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Thursday, 20 June 2013
Page: 6503


Mr IRONS (Swan) (13:37): I rise to speak on the Migration Amendment (Temporary Sponsored Visas) Bill 2013. As members on this side of the House know—and I see the shadow minister for small business, the member for Dunkley, here—the coalition supports business in Australia and we support flexibility. We support employment and jobs. The member for Dunkley is a great champion for small business in Australia.

I would like to set the scene before I go on to the bill and talk about a small business in my electorate of Swan, which had an issue with visas. Part of his issues were dealing with trying to get the type of people he needed for his business onto the SOL so he could bring those people in on 457 visas instead of on the temporary holiday visas that he was bringing them in on. I will just read the email he sent to me to set the scene to explain to members on the other side of the House how important having a correct visa system is for businesses in Australia. The email is from Michael D'Arcy, who runs The Bicycle Entrepreneur business in Belmont. He writes:

Steve, I run a small business in Belmont called The Bicycle Entrepreneur. We employ about 50 employees, both full-time and casual. We've been selling bicycles for nearly 30 years, and now have 4 stores around the metropolitan, as well as a separate service centre here in Belmont.

This is where my problem is. I am unable to source experienced Bicycle Mechanics either here in WA, or from the eastern states. This has forced my hand to employ from overseas, which we have done now for the last couple of years. The biggest hurdle for getting people here is that they are only eligible to work under the working holiday visa, which has a 6 month working limitation, limiting us to not being able to plan our future staffing effectively. I really just want to know how I go about getting the Occupation of Bicycle Mechanic to The Skilled Occupation List (SOL) 2011- Schedule 1 and 2. This would enable us to bring staff over on a relevant visa.

The 457.

For your reference, we have a thorough training structure in place to try and keep the young people we employ, that have aspirations to be bicycle mechanics, but in reality, we retain less than one in twenty, due to the attractions of high wages for low skill levels on offer working in the resource sector. This problem is limiting the growth of our business, enabling us to increase our workforce. We are aware that the WA government is currently lobbying for 16,500 regional sponsored visas, which for a person to be eligible, they must be employed into an occupation listed on the Skilled Occupation List (SOL) 2011- Schedule 1 and 2.

Which the occupation of bicycle mechanic is not.

Adding the Occupation of Bicycle Mechanic for this list would significantly increase the growth potential of our business due to the high level of servicing related to the selling of Bicycles. Should you be able to either do something about this directly, or put me onto someone who is able to help us here it would be greatly appreciated.

That was from Michael D'Arcy from The Bicycle Entrepreneur in Belmont in my electorate. I did visit his business with the Deregulation Taskforce headed by Senator Sinodinos. The member for Higgins also came along. We listened to what he had to say. I might encourage those members on the other side of the House to go and visit small businesses in their electorate and find out how important these 457 visas are.

This legislation has a similar vibe to the policy changes that the government introduced to weaken Australian border protection measures back in 2007 and 2008, right back at the beginning of the Rudd-Gillard government. Back then Labor took a system that was working effectively for Australia, in terms of having stopped the boats, and changed it. We all know what happened after Labor weakened border security: over 40,000 arrivals and, tragically, over 1,000 deaths at sea—possibly one of the greatest policy failures in Australian history. It is now deja vu. Labor wants to change a policy that is working well for the country. This time it is the 457 visa policy, refined over years of the Howard government—a policy that has stood the test of time and has been backed by the Australian people and Australian employers. The irony is that the government is doing this in an attempt to distract from the damage caused by the very first policy failure on border protection.

Mr Lyons interjecting

Mr IRONS: The member for Bass might do well to support this, because I know the employment levels in his state of Tasmania are pitiful.

The lessons have not been learned from the past and this twin policy failure will have a perverse policy result if this legislation is passed. It would give the impression that this parliament facilitates the illegal arrival of boats while providing no work rights for the people on board, meaning many end up on welfare, while at the same time making life more difficult for the temporary skilled migrants. The people smugglers will be emboldened and business will not be able to find the staff to fill the temporary job shortages that are required to be filled in Western Australia and across the country. That is the impact of this legislation and that is why I am asking the government to reconsider the legislation today.

I know there are members of the government that do not support this class warfare on the foreign workers that this bill represents. Many have been on public record, and I hope those members will help to stop this legislation from passing through the House. The member for Lyne has stated in the paper that he will not be supporting the legislation until he sees some evidence of a need to change. I think that should be the position of this parliament.

In terms of the wider community this rhetoric started by the Prime Minister in March to run down skilled migration for political gain as a desperate distraction from the disastrous border protection policies has not worked. It has not resonated with the Australian public and it certainly has not worked in my own electorate of Swan in Western Australia. The reason for that is that the Australian people do not want to be divided; they want to be united. In my electorate, where 47.9 per cent of my constituents were born overseas, this move has certainly backfired against the government. Swan has many different groups of skilled migrants but no one dominant group. The hard-working people were not impressed by the government's war on foreign workers.

It should be noted that the former member for Swan, now the member for Canning, described in parliament last month this bill being the most racist piece of legislation he had encountered during his time in parliament, stating that the bill harked back to the mentality not seen since the gold rush of the 1850s, when the Chinese immigrants were discriminated against. These are strong words from someone who has been in the parliament for a long time.

It is often said that one of the Howard government's best achievements was the consensus it built in Australia for controlled immigration of skilled workers, and this consensus was built by policies such as the 457 visa policy, which was introduced in 1996. It was a policy that was road-tested and refined over the course of the Howard government.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. BC Scott ): Order! The debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 43. The debate may be resumed at a later hour, and the member for Swan will have leave to continue speaking when the debate is resumed.