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Thursday, 20 June 2013
Page: 6458

Mr BALDWIN (Paterson) (10:37): I rise to speak against the Migration Amendment (Temporary Sponsored Visas) Bill 2013. This bill is a farce. It is a cover-up. It is a smoke-and-mirrors effort by a very desperate government determined to divide Australians.

I find it fascinating to listen to the previous speakers and their hue and cry about Australian jobs. This is nothing short of hypocrisy to say the least. They would have you believe that we want to bring in skilled workers to bring slave labour into this country; to be paid at lower conditions and with lower standards than Australians. They would have you believe that the 457 visa skilled workers are being rorted and that they are taking away Australian jobs. I will come to that in a minute. What is more concerning is that the rushed attempt to ram through this piece of legislation without adequate parliamentary scrutiny through inquiry and consultation leads this coalition not to support this bill. This attack, led by the Prime Minister, is an attempt to do nothing more than pit Australians against Australians. It reeks of political opportunism.

To show you evidence of how much need there is for the 457 visa program, I will quote from a press release:

… the tourism industry is facing a shortage of skilled labour in regional areas.

… … …

The 457 visa program provides employers with an avenue to sponsor experienced tourism professionals from overseas. Not only can these professionals fill critical skills gaps, they can train young Australians looking for a career in the tourism and hospitality sectors …

As the shadow minister for tourism, did I write that press release? No. Did the Liberal Party write that press release? No. Did the tourism industry write this press release? No. This is actually a joint press release from the Labor tourism and immigration ministers in 2011. They identified a skill shortage that needed to be filled. A skill shortage that, if it is not filled, will lead to a loss of jobs and skills in Australia.

So, as I said, Labor's hypocrisy knows no bounds. They continue to belittle and demonise overseas workers at the same time that they have 457 workers on their own staff. Perhaps, during the process of the debate today, the Prime Minister could come in here and tell the House why she could find no suitably qualified Australian worker to fill the role of chief spin doctor in her office. What market testing did she do? Where was the advertising? I did not see any advertising. What processes did she go through? Or did she just do a captain's pick and say, 'I'll have you and I'll just skip the process'?

Part of the 457 visa process includes schedules with lists of skilled occupations that are allowed to be brought in under 457s. The only people this does not apply to are state or territory governments. That would include federal governments. So the Prime Minister did not even have to satisfy the employment criteria that other businesses would normally have to go through. It was a captain's pick.

I read through these lists and I was looking for 'spin doctor'. I was looking for 'chief media adviser'; nothing there for that. I did find a few here that I thought might have been close: 'theatrical adviser' or 'stage manager' maybe? 'Exit stage left'. There was a range of professions here but nothing that came close. It was obviously a captain's pick.

What we have here is pure hypocrisy by a Prime Minister, confected outrage that the 457 system was being massively rorted. In fact her minister talked of '10,000 rorts'. I would say that the government has been caught out telling porkies. Then again, maybe the performance of her chief spin doctor is the reason that she has been so driven to drop 457s; so that she would never make the same mistake again. And we could base that on the performance that she has applied due to the professional advice that she has had; perhaps she wants to stop certain people coming into Australia that she has employed.

Skilled migration has been a key driver of Australia's economic performance. It addresses skill shortages so industry can grow, and provide jobs and economic benefits for all Australians. Make no mistake, when the government introduced this bill they did it for one reason: to shore up union support. This is a Prime Minister who is run by the unions, put in there by the unions and is only loyal to the unions, not to the Australian people. This bill has been introduced because the unions demanded it.

Let us go through a few facts—and the Prime Minister keeps using those words 'the facts': in 2012-13 to 30 April, there have only been 6,740 primary applications lodged for 457 visas in the accommodation and food services industry. I quote that because I am the shadow minister for tourism. What I would like this Labor government to explain is: if we did not have this program, how many tourism businesses would have to shut because they did not have the skilled staff necessary to open their business?

How would a Gillard government expect hotels or restaurants to open if they do not have the professional chefs to prepare the meals? More so, and outside that realm, how will the mining camps feed the fly-in fly-out miners without the food professionals? If you take out one link in the chain, Australian jobs suffer.

So, if you have no chefs—no food professionals, and your restaurant cannot open—that means the Australian back-of-house staff and front-of-house staff have no jobs. If the hotel cannot open because it cannot provide food, then that means the whole chain of workers in there no longer have jobs. If you cannot feed your miners out at the mine site they do not go there, so all of those jobs are affected. This government does not understand the ramifications of its own actions. The government clearly needs to understand that there is a skills shortage in a whole range of areas.

