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Wednesday, 16 August 2006
Page: 77

Senator BERNARDI (3:21 PM) —It is interesting to listen to Senator Lundy talk about the exploitation of migrant workers or, as Mr Beazley describes them, foreign workers. It reminds me of a time that I think we all would rather forget, when xenophobic philosophies were being bandied around in the Australian political system. Unfortunately, it appears that that time is upon us again. I remind Senator Lundy that in May 2002, in a talk to Labor for Refugees, she said that it was ‘inconceivable’ that people were ‘willing to exploit the most base, racist of instincts’. And yet now we have the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Beazley, doing exactly that. He is on the record as saying:

… the only skilled migrants who should be coming into this country should be people who are coming in here for the full experience …

And yet he opposes 457 visas, despite the fact that over 87 per cent of 457 visa holders apply for permanent residence in this country. The minister is on the record as saying that the average salary of a 457 worker is $65,000 per annum. Ninety-three per cent of 457 visa holders surveyed by leading academics—who, incidentally, support the 457 visa program—are in professional or associate professional jobs or in skilled trades.

In my state of South Australia, as Senator Ferguson talked about before, the skilled migrant visa is absolutely in demand. It is not in demand from business only; it is in demand from the South Australian government. In fact, the South Australian government has more than quadrupled its state-sponsored skilled migration intake. The New South Wales Department of Health, of course, is the largest single sponsor of temporary 457 visas.

What I find really quite disturbing is the fact that the union movement are seeking to use 457 visas but also looking to do deals to undercut the wages of the people coming in. An article in the Australian of Friday, 20 January 2006, says:

The Australian Manufacturing and Workers Union and Australian Workers Union are in—

negotiation with a labour hire company—

to bring an initial batch of up to 400 skilled migrants from Southeast Asia …

The report says the workers would be offered a special pay proposal. It says that these workers would be offered by the union movement half the salary of an Australian worker and the other half of the salary would go into a union controlled trust fund. ‘Trust fund’ is the term that is used here; I would use the term ‘slush fund’. It does not say in the quote I have here, as far as I can see, exactly what it is going to be used for, but nonetheless this is of great concern. It seems that it is okay to try and underpay the workers if the union can control the rest of the money. I find that quite reprehensible—if it is true, I might add. I cannot rely on every media report, but nonetheless there it is. Mr Beazley is on the record as saying in 1998:

… a migrant finding a job in Australia, as we all know, creates jobs elsewhere in the economy …

In the town of Murray Bridge in South Australia, that is precisely what happened. No-one complained when New Zealand workers were coming in to fill the requirements of T&R Pastoral and the abattoir jobs that Australians were not willing to fill. But, when we could no longer attract more migrants or trained professionals from New Zealand, we brought in some workers from China on 457 visas.

Let me tell you the difference that made to the Murray Bridge economy, a small regional economy. They sold out of bicycles. The bicycle shop virtually had to shut its doors. It had no more bicycles available because the workers bought bicycles. They sold out of white goods because the demand for white goods in rental properties was truly extraordinary. These people have settled into that regional economy, their children now go to schools there, they are learning English and they are making a great contribution to our society in South Australia. But do not take my word for it, because the Western Australian minister Tony McRae— (Time expired)