and who will seek to exploit any leeway that they are given. It is because those people exist that we need to ensure that we have a robust policy in place. In fact, you could say that about all aspects of life. We wouldn't need any laws at all in this country if you took the view that most people do the right thing, because most people do. But we do have laws because there are always some that do not, and that applies in the employment sector as well.
If unions are standing up for the rights and jobs of Australian workers, so they should be. For the member for Cook to continuously use this legislation to attack the unions on the basis that they are standing up for Australian workers is simply wrong. It is their right to stand up for Australian workers—and if they don't, who will?—just as employers stand together to protect their interests, and they have a right to do that as well.
My views are not guided in respect of this matter by anyone's figures, whether they are the Business Council of Australia or one of the departmental figures; they are guided by what I believe is right or wrong. I believe it is right that we create jobs in this country. I believe it is right that those jobs, if they become available, ought to be given first to Australians. And I believe it is right that if we cannot fill those jobs that we then seek to employ from offshore, as we are doing and as we have done for decades. This legislation simply puts into place what most people I speak to and most people in my community are saying to me: that we need to be fair and sensible in how we treat employment in this country and we need to ensure that Australians are not on the unemployment queues because someone from offshore has taken their job. I commend the legislation to the House.
I am very pleased to speak to the Migration Amendment (Temporary Sponsored Visas) Bill 2013, because I want to make sure that people understand that this is the most racist piece of legislation that has come to this House since I have been a member—and, I suspect, at any time. It is not only xenophobic in its nature but it is also highly jingoistic in its interpretation of our attitude towards foreign workers. This has a history. I recall some of the history that I came across some years ago. This goes back 150 years to the riots at Lambing Flat. I will read from an article in Wikipedia:
Events on the Australian goldfields in the 1850s led to hostility toward Chinese miners on the part of many Europeans, which was to affect many aspects of European-Chinese relations in Australia for the next century.
It goes on:
… … …
European resentment of the apparent success of the Chinese first surfaced as petty complaints:
Europeans made stereotypical claims about the Chinese. They said a whole range of things, but here is the key point. They accused them and resented them because:
… they accepted low wages and would drive down the value of labour.
As this article says:
… they became classic targets for xenophobia, and surly resentment became systematic hatred.
We have not learned anything in 150 years about our attitude to foreign workers. Imagine if we had done that during the construction of the Snowy River hydro scheme.
It is just an absolute disgrace that this has been brought here today by this party opposite in government because they are kowtowing to their union mates who put them here. It is interesting that Mr Evans, as the migration minister—as much as he should be indicted for what he did in terms of dismantling the successful solution to offshore arrivals that the Howard government had put into place and then lauded the fact that Australian property had been trashed in Nauru and Manus Island in New Guinea—would not bring this legislation to the House. Mr Bowen also did not bring this legislation into the House, because he knew that this was just beyond the pale in terms of its racial overtones. But this minister has form in this area.
You only have to go back into this minister's history to find out why he is the one who is driving this piece of legislation. I went back to his first speech, and I will read an extract from his first speech, in which he says:
I do not want to fight another election where my view on a particular race of people is sought from electors before they cast their vote.
Here he is, this migration minister, bringing race into this debate, because foreign workers are the enemy of the union movement. Why is that particular to this minister? He is born into the union movement. If you read his maiden speech, you see that he came here as a six year old, born in England of Irish heritage. They went back to Ireland, came back here and found a home in the union movement. There is nothing wrong with that—I was a union member myself, as a school teacher. It has its merits, but not when it becomes a political wing of any party.
We have on the front page of The Australian today, 'Union tail wags the Labor dog'. In that article, Troy Bramston, who is no right winger—he was an adviser to the former Rudd government—says:
Conferences decide on policy, elect party officials and determine Senate and upper house pre-selections. Unions regard spots on the party's executive bodies as theirs.
The article goes on to say:
They demand seats in parliament for their candidates. And they get them.
This power is partly informal. Joel Fitzgibbon, the convener of the NSW Labor Right in Canberra, told me last December that "trade union blocs" are able "to control individual MPs". Anybody in a position of power who challenges this—an MP, a party official, a conference delegate—will find their own position under threat.
