David Nielsen

457 visas: The pieces of paper tearing up alliances

IMAGES of US President-Elect Donald Trump must now whir in the minds of every ambitious politician in Canberra -- a constant warning that ignoring the ripples of anger could see them washed into or out of office.

It is Mr Trump's shock landslide triumph over Hillary Clinton that is helping push a fast-moving debate on 457 foreign worker visas.

Concerns over foreign workers have landed Labor leader Bill Shorten on the same side as One Nation's Pauline Hanson and provocative Nationals MP George Christensen.
 

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is accusing Mr Shorten of "breathtaking hypocrisy", for demanding restrictions on the visas, despite Coalition MPs including Mr Christensen also publicly supporting the idea.

The 457 visa is a four-year work permit that allows Australian firms to hire foreign workers.

It is designed to be used by companies that need to fill roles but can't find Australian workers.

At the height of the mid-noughties mining boom in Queensland, firms relied heavily on the visas as the overheating resources industry drained the pool of skilled and unskilled workers alike.
 

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull with Nationals Leader and Deputy PM Barnaby Joyce in Rockhampton earlier this year.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull with Nationals Leader and Deputy PM Barnaby Joyce in Rockhampton earlier this year. Chris Ison ROK271016cpm2

The 457s have long been despised by unions, even when a skills shortage in parts of the state threatened to hobble mining and building projects.

In a post-election tour of regional Queensland, Mr Shorten faced pointed questions on foreign workers.

He told a forum in Rockhampton, Labor would fight to ensure Australians are given priority for jobs.

Now Mr Shorten is using the visas to bludgeon the government, saying it is betraying Australians looking for work.

"It is time to build Australian first, buy Australian first in our contracts and employ Australians first," Mr Shorten said on the weekend.

"We in the house of Labor must understand that in the mining towns, the manufacturing suburbs and regional communities of our country, our fellow Australians are hungry for recognition, hungry for Australia's political parties and leaders to recognise that the economy is not currently working in the interests of ordinary Australians," he said.

 

Dawson MP George Christensen takes a tour of Mackay Conveyor Equipment's Paget workshop with managing director Jason Kelly.
Dawson MP George Christensen takes a tour of Mackay Conveyor Equipment's Paget workshop with managing director Jason Kelly.

Mr Shorten's policy, held since before the election, would force businesses to advertise for local workers for at least a month before they can apply to use foreign labour.

Mr Christensen -- a proud supporter of a Trump presidency -- represents an electorate particularly bruised by the downturn in coal prices and the loss of jobs.

He said he would write to the ministers of immigration, employment, the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister "requesting that no further 457 visas be issues for jobs in the Central Queensland and North Queensland regions".

"After all, Australian jobs should be for Australian workers," he said.
 

Pauline Hanson in Gladstone with candidate for Flynn, Phil Baker.
Pauline Hanson in Gladstone with candidate for Flynn, Phil Baker. Mike Richards GLA240616PHAN

Pauline Hanson also jumped in, siding with Mr Christensen and Mr Shorten, saying:

"it seems Labor is now taking its cues from Pauline Hanson's One Nation. Good to see".

Mr Turnbull attacked Mr Shorten for the stance on 457 visas, given that foreign worker approvals peaked while he was employment minister.

The peak of 457 visas were approved between 2011 and 2013 -- about 68,000 per year -- but have fallen every year since the Labor Government introduced restrictions on them.

In the past financial year alone, the Government under Malcolm Turnbull delivered 45,400 of the work visas to foreign workers, down 11% on the year before.



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