So who can really claim responsibility for the federal government’s decision to scrap the controversial 457 temporary work visa scheme?
Only an hour post the announcement, Pauline Hanson and Cory Bernardi both reckon they were inspirational; Bill Shorten says he was already planning a crackdown; others claim it was pinched from Donald Trump’s copybook.
Turnbull ends 457 visas
Announcing it will abolish the controversial 457 visa program for temporary skilled migrants, the Turnbull government has adopted a new “Australians First” approach to skilled migration. (Malcolm Turnbull/Facebook)
Not surprisingly, Malcolm Turnbull is claiming authorship.
A popular policy has plenty of fathers. How can one argue with a policy catchline that says “we are putting jobs first and we are putting Australians first”?
Of course it has its detractors. Big business appears to have been blindsided by Trumbull’s Facebook policy splash.
Australia’s richest person Gina Rinehart made use of 457 visas to build her massive Roy Hill iron ore project and won’t be a fan of Tuesday’s policy decision.
“Now that the government has taken this decision, it is crucial that they work with employers to get the details right and ensure industry’s ability to fill genuine skills shortages is enhanced, not degraded,” was the cautious response from the Business Council of Australia.
One only needed to read social media to get a clear message that this scheme was overwhelmingly disliked by an array of society, but for different reasons.
Peter Dutton announced the government would be cracking down on the issuing of 457 visas. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
The most legitimate reason to overhaul the policy that grants visas to foreign workers is that it was so clearly rorted by unscrupulous elements of business. Experts have long said that one could drive a truck through the loopholes in this policy.
The upshot was that workers were being shipped into Australia, underpaid and without proper employee protections by some businesses just looking for cheap labour. If the system worked as intended there would be no room for pay variations because legally 457 workers are paid the same rates as locals.
And despite a couple of government attempts to improve the system, it was sufficiently damaged that it needed to be thrown out and replaced with a fresh policy.
Not surprisingly, unions hated it because they (like many others in Australia) saw it was a means to take jobs from locals.
Bernardi and Hanson are in a different camp again – the nationalistic one that has no time for immigration generally – which has been garnering increasing appeal among a wider group.
Those that supported 457 visas recognised that there were some legitimate shortages among some skilled occupations and that encouraging the very skilled professionals into Australia to work was a boon for innovation and therefore very positive for the economy.
Atlassian co-founder Mike Cannon-Brookes has been one technology chief who has advocated fiercely for opening the doors to the very clever.
The Business Council of Australia has been a strident supporters of skilled migration visas, saying there has been a genuine shortage of skills in some areas and to restrict entry of offshore would be bad for the economy.
The recrafted temporary skilled migration policy will be more restrictive around which occupations will be eligible, work experience, English language proficiency, and the need for these roles to be first advertised locally.
But in reality there are plenty of similarities with the existing 457 scheme.
And it’s a scheme that has even been criticised by those in highly skilled areas. For example, the IT Professionals Association (ITPA) recently pointed to a problem with 457s, especially in relation to visa holders filling the entry-level tech support roles that would normally go to local IT graduates.
The ITPA points out federal government data showing that while the overall number of 457 visas issued over the last decade (excluding IT) has risen by just 2 per cent, there had been a 136 per cent rise in 457 visas issued for IT workers.
At the other end of the scale, a report in The Australian Financial Review outlined a group of Chinese workers brought into Australia to work as electricians and welders were paid no wages for months and forced to survive on a $15-a-day “food allowance” while housed in overcrowded accommodation in regional NSW.
Taiwanese company Chia Tung Development underpaid 13 Chinese and 30 Filipino workers more than $873,000 for labour over six months to February this year. Chia Tung employs more than 4000 staff globally and has associated entities registered within Australia.
Only a few months ago Minister for Immigration Peter Dutton announced the government would be cracking down on the issuing of 457 visas to prevent Australia being thoroughly overrun by general practitioners and registered nurses.
The Prime Minister said the 457 visa class had “lost its credibility” and would be replaced with two new temporary skilled visas.
There will be a short term two-year visa stream with a list of occupations that will be slashed by over 200, and there will be no path to permanent residency.
A second “medium term” visa will be for a four-year period for higher skilled, strategic jobs with significantly tighter restrictions and an even narrower occupation list.