Linda Savage, a Labor member of the Upper House of Western Australia, lost her preselection. She went public the other day in The West Australian newspaper, and in the parliament, to say that she lost the preselection because she would not join a faction. We all know that; I am just reinforcing why it is this particular minister. His brother is one of the big bosses in the CFMEU, and he is now doing the bidding—
Mr Deputy Speaker, I would just ask you to call the member back to the bill, rather than a personal attack on the minister responsible for the bill.
The bill is certainly about this minister, because this minister is bringing this bill into the House. This minister has form on this issue, and we are examining why this particular minister would bring this particular bill into the House. It is because he is being instructed to do so by the union that controls him. Why would the CFMEU have an interest in this matter?
Deputy Speaker, it is not an imputation; it is a fact that this member comes from the background of a union movement. I am explaining why they are having to pay attention because of the moneys that are going from unions into this particular party opposite. It is a fact and it is a truth. I am not going to withdraw something that is in the printed media on a daily basis about how this government gets funded. In fact, I would like to go to the CFMEU's funding of recent times—in 2007-08, $1.3 million; 2011-12, $372,000. Since 1995-96 there has been $11 million from the CFMEU alone. I point this out in terms of why this legislation is in the House and the cant hypocrisy that this particular legislation has generated from this government in its very dank and dark dying days. The Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, in a transcript in Beijing on 27 April, said:
So I've got a very clear focus on lifting labour force participation by Australians and lifting skills—so a young kid sitting at home in Kwinana without a job and without any hope can get the skills he or she needs to get that opportunity in the northwest of our country. Now even with increased labour force participation and increased skills we will need skilled migration.
And here is the rub:
I believe we've got the visa settings right particularly with short term 457 visas.
This is the Prime Minister: 'We have got the settings right'. So what is this bill doing in this place? We know what it is doing in this place.
Before those opposite get up and say, 'He's anti-union', which is absolutely untrue, let me put on the record that this is about the unions overstepping their control of the Labor Party. In my party room—and my colleagues will concur—I have stood up on many occasions and said, 'Australians should have jobs before anyone else; we should be upskilling our Australians.' One of things I have said is that if a welder goes to Austal ships and they say to him, 'Yes, but have you got an aluminium welding certificate?', they do not say, 'No, because you have not got one, we will get a foreign worker.' You actually train them onsite and you upskill the workers in the workforce—but we have not got enough. Before anybody thinks it is in the resources sector where we are short of skills, here is the Australian Hotels Association and Tourism Accommodation Australia's pre-election policy platform, which we have all received. It says under 'AHA Position':
Current workforce development priorities do not address the needs of the hotel industry with its large casual workforce. Training incentives are focused on ideology rather than the occupational requirements, and the current Job Services Australia (JSA) agency is not structured to assist filling vacancies in the hotel industry. To address this:
It goes on about training incentives et cetera, and it says that the government should be supporting bring in more workers, in terms of migration, so that they can fill their vacancies.
If you are a Chinese restaurant and you want a Chinese cook and you cannot find an Australian of Chinese heritage, of course you go to the other group. One of the Clerks at the table would be very aware of the documentation that I have here. I chaired an inquiry into this very matter. The report is entitled Temporary visas …permanent benefits. And, dare I say—before those over there snigger and carry on—the Labor and other members of the committee were Senator Helen Polley; Senator Andrew Bartlett; Senator Linda Kirk, until her political demise; Laurie Ferguson; Julia Irwin; and Carmen Lawrence. Do not tell me that they are good right-wingers. But this was a unanimous report. The terms of reference asked us to inquire into the adequacy of the 457 visa system and whether it was being rorted. The inquiry's terms of reference included:
Inquire into … eligibility requirements … and … monitoring, enforcement and reporting arrangements for temporary business visas …
There were many excellent recommendations. Because I do not have the time, I particularly point those who would be interested to recommendations 17 to 22, which talk about compliance and monitoring of any abuses.
