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Wednesday, 26 June 2013
Page: 7105

Mr CHAMPION (Wakefield) (12:01): It is my great pleasure to speak on the Migration Amendment (Temporary Sponsored Visas) Bill 2013. It has been a long and exhaustive debate—I did not think I would get a chance to speak because there were so many speakers before me. Of course one of those was the member for Canning who made some headlines when he accused the government of racism. I found that comment to be intemperate and obviously offensive but it also does not match my party's history.

My party and, in particular, Arthur Calwell, as the first immigration minister, gave this country the postwar migration scheme. Indeed, Calwell was the father of that scheme and he very famously made a ministerial statement to this House saying that we would have 22 million Australians by 2020. He brought millions to this country who settled and brought their skills, their innovation and their energy from a destroyed postwar Europe. They built the Snowy Mountains scheme, many of the railways and most of the postwar infrastructure that was put in place by the Curtin and Chifley governments—continued in large part by the Menzies government, no doubt about that.

Migration was a fundamental part of that postwar reconstruction, as it was called. If you look on Google and type in 'Arthur Calwell', a very old video will come up—it is a video now but it would have been a film back then—of Arthur Calwell saying, 'Give me the ships and I will bring the right type of people to this country.'

Mr Ruddock: 'Two Wongs don't make a White'!

Mr CHAMPION: The member for Berowra should take it easy; he has a habit of interjecting. My party are the architects of postwar migration, and Arthur Calwell can rightly be seen as the architect of multicultural Australia. So much of his legacy has been diminished by people who want to simply reel off his responses as interjections in this place as some sort of evidence of racism when, in actual fact, he was, as I said before, the father of the postwar migration scheme, the father of multicultural Australia. At the heart of that scheme was that people would come here, have permanent residence, become citizens, work and bring their skills, their innovation, their ideas and their families to this country and make a permanent contribution to it

The 457 scheme does not do that. The 457 scheme is a guest worker program—that is what it is; that is what it has always been. I am not a fan of the scheme; I do not like it. I think in so many ways it does not do this country a service. The great trick of the conservatives has been to equate what is a guest worker scheme with skilled migration when the two things are quite different. The two things are different in this respect: your visa under 457 is linked to your job; lose your job, lose your visa. That is the way it works—lose your job and you have got 28 days to leave the country. That is how it works and that was implicit in its design in the Howard years.

The second thing I do not like about the 457 scheme is that much of the money that is earned here, much of the income, is remitted. It does not stay in this country; it is remitted to many countries abroad. Those remittances are good for these countries—there is no doubt about that. Many countries around the world rely on remittances, but it is not good for Australia to have the earnings of these people remitted to other countries. It does not stay in the country.

The last thing is the skills are also sent home. At least half of the people return after their visas have concluded and they take their skills, their innovation and what they have learnt with them. The other half stay. Why not have them stay in the beginning? Why not give them the security of permanent residence in the beginning? If they are good citizens, why not keep them?

As long as a person's visa is linked to their job, they will be forever vulnerable. That is the truth of the matter. Anybody who has ever been at a work site understands that implicitly. It is not surprising employers think these workers are great workers. They are great workers because they have to be, they do not have a choice. If your job is linked to your visa and you have a family that is reliant on your remittances, then you are in a vulnerable position. And if the boss says, 'Jump,' you will jump. If you talk to people who have had experience with these visas you will find employers are glowing in their appreciation of it—no doubt about that. But if you talk to the workers who work alongside them, there is often a great deal of sympathy for people on 457s, because they do not have that opportunity to raise an objection. They live with that fear, with that idea, that if they speak up, if they say anything to their boss, they could lose their job and thus lose their visa. I think that is at the very heart of what is a guest worker program.

We get a lot of rhetoric from the opposition about skills, and about how employers need these skills. But this scheme, the 457 scheme, does not serve the country in the long term. It serves it in the short term. It gives you a short-term solution to a skills problem. We all know there is a skills problem in this country. The fact that we cannot find enough doctors and nurses for our hospitals is a disgrace. The fact we cannot find enough diesel mechanics is a disgrace. But a 457 program, a guest workers scheme running indefinitely, just makes employers lazy. It does not give them any incentive to invest in skills. It does not give them any inducement to invest in skills if they know that they can just get another diesel mechanic—once one visa has concluded, they can just get another worker on another visa—and it makes them lazy about planning for the skills they need in the long term.

