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Tuesday, 18 March 2008
Page: 1187

Senator PARRY (9:18 PM) —I rise to seek an apology from the Labor Party tonight, and I am sure it will be forthcoming, especially with Senator Conroy in the chamber! The Labor Party attacked our party over section 457 visas for many, many months indicating that we were bringing skilled labour into this country as cheap labour. ‘Cheap labour’ was the catchcry of the Labor Party. Today it has been reported in the media and in the media release of the shadow minister for immigration, Senator Chris Ellison, exactly what the situation has been. He said that the union bosses scare campaign has been exposed as a total fraud.

Senator Conroy —Why didn’t you ask the man a question about it today?

Senator PARRY —We did not ask any questions about this today because we knew that this would be a good matter to raise this evening in the adjournment debate. We have left the quality until the end of the day. That is why we are raising this now.

The facts have now come home to roost. The Labor Party now has to retract its comments—its attack on us—over that long period of time over section 457 visas. We brought people into this country for what purpose? To assist with the skills shortage in Australia. And what was the allegation? It was that they were being paid less than the average worker. And what has happened now? The 2006-07 figures now prove that the skilled immigrants who came to this country were being paid more. They were not removing jobs from Australians. They were filling jobs that Australia could not fill and we have paid them more money. We have said that for a long period of time.

That is why we are seeking an apology from the Labor Party. They need to say ‘sorry’ to us for their having misrepresented the truth. We sat through this day in and day out. The Labor Party even raised a matter of public importance on this in 2006.

Senator Conroy —2006?

Senator PARRY —Absolutely! I participated in that debate. You raised it in 2006; that is how far back the fraudulent misrepresentation of what we were doing goes.

Now, 18 months later, we can stand up and say that the average 457 visa holder was paid not $50,000, not $60,000, but $71,600. That was the average wage. And the Labor Party then alleged that this was only in select vocations. But let me quote some of the figures. In the mining sector, the average income was $95,200. We agree that it is a unique industry, but let me put that to one side and go through the average earnings of visa holders employed in some other industries. In the accommodation, cafes and restaurants sector—we were told it was a terrible area because we were bringing in cheap labour—the average 457 visa holder earned $45,000, which was $3,000 above the average wage for the sector. So that is another myth that we have exposed today that the Labor Party should apologise for.

Then, in the construction sector, and what a union stronghold is the construction sector, the average visa holders earned—have a guess how much, Senator Conroy—$19,551 more than the average in 2006-07. That is 37 per cent higher, and the cry from the Labor Party was, ‘We are bringing in cheap labour.’ What a load of rubbish by the Labor Party. We sat through that. We put up with it for 18 months and finally we have been vindicated in our position.

Then we go on to the finance and insurance sector, where section 457 visa holders earned $20,000 more than the average, with salaries of up to $90,400 compared with an industry average of $70,000. This goes on and on and on. In the health and community services skilled area, overseas workers are commanding almost $12,000 more. This is very embarrassing for the Labor Party, because this was their strong point on which they attacked us, and this has all come home to prove that they were wrong, they were fraudulent and they have misrepresented us for a long period of time. It is great for us to come back at you today and be able to correct the record with facts and figures which we always promoted throughout our time in government.

In the administration and defence area, wages were an average of $22,000 per annum higher—and you can just imagine that, in some of the areas, we were accused of being exploitative; most of them are traditional union areas. I think that this has proven that the policies of the Howard government during that time worked, despite criticism and strong opposition from the Labor Party. We helped alleviate the skills crisis in this country, and we got no thanks. There was not one single word of thanks from the Labor Party.

The Labor Party have consistently knocked, knocked and knocked us. What else are they going to misrepresent to the public? That is what I am really concerned about. In the areas of factual basis, they could have used the same facts and figures as us but, no, they chose to be selective and fraudulent with their representation to the Australian public. What else are they doing that does not reflect the truth in basic statistics, issues and areas which we promoted strongly as a coalition government and where we fixed problems in Australia? I just hope the Rudd Labor government does not go down that path again and mislead the public and put in jeopardy the livelihoods of families in this country and also the expanding of infrastructure, the industry that we need. I say to the Labor Party: look at the facts; look at what we did and never, ever misrepresent those facts again to the Australian people.