This particular minister has been out there saying that there are 10,000 abuses. We know it is not true, because when challenged he eventually had to come clean and reveal that he made the figure up. The Migration Council of Australia said that there was no evidence to back up this rorting. So here we are. We have people coming on genuine 457 skilled visas, and they are being told, 'You're not wanted,' and the government are going to try to stop it or make it hard for you to get here, which I will get to in a moment. But they are still willing to destroy our borders and allow migrants to arrive here without a visa. In fact, we have had 42,000 of them while this government have been in place, on more than 700 boats—753 at this stage, and counting, because it changes on a daily basis. They do not come with a visa, but the people who come with a visa the government want to stop. But there is even more cant and hypocrisy on this issue. We had the member for Makin a moment ago saying: 'Shock horror! This has risen by 20 per cent.' Have a guess who was the government in this place when it went up 20 per cent. It was the Labor Party, in conjunction with its Independents. Prove to us where the rorting is. Nobody can.
The unintended consequence of this sort of legislation, besides its racist overtones, is the fact that, for example, if you are going to try to get a doctor in this country, you are now going to have to go through this very lengthy labour market testing, controlled by the union movement, where you will have Fair Work Australia inspectors et cetera trawling all over your business. That is fine. As I said, there is nothing wrong with monitoring and nothing wrong with being surveilled, because most of these people are doing the right thing. I am aware of so many businesses in my electorate that need 457 visa holders and could not operate without them.
But, at the end of the day, here is the real 457 visa person: the Prime Minister herself could not get an Australian to run her spin doctor exercises in her office, so she brought in the most famous 457 visa holder, Mr John McTernan. Did they go out there and explain to anyone why they could not get anyone in Australia? Did they do labour market testing and advertising? Show us the documentation and how you went out there and tried to enlist an Australian before John McTernan came here. The union movement themselves have admitted that they have a whole lot of 457 visa holders in their own employ. They could not find any Australians. What an absolute joke!
This is all about a union bill going through this place. We know about all the bills stacked up in this parliament that you are trying to get through in the last six days. We have had right of entry. We had the bill the other day that stops foreign workers coming to oil rigs. If you come through Karratha and go through the transit lounge, you now have to get a visa, because they want to put you in a union. So this is about the union bosses saying to this government, 'We give you the patronage, we give you your preselections, we give you your money and you'd better take notice of us, because if you don't we're going to toss you out; we're not going to give you the money.'
In the dying days of this government they are going to try to lock it away so that, should we be fortunate enough to be elected on 14 September, we will have to try to unpick this, as the Australian people want us to do. This legislation is unnecessary, it is racist and it is jingoistic. Bringing this sort of legislation into the parliament shows an appalling lack of judgement by this government. It is a disgrace to the Australian people that we should even be debating it here when there are so many other priorities, and people who are looking for jobs in Australia should be— (Time expired)
Based on the member for Canning's contribution recognising that the 457 visa is a temporary visa, does the member for Canning believe that a 457 visa holder should have pay and conditions comparable to those existing if this position had been filled by an Australian worker, and does he agree that, as a part of reciprocal obligation from employers that receive 457 visa employees, there should be appropriate training for Australians for long-term carriage of positions that are offered?
Of course, I am very happy to respond to the member for Scullin's questions. Yes, there should be adequate training. I have said in this place before, in reference to an Italian cheese maker at a cheese-making business in my electorate, that there should be adequate training of the employers in that business from the skilled migrant. The inquiry we did which I just referred to recommended that industry wages should also be adopted for those coming in on a skilled visa. So of course they should receive the same treatment. This is where, if there are any inadequacies, they should be monitored and dealt with. But the proportion of people that have been found not to have complied was about two per cent, I understand from the report I referred to.
This gives me the opportunity to say that one of the problems with the 457 visas since this government has handed them, essentially, to the union movement to control is that they have shifted the goalposts on some of the requirements—for example, the English language. It has not been thought out very well. If you are a Chinese cook in a Chinese restaurant, your English requirements are not the same as those of a doctor who might have come here from former Czechoslovakia and might be doing delicate operations. There are industry needs and industry nuances.