The 457 visa scheme provides no incentive for employers to drag people into the labour market who are currently outside of it, such as mature age workers and young workers. In my electorate, there would not be a week goes by that I do not meet a mature age worker who wants to work and cannot get a start, cannot get a job—and it is not for want of trying. The same could be said for young people as well. Often they cannot find a start, or they get the wrong start. This program, the 457 program, in the long term is lazy and it is counterproductive and it does not encourage skills formation. All of the skills that are brought to this country, or at least half of them, evaporate; they leave the country with the workers.

In my electorate I often see the by-product of what I call fast-food traineeships. People on both sides of parliament have got up in this House and talked about the extraordinary number of traineeships and the like, contracts of training, that have been occurring over the past 15 years or so, but so many of these traineeships come out of fast-food businesses. I see young people all the time signed up on a contract of service for a low training wage, and I think they get questionable benefits out of this in some sectors. Some of the traineeships are very good, but some of them are of very poor quality. It really saddens me that when I go to the trades school in my electorate—St Patrick's trade school—I hear of young people who want to sign up for an apprenticeship, but at some time in the past they have gone to a fast-food establishment and signed up to a training contract—and, of course, you only get one training contract. In effect they are denied a trade because at some point in the past they signed up, often without thinking about it too much, to a traineeship in fast food or in retail or in hospitality. There is a definite problem with the quality of some of these traineeships. That is another area that we have to look at. We have to make sure the money the government puts in for skills training actually gets used for training in the skills where we have real shortages: diesel mechanics, doctors and nurses, and all of the classifications on the list for 457 visas.

In summarising my views, I think the 457 scheme should not be confused with skilled migration, and it is certainly not a long-term solution; it is a bandaid. And if those opposite think they can fix our skills problem by making this scheme even easier to utilise for employers, all the while engaging in dark partisanship on a whole range of other migration matters, they have another think coming. If they think they can lower the standards of this guest worker scheme and make it easier for employers to bring foreigners to this country to work and that the Australian public will just stand by and give a bit of a golfers clap to that, they have another think coming. They must have rocks in their heads, particularly when, as I said before, so many Australians are looking for work and cannot find it.

As I said before, the details of this bill are not all that I would want them to be. I would want a much stronger response to the 457 program, and I have expressed that view in my party room. But this bill does have a lot of merit. The first one is that it requires employers to undertake labour market testing. Labour market testing is as simple as advertising for a job to see if you can find any Australians before you bring in someone from overseas to take a job. It does not seem like that much of an onerous requirement to me to advertise, to see if you can find an Australian to take the job. It does not seem difficult. In fact, I think most Australians would think that is a fair thing to do. This bill gives the minister some mechanisms to make sure the sponsorship obligations can be enforced and that they are actually undertaken by employers. That is done through enforceable undertakings and making sure that employers actually meet the training requirements and the like of having these visas.

Most importantly, it allows the Fair Work Ombudsman to monitor and investigate compliance and sponsorship obligations, and that takes the number of inspectors from about 30 to about 300. One of the big problems with this program at the moment is that the good employers who follow the rules and do the right thing get a pat on the back, but the employers who do not do the right thing get away with it because there is inadequate inspection. This bill provides inspectors. I would have thought that that is a pretty basic requirement: that if you are going to have a program you make sure there is compliance in it—a pretty standard thing, I would have thought.

The bill provides—and I think this is terribly important—the visa holder with additional time to find a job if they lose their job. It amends the Migration Regulations 1994 to extend the period from 28 days to 90 consecutive days for visa holders who lose their job and want to look for another one.

This bill is a pretty moderate attempt at cleaning up a program which I think has serious deficiencies, which in the long term does not serve the country's interests. As I said before, I would prefer to see the back of this scheme. If people are going to migrate to this country, I would prefer to see them come here as permanent residents, that they bring their families, that they settle and that we keep the skills and innovation and their entrepreneurialism in this country.