Contributed by Jim Hayes
Yesterday, on the back of mounting evidence of their growing use by some employers, to bring in foreign workers as a source of cheap labour and the prospect of a growing community backlash, prime minister Malcolm Turnbull announced the end to 457 visas.
There are currently about 95,000 holders of this visa in Australia. Their position will remain unaffected and will still be able to apply for permanent residency after the 4 years expiry period.
Pauline Hanson and like-minded former Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi (founder of the Australian Conservatives) have jumped to claim credit, suggesting it was they who had won this concession from the government.
Regardless of how it came about, the scrapping of the 457 visa is a good thing in its own right. It is wrong to use those who we bring to our shores this way and it is wrong to use a cheap labour source to cut down wages and conditions of Australian workers.
When making his announcement, Turnbull said that the purpose was to protect Australian jobs, in effect, admitting that the visa was doing the opposite, after the Coalition had denied it for so long.
“We will no longer allow 457 visas to be passports to jobs that could and should go to Australians,” he said.
However, a new visa will come in. It will last 2 years instead of 4. Malcolm Turnbull added:
“It is important businesses still get access to the skills they need to grow and invest, so the 457 visa will be replaced by a new temporary visa, specifically designed to recruit the best and brightest in the national interest.”
“What we really need is a root and branch review, so that migrant exploitation and wage theft is properly tackled and Australian standards are both maintained and improved,” he added.
The backlash has been quick. Unions have called it “tinkering at the edges”. Others have called it no more than a political stunt to divert attention from other matters. There is concern that the new visa will bring about little change. After all, the 457 visa was brought in under the same promise and Australians were told that applications would be strictly monitored to ensure that no jobs were lost and there was no exploitation. It didn’t happen, because of the loopholes and lack over proper monitoring in practice.
So far, the only differences that are clear are that the new visa will not be a pathway to permanent residency at its conclusion and fewer occupations will be affected. Other than this there is very little detail.
Turnbull owes Australia a proper explanation. Otherwise, he cannot complain if his promise is not believed.