This is a cover-all sort of allegation that is made by the unions, that we have to lift the bar on English, for example. In terms of wages and conditions, this is prescribed in a 457 visa. It is not inexpensive to bring a 457 visa holder to Australia. It costs thousands of dollars. Initially you have to find them their housing and health care. There are the superannuation commitments that they are obliged to have. There is a base wage set out in the 457 visa conditions and, obviously, it should be applied. (Time expired)
The simple proposition before the House is this: that if an employer or another wants to come to the government and say, 'We require access to a particular type of visa which was designed to address labour market and skill shortages,' then they must be required to demonstrate to the Commonwealth, the government and the minister that there is a shortage and that there is no local worker who is ready, willing and able to fill that position. That is a very simple proposition. When stated like that, you find it very difficult to disagree with the proposition.
Is it any wonder that in their contributions to the debate today the opposition have not addressed the proposition? In fact, they have stooped to their normal cant of casting aspersions on the motives behind those who bring the proposition before the House—their allegiances, their friendships and their former employment, and even their country of birth. But do they address the question before the House? No, they do not. The question before the House is a very simple one and it should enjoy the support of all members in the chamber. I will be very surprised if it does not.
A couple of weeks ago, the member for Batman gave a speech in this House. He described it as his first and last speech as a backbencher. It was a speech that enjoyed applause from around the House. He said something that really stuck in my mind. He said that his priority and the priority of any Labor government should be to get Australian workers into quality jobs that pay well and are secure, and to use that as a vehicle to lift their standards of living. He said that had been the driving force behind all of his work in public life.
That is a statement and proposition which I wholeheartedly agree with. To achieve that you need to have a strong economy. You need to have effective markets, you need to intervene in those markets where they do not deliver fair and just outcomes. That is why we have awards and collective agreements. That is why we have workplace regulation.
But in 2013 Australia stands above just about every other advanced economy in the world. We have strong growth, we have low unemployment, we have low inflation, we have strong public finances and we have quality public services. It is not unique in the last 150 years that Australia has relied on the skills and capacity of workers from overseas to build our cities, to man our factories and to staff our hospitals, surgeries and offices. The region that I come from has the steelworks, just like the steelworks and the metal industries around the country—Whyalla, Port Kembla. On any day you walk into any of the departments within the BlueScope steelworks and you find workers from just about every country on earth. The Snowy Mountains Scheme was built relying quite heavily on the skills and capacity of workers from around the world. If you drive past the Kingsford Smith airport in Sydney you see the residue of the market gardens that once were extensive throughout that region, providing a food supply to the people of Sydney for over a hundred years and owned and operated by workers from overseas. There are the auto workers of Geelong. The examples could go on and on.
It is clear that the wealth and prosperity that we rely on today and that we are so proud of as Australians have been built on the efforts, achievements, skills and capacities of workers who have come from all around the world. Of course, these have not always been glorious episodes. The exploitation of bonded labour is one that stands out. But generally speaking, the workers have come from other countries. They have made a fantastic contribution where we have embraced them for what they have brought to the country that they have helped to build.
The temporary skilled visa was a further iteration in this 150 years of skilled migration coming to this country. I do not know if it has been mentioned in this debate. The history of the temporary skilled visa which we now refer to as the 457 visa has its history in the Roach report, commissioned by the Keating government, relying on the input, the skills and the knowledge in consultation with key businesspeople. The recommendations of the report were many, but in part they identified the need to address skill shortages in the short term by introducing a new class of visa and over the long term by investing more money in skills and training of our domestic workforce. The visa was not introduced by the Keating government.
After the 1996 election the Howard government introduced the first 457 class of visa. It has been in existence in that statute ever since. It is designed to help businesses which are struggling to find skilled workers locally to sponsor workers from overseas so that those businesses and the economy as a whole can continue to grow in a tight labour market. Like most schemes of this type, they must continue to be monitored and adjusted as circumstances change and weaknesses emerge.
We have identified three weaknesses. The first is a lack of a requirement to test the local labour market. Indeed, when I have spoken to people in my electorate—in fact, when I have spoken to many men and women in the press gallery and to others—they have been quite surprised by the fact that there is not a requirement on an employer who seeks access to the 457 scheme to test the local labour market. Perhaps that is the reason that in a recent survey and report by the Migration Council they found that over 15 per cent of employers surveyed said that they probably could find locals to fill the jobs but were applying for 457 visas and simply did not try.
