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Tuesday, 27 February 2018
Page: 2128

Mr TUDGE (AstonMinister for Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs) (18:52): I rise to sum up on the Migration and Other Legislation Amendment (Enhanced Integrity) Bill 2017. In doing so, I thank all the members who spoke on the bill for their contributions.

The amendments in this bill are aimed at protecting Australian and overseas workers by strengthening the integrity of Australia's temporary and permanent sponsored skilled work visas. The measures in the bill itself complement and are part of the significant reform package to abolish the subclass 457 visa and replace it with the new temporary skills shortage visa in March 2018. As members would probably know, in part that reduced the number of occupations on the skills list from about 651 occupations to 461 occupations which became eligible for those temporary short-term visas.

The key measure in this bill is the publication of detailed sanction information, and the aim of this is to deter businesses from breaching their obligations. This is a very important measure, and it's aimed at ensuring that businesses do the right thing. The 457 visa program is there only for when there are no Australians available to fill the skills shortage. If that occurs, then, yes, a business can get a 457 visa, but only if that condition is met. If the business breaches those conditions and doesn't properly abide by the law, this bill will allow that business to be named on the government's website so that other businesses know and other prospective employees who may be overseas are aware of that as well.

As I mentioned, this bill is part of a suite of changes which we've made to the 457 visa program. We had some serious concerns in relation to that program, and we've introduced many changes, including reducing the number of occupations on the skilled migration list. More recently we've introduced a measure which will allow more formal labour market testing, and there will be other complementary measures as well, which will be coming forward in the next few weeks. All of those things are done do ensure that Australians have the best opportunity of getting Australian jobs.

We've actually done remarkably well at this, because, when you look at the number of 457 visas which have been allocated, you see it is now significantly lower than it was when we first came to government. Last year, for example, only 70,000 457 visas were issued, whereas at the peak under the Labor government 130,000 457 visas were issued. The interesting thing about this is that, while the number of 457 visas issued last year was almost half the number at its peak under the Labor government, it occurred at a time when there was massive jobs growth, with 400,000 jobs created last year, and at a time when the proportion of people on welfare payments dropped to its lowest level in 25 years.

So it's been a great trifecta for the Australian worker, with more jobs being created, more Australians coming off welfare and taking those jobs, and fewer 457 visas issued because Aussies are taking those jobs. It's exactly the reverse of what occurred under the former government, whereby the record number of 457 visas issued back in 2012 occurred while the number of jobs actually declined and while the welfare queues were expanding. It's one thing to need 457 visas and maybe for those lists to grow when there is a very tight labour market, but what occurred under the Labor Party is that the welfare queues were growing, the number of jobs was declining and yet they were still issuing record numbers of 457 visas. We're proud of what we have achieved to date in relation to the reforms that we've made to ensure that Australians have the best chance of getting a job in this country and maintaining that job and to ensure they have the best chance of growing and developing themselves and improving their wages in the process. This bill assists with that process.

I mentioned that publication of detailed sanction information is the most important measure here, but there are also a number of other measures in this bill. It provides certainty around merits review by clarifying that review rights are determined at the time a decision to review a visa is made. A third element of the bill will allow the Department Immigration and Border Protection, now the Department of Home Affairs, to collect, record, store and use the tax file numbers associated with temporary and permanent skilled visas. This will improve the department's ability to verify that businesses who sponsor overseas workers are complying with their sponsorship obligations and that the skilled visa holders comply with their visa conditions. The tax file number will also improve the department's ability to undertake research and trend analysis, which will provide an additional evidence base for the department in developing skilled visa policy. These measures collectively strengthen the integrity of skilled migration visa programs and protect Australian and overseas workers.

This government has a very strong track record in jobs creation and in getting people off welfare and into work, and only where absolutely necessary issuing 457 visas when no Australian is able to do the job. That's what we're about. We're about Australians getting Australian jobs, improving their wages and improving their opportunities, and this bill goes towards that.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.