Senate debates

Tuesday, 7 November 2006

Questions without Notice

Skilled Migration

2:20 pm

Photo of Grant ChapmanGrant Chapman (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I direct my question to the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Senator Vanstone. Will the minister advise the Senate on the success of temporary skilled migrants in the Australian workplace and how they are contributing to the viability of Australian businesses? Has the minister considered any alternative policies?

Photo of Amanda VanstoneAmanda Vanstone (SA, Liberal Party, Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank Senator Chapman, from my state, for that very astute question. He asks about 457 visa holders, the temporary skilled migrants to Australia, and about the contribution that they make to the economy. These are the visa holders that people on the other side seek to attack. This is the visa that they do not like, and the reason for that is that they simply do not understand that in order for Australians to get on in life and to be successful they need to have a job. Where do they get a job from? They get it from the business community. We cannot have everybody in Australia employed in the public sector. The business community has to do well, and this visa particularly allows the business community to take advantages of economic opportunities that come past and to take advantage of good economic times to bring the skills they need into their factories and their workplaces to enable them to take on more contracts, to secure more profit and to secure Australian jobs.

Nonetheless, members opposite continue to complain and continue to seek to denigrate this visa, partly because they are paranoid about our new industrial relations legislation. Why they would be, when we have created something like 1,000 jobs a day since that legislation came into being, I am at a bit of a loss to understand. There were going to be mass sackings and we are still waiting to hear about that—the mass sackings have not happened. We have had something like 1,000 jobs a day created since then. Nonetheless, Labor started on this track: ‘We’re going to attack 457 visa holders. We’re going to keep attacking this visa because we think it’s the only thing we’ve got going for us.’ Frankly, they have not really got much going for them, so I suppose they are desperate.

In one of these attempts, Mr Beazley said that we are ‘driving a wages and conditions race to the bottom’. Last time I looked, Australian wages had gone up under this government, and the only government they have gone down under that I can recall is the previous government of the other side, when average wages went down and the minimum wage went down—and what did members opposite say at the time when they were in government? ‘Oh, it’s a social wage. In other words, we take money from you so we can spend it rather than you having it in your wages.’

Let’s have a look at this allegation—I think it is worth looking at—made by the would-be Prime Minister that the 457 visa holders are driving a wages and conditions race to the bottom. I thought: let’s have a look at what the minimum salary is in Australia. I am advised that the minimum wage is currently $25,194 and it will go up to $26,616 in December this year. So that is the base rate; that is the bottom—$26,000. This visa has a minimum salary level in capital cities of $41,850. There is an exception of 10 per cent less than that for regional Australia because wages and conditions in regional Australia are not the same as in Sydney. You would not expect to get paid the same in Ivanhoe in New South Wales for pulling beer in the front bar of the RSL as you would in Double Bay.

There is quite a bit more to say on this, Senator Chapman; I thought I would let you know that. Twenty-five thousand dollars is the minimum wage and the minimum salary level is $41,000. So I thought: let’s have a look at what the average salary is of 457 visa holders. Let us be fair. Let us have a look at your allegation. The average salary of a 457 worker last year was $66,000. That was the average salary—$66,000. So I thought I had better have a look to see if there was any change. (Time expired)

Photo of Grant ChapmanGrant Chapman (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Could the minister provide further detailed information as to the success of 457 visas in supporting Australian business?

Photo of Amanda VanstoneAmanda Vanstone (SA, Liberal Party, Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

I thought I had better get myself up to date; I had better get the figures for the first quarter this year, just in case I was behind the eight ball and the wages had gone down. I was shocked to find that the average salary of skilled 457 workers in the first quarter of this year has gone from $66,000 to $70,000. What is happening here? Where is this wages race to the bottom? I saw that in the mining industry the average salary for 457 visa holders went from $87,000 to $100,000, in the finance sector it went from $92,000 to $103,000, in manufacturing it went from $66,000 to $69,000 and in the health sector, predominantly used, incidentally, by the New South Wales Department of Health—because Labor federally is out of touch with the states on this visa—it has gone from $62,000 to $67,000. That is good news for doctors and nurses and good news for regional hospitals, who can now get health staff. I have not had time to look at the average wages of unions, but I will have a look at that. (Time expired)