I make no criticism of the employers for accessing something that is a legal entitlement to them, but I am more than a little bit critical of the fact that they have not at least attempted to engage with the local workers—particularly when I reflect upon my own electorate, which has consistently had since the late 1980s unemployment rates two per cent above the national average. When you focus on certain suburbs, the statistics are above that. When you look at youth unemployment, the statistics are above that again.
The message has to be quite simple: if we want skilled workers not just now but in five years time and if we want skilled tradespeople not just now but in five years time, we have to have the mechanisms in place which encourage employers and workers to put on apprentices and trainees to ensure that we are able to fill those skills shortages not just now but in the future. Today's commitment to putting in place apprentices and trainees ensures that we do not need to rely on schemes like the 457 scheme so heavily into the future.
The second issue that has been identified is the potential to exploit the precarious nature of a 457 visa worker, including paying below the market rates and the continuity of employment. Put quite simply: if somebody's tenure not only within the workplace but within a country is reliant on their continuous employment with that employer then their bargaining power within that workplace is less than that of any other worker within that workplace.
The third issue we have identified as a weakness within the scheme is something I have already addressed: the requirement to meet training obligations that are conditional upon the granting of the 457 visa. We never heard much about this from the member for Canning or any of the other speakers that I have tuned into.
When pointed out like that, it is a fairly simple proposition. Test the local labour market and prove that there is no current local worker who is ready, willing and able to fill that vacancy. Having engaged a worker on a 457 visa, ensure that you meet the conditions of that visa, ensure that they are paid market rates and are treated fairly in the workplace and ensure that you are meeting the training requirements.
There is a good reason why the member for Canning and others did not reflect too heavily upon these propositions within the amendment before the House: their record on this particular issue is not very good. Under the Howard government we saw significant abuses within the scheme. Between 2003 and 2006 we know that over 30 per cent of all 457 visas granted were below the minimum gazetted rate. We heard the member for Canning just now, in response to a question put by the member for Scullin, saying that he has always supported workers being paid the market rate. Under their watch that was not what was occurring. Over 30 per cent of the workers who were engaged under the 457 class of visas were being paid at below the minimum gazetted rate. I want to make the point that that is not the minimum market rate; it is the minimum gazetted rate. So you had two classes of workers within a workplace and the exploitation of workers on this class of visas. Inspections between 2002 and 2003—and these are reports conducted under the former government—of over 2,400 work sites showed that around 27 per cent of those employers who had people engaged under those schemes were breaching the conditions of the visa.
I can understand why the member for Canning and others on that side of the House say, 'Nothing to see here; move on.' The reason they make that submission is that their track record in this area is not very good at all. It is why they are so anxious not to address the central proposition which is before the House. That central proposition is: if there is a local worker who is ready, willing and able to fill a vacancy an employer needs to fill then they should be given first crack at that job.
You could be forgiven for thinking, on listening to the contributions of the shadow minister and others after him, that Australia was somehow operating on a folly, out on its own doing something which is completely out of step with similar countries around the world. I inform the House that not four weeks ago in the Canadian parliament the Prime Minister of Canada stood up and said they needed to amend their class of visa, which operates in the same way as our 457 visa scheme, for the very same reasons that we have identified here. The Canadian prime minister, more closely aligned to those on the conservative side of politics than ours, had this to say: if there are local workers who can fill a vacancy, they should be given first crack at the job before employers go to the Canadian government and seek to bring in workers from overseas to fill that vacancy. He was supported in that proposition by the then Governor of the Bank of Canada, the central bank of Canada, who made a public speech supporting the same proposition. So, far from this being some harebrained proposition dreamt up as some conspiracy in a cave, this is a proposition which is in step with all other countries around the world.
I make this final proposition. For those opposite to sit on that side of the House and bag other countries, talk about humanitarian debacles in countries like Malaysia, whip up fear about foreign investment in this country, run the most humungous scare about refugees in this country and then turn to this side of the House and talk about introducing xenophobia into the debate is, I have to say, about the richest thing that I have heard in my time in this place.
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.
For once in your life you could have kept talking! My humble apologies to the member for Tangney! I was trying to organise something. I did not want to progress to our next issue until the two leaders are with us. The debate is interrupted according to standing order 43.