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Tuesday, 4 June 2013
Page: 5067

Workplace Relations

Mr LYONS (Bass) (14:23): My question is to the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship. How is the government reforming the 457 visa system to build stronger and fairer Australian workplaces, and are there other approaches?

Mr BRENDAN O'CONNOR (GortonMinister for Immigration and Citizenship) (14:23): I thank the member for Bass for his question, an important question about protecting the interests of workers in this country. As a government, we responded to the global financial crisis by supporting Australian workers. We repealed Work Choices to ensure we enhanced employment security. And we will reform the 457 visa to ensure we provide employment opportunities for workers in this country, particularly young people who are being trained and need a job. This is not, as some try to describe it, anti foreign worker; this is unashamedly and unapologetically pro local worker, and so it should be. The fact is this is consistent with Labor values.

I watched the opposition leader in an interview today dismiss the abuse of 457s as 'nonexistent'. How does he explain that 15 per cent of employers surveyed by the Migration Council of Australia said that they have no trouble finding local workers but still look overseas first? What about the growth of 457s increasing 20 times faster than the total employment growth rate of this country? What about wage rates falling where there is a spike in 457 use? Indeed, what about the seven per cent of those applicants on 457s saying that they are paid less than locals? The reason, of course, that the opposition leader denies the evidence is that he has said and continues to say this temporary scheme should be the mainstay of immigration in this country. The opposition's position can also be summed up by what the member for Cook said in a speech to the Australian Mines and Metals Association on 2 August 2012:

… it is essential we consolidate the role of 457s and look to restore access that has been taken away for these visas…

That was last year before these reforms. Further, he went on to say:

At current levels … under the 457 programme there is room for expansion.

What a stark difference between the opposition and this government. We want to protect the interests of local workers and ensure that when we do use the 457 scheme, which is an important scheme, it is used legitimately. What it should not be used for is as a replacement for workers in this country or to displace young people who are being trained and want to fill the positions in the future. The opposition have made clear that they want to see an expanded version of the 457 scheme. They have said they want to remove, as they would put it, the 'impediments' to accessing this scheme which would grow the scheme and deny Australian workers and young people in this country proper jobs, genuine jobs, in communities throughout the country.