The coalition has serious concerns about this bill, and not the least the fact that there is no regulatory impact statement—nor has there been proper consultation. I note a release from Tourism Accommodation Australia, which says:

TAA has serious concerns about the Government's plans to restrict the use of 457 skilled worker visas, which are critical to the accommodation industry.

In contrast to the over-the-top rhetoric being employed by some members of the Government, 457 visas are not taking jobs away from Australians. 457 visas are reserved for workers with specific skills or qualifications in identified areas of shortage in the local workforce.

457 visas are used by a majority of accommodation hotels to fill skills shortages in areas such as cookery and hotel management.

Tightening the screws on 457 visas will do nothing to help Australian workers find jobs, but it will impose yet more red tape and regulation on employers in the accommodation industry that are, in many cases, already struggling to meet the service demands of customers.

That is from one of the peak bodies in the tourism industry. This is a government that does not even bother to consult with the largest employment group in Australia.

This bill contains a bizarre attack—it is actually a 'back to the future' attempt to reintroduce labour market testing, which operated from 1996 through to 2001, and was found at the time to be ineffective, costly and with a significant delay to employer recruitment action. But most concerning, this bill is based on a false premise. The government has completely made up the numbers to suggest widespread abuse of the 457 scheme. Labor's attack on skilled migration is a desperate distraction from their failed border protection policies, which have seen almost 700 boats arrive with more than 44,200 people on board. To give you an idea, Mr Deputy Speaker, there are 108,000 people in Australia on 457 visas—108,000—and there have been 44,200 people arrive on this government's stint. That is 39 per cent—just so that you understand the numbers.

I think there is a greater problem with those who come here illegally rather than those who come here legally, who provide great benefit to our economy and who actually help to produce jobs in Australia. In fact, the only jobs that illegal immigrants help to grow in Australia are those that actually have to go and monitor, administer and control them whilst they are in detention.

So on one hand we have a group of people who are contributing to our economy and on the other hand we have a group of people who are costing this economy over $10 billion. The government has its priorities wrong. It wants to stop those who are going to come here for the right reasons and promote those who come here for the wrong reasons.

This Prime Minister has a renewed enthusiasm to trash-talk our skilled migration program by demonising the 457 skilled migration visas. It damages our international reputation and makes a mockery of the government's own Asian century white paper, which barely lasted through the summer. It demonstrates that this Prime Minister has truly lost her way. This Prime Minister, and the previous Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, spent years telling Australia and its international audience that they had the balance right on 457 migration visas. Yet now the Prime Minister, after her visit to Western Sydney, is telling everyone that the system is out of control.

Yet it was just 12 months ago that the Prime Minister said, 'I believe we've got the visa settings right, particularly with short-term 457 visas'. Only 940 visas have been introduced above and beyond last year's measures. That is growth of only 1.7 per cent. Boy, I wish that the illegal immigrants would increase by only 1.7 per cent; we would not have the budget mess that we have now.

The changes to the 457 migration scheme have not been based on any demonstrated rorting or widespread abuse as the government has claimed. The minister has claimed a figure of 10,000 cases of people rorting 457 visas. He said that we have to look at the excessive growth of the 457 visa regime. There is no evidence of 10,000 rorts. It is a figure, a number, pulled out of the air by a minister who knows not what he does. In fact, the Migration Council of Australia has disputed Labor's claims and condemned the Prime Minister for demonising 457 skilled migration visas.

The government's own advisers say that there is no evidence of widespread rorting of 457 skilled migration programs. In fact, demographer Professor Peter McDonald, a member of the government's Ministerial Advisory Council on Skilled Migration, has called the Prime Minister's rhetoric 'nasty'. Under Labor, 457 skilled migration visa grants have grown to their highest level ever: 125,070 visa applications were granted in 2011-12. If any rorts have occurred, they have occurred on this Labor government's watch.

Since 2007-08, Labor has cut the resourcing for compliance work in DIAC, including 457 monitoring, by over $20 million. That is 30 per cent. Monitoring visits to employers are down 67 per cent. The number of employer sponsors formally warned has also dropped by two thirds. Just as Labor cannot protect our borders, they cannot police the immigration system they have here in Australia.

As I said before, the 457 visa program plays a critical part in our Australian economy. It provides for short-term take-up of necessary skills for projects, employment and industries to go ahead. As I said earlier in my speech, if you take out one key link in the employment chain then hundreds, if not thousands, of jobs will suffer. This government has not thought it through, and it has not thought it through because it is a slave of the union movement. This is nothing more than shoring up union support, not supporting Australians into Australia's jobs. They should be condemned for their rhetoric; they should be condemned for their actions. This bill should not pass the House.