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Debate risks descending into gutter: CFMEU -

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Debate risks descending into gutter: CFMEU

Sabra Lane reported this story on Tuesday, October 20, 2009 12:18:00

ELEANOR HALL: Another union leader is calling on the Federal Government to take a more humane
approach to asylum seekers.

David Noonan is the national secretary of the Construction Forestry, Mining and Energy Union's
construction division and he told Sabra Lane that the Prime Minister should be "staring down" those
politicians who are appealing to what he called the dark side of Australia's history.

DAVID NOONAN: I don't propose to comment on the circumstances of every single group of people that
seek to come here but what I do say is this: we need to be very careful that the political debate
in Australia doesn't descend to the gutter as it did in the dark days of the Tampa when John Howard
used, frankly, racism to inspire fear in the Australian people.

And I think that Labor needs to recognise that you can't win if you want to go down market with the
Coalition in a debate like this because they will go further down market than any political party
probably anywhere in the world on this sort of stuff.

SABRA LANE: The Prime Minister Kevin Rudd says he is being tough but he is being humane. Is he
being humane?

DAVID NOONAN: Well, I think that it is very important that we don't get back into the sort of
dialogue of the Tampa era where we actually had people trying to outbid each other in terms of
toughness on the refugee issue.

You see, what we are concerned about at the CFMEU is the fact that we see everyday real problems
stemming from Australia's immigration policies and those real problems are the exploitation of
guest workers which we are finding in growing numbers on constructions sites - usually ripped off
and exploited by unscrupulous employers.

We see backpackers being used to do work that ought to be done by locally based Australian workers,
and we see many rorts in the student visa categories as well where students aren't actually here
studying, they are here being used as cheap labour.

If we are going to have a discussion about immigration in the country, let's have a balanced and
informed discussion but let's look at where the real threat to Australia's economic and Australian
working people's economic security is and that is in the proliferation of temporary visas and also
in the proliferation of undocumented workers who are here.

And most of those people are stepping off jet planes. They are not coming here on leaky boats.

SABRA LANE: Would you like to see a review of all the migration happening to Australia?

DAVID NOONAN: Oh, well our union has been calling for that for some time.

SABRA LANE: Is there some disquiet amongst Labor supporters about the direction that the Prime
Minister and party officials are taking in this debate?

DAVID NOONAN: I think that there is a disquiet amongst certainly our membership about the whole
direction of immigration policy.

We don't want to see a situation where a few of the most desperate marginalised people in the world
who come here on leaky boats, most of whom it appears are genuine in seeking refugee status, are
demonised.

While at the same time we have an immigration policy which is promoting massive numbers of people
in the country who have no employment security, who have no security in terms of their future in
this country.

We don't want to see immigration policy transferred into a situation where people are expendable
labour at the behest of big business simply able to be chucked out of the country when business has
finished with them and where their status is used to push down wages and conditions for Australian
resident workers.

SABRA LANE: Some have suggested given the Prime Minister has stratospheric popularity ratings that
he should be using that good will with the public to change direction. Is that something you
believe?

DAVID NOONAN: I think that it would be great to see the Labor Government out here leading and
staring down those who want to appeal to the dark side of Australia's history and actually leading
on the issue as we saw even under the Fraser era.

Malcolm Fraser was prepared to do on the Vietnamese boat people and the other thing that we think
needs to happen is there needs to be a proper and balanced debate about migration in this country
including the impact of the temporary migration schemes that exist on the security of Australian
working people.

ELEANOR HALL: That is union leader David Noonan, speaking to Sabra Lane.