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“A Plan for Australian Jobs” is the title for Labor’s latest attempt to create jobs and lift productivity, with the Australian government recently revealing that it was putting $1 billion towards keeping “Australian jobs safe” from foreigners.

This plan has been called ‘xenophobic’ by the World Socialist Website (WSS), and apparently represents the latest manifestation of Julia Gillard’s promise to “stop foreign workers being put at the front of the queue, with Australian workers at the back”.

Zeke Bentley commented on this: “The reality is that 457 visa holders are less likely to get the job over an Australian anyway as it is simpler to just employ an Australian, than to go through the 457 route and get a worker who may have to leave Australia. Australian businesses only look at the 457 route as a last resort – ask anyone who is on a 457 whether they think they get priority over Australians in job selection, and they will quickly tell you how hard it has been.”

The “plan” apparently seeks to limit the number of staff with 457 immigration visas that Australian employers can hire.

It does seem a curious “plan” for a country like Australia which was built on the back of migration and skilled migration.

Zeke Bentley observes that: “Migration always becomes a political hot potato around election time, and I really get annoyed at the misplaced focus. Boat people were amongst the top four political issues covered during the last three federal elections, yet the numbers suggest only 2000-4000 people were taking the illegal boat option each year. For a country of 25 million people, at a time of global financial stress and booming mining activity, I really cannot understand why everyone focuses so much on such a small issue. It is only 2000-4000 people. Obviously it is an issue, but it is not one of the top four issues facing Australia right now – personally I would not put it in the top 100.”

“The new plan looks like yet another political stunt designed to win votes based on a false concept of 457 visa ‘rorting’. My understanding is that there have only been a handful of 457 rorts that have been taken to Court. If rorting is an issue (and I doubt it), then the correct response is to ramp up audit activity (to detect the rorts) and ramp up prosecutions. The incorrect response is to stifle the flow of skilled labour into Australia, as it is an asset.”

Zeke also said: “Personally I hate it when assets get thrown away, which is what Australia does when they tighten the visa rules. We have already damaged our economy enough by destroying the student visa industry, which was (recently) in our top 3 industries (behind mining and agriculture). Instead of protecting and building the industry, the government changed the visa rules and took away most of the motivation behind studying here. The industry is now less than half the size it was 5 years ago, and we are producing less skilled labour within Australia as a result, so we are now more dependent on 457 visa to find skilled labour. We need to stop the rot, and the government needs to get off the migration soap box, and focus on what we actually need in Australia to retain our robust economy and international profile.”

“Governments seem to forget the enormous value that migrants bring to a country – they bring their capital, their skills (without Australia having to invest in their education), and their business and trade networks. Most importantly, they bring positive energy and enthusiasm because at the end of the day, migrants are people willing to take risks to improve their life. They are not “no-hopers” devoid of motivation – they are the exact opposite. They are the exactly the type of person needed at a time of economic fragility, and the World is still reeling from the GFC.”

Zeke believes that: “Australia has a unique opportunity right now to attract the most highly skilled people in the World, because most economies are still depressed. We should be opening the borders, not closing them! Migrants bring money, ideas, enthusiasm – all crucial to priming the economic pump.”

Immigration minister Brendan O’Connor apparently believes that over 10,000 people are currently ‘rorting’ the Australian system (The Sydney Morning Herald reported this last month). Brendan revealed that the number of 457 visa holders on low incomes has doubled since last year, but the number of 457 visa holders has only grown by 19 per cent overall. “Locals should have the opportunity to get jobs first, with temporary skilled workers employed from overseas only as a last resort,” Mr O’Connor told The Sydney Morning Herald.

A Plan for Australian Jobs will be accompanied by a $500,000 advertising campaign, according to The Australian, which will target “ethnic businesses and explains Labor’s new laws and penalties for employing or referring people who are not allowed to work”. What a waste of money.

Can we really build Gillard’s “stronger, smarter, fairer Australia” by discriminating against foreign workers? Australia is in desperate need of skilled workers. At The Migration Place we are constantly contacted by Australian  businesses looking for skilled labour, especially through the mining sector. We believe the 457 is good, it attracts highly skilled foreign workers, does not need to be changed as it already contains a huge number of safeguards. It should be enhanced not neutered to secure a few votes.

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