Mr ENTSCH (Leichhardt-Chief Opposition Whip) (18:01): I certainly welcome the opportunity to speak on the Migration Amendment (Temporary Sponsored Visas) Bill 2013 today. Skilled migrants play a very valuable role in my electorate of Leichhardt. Whether it is as the chef at the local restaurant, a sugarcane worker, bed-and-breakfast operators or an engineer at one of our mines, these new migrants are employed, paying taxes and making a positive contribution to our society.
Unfortunately, the changes with this bill simply add to the burden of regulation and compliance on sponsors who use the 457 visa program. It represents a culmination of union and government campaigns to discredit the program and demonise foreign workers. It also highlights the absolute hypocrisy of the Gillard government, which clearly would prefer to see illegal boat arrivals put into the community on welfare rather than skilled migrants paying their own way and helping our economy to grow.
To state facts plainly, the measures contained in the bill require a thorough parliamentary inquiry. Skilled migration has been a key driver of Australia’s economic performance, and the 457 program plays a very important role in securing the short- and long-term skilled migrants that Australia has always needed and will certainly go on needing in the future. More than half of all our permanent skilled visas sponsored by employers are granted to 457 skilled migration visa holders already in Australia, and 457 skilled migration visas account for more than 30 per cent of all permanent skilled migration in Australia.
What confuses me is that the Prime Minister and the previous minister for immigration spent years telling Australians and the international audience that they had the balance right on 457 skilled migration visas. Yet now, according to Labor scaremongering, there are 10,000 people rorting the system and it is out of control, so-guess what-let’s have another knee-jerk reaction and again push something through the parliament and leave it for somebody else to mop up in the future. We now find that these proposed changes to the 457 scheme have not been based on any real rorting or widespread abuse, as the government claims. Labor has failed to produce any credible information from the department or anywhere else to suggest that widespread abuse exists.
Unlike Labor, we recognise the critical importance of skilled temporary migration to the Australian economy and to the wellbeing and living standards of all Australians. The coalition would never support the use of 457 skilled migration visas at the expense of Australian workers and would not tolerate any employer who tries to abuse the system.
As I have mentioned, in Leichhardt there are a wide range of businesses and organisations that benefit very much from this program. Among the hundreds of roles on the skilled occupation list, those relevant to my region include livestock and aquaculture roles, artists, professionals, tradespeople, park rangers, school teachers, university lecturers, childcare centre managers and fishery officers. However, it is hospitality and accommodation that are the keystones in our regional economy, and there are a number of roles that would not be filled if it were not for this program. From cafe and restaurant managers to chefs and cooks, to caravan, hotel and motel managers: these skilled migrants are vital and appreciated.
The Cairns Chamber of Commerce is a strong supporter of the 457 system, and it sees these visas as playing an important role in filling skill shortages, providing that the position cannot be filled locally. It recognises that our region has a small market in certain fields due to our location, particularly in higher skill positions. People holding these visas can work in Australia for up to four years, bring their families with them, and travel in and out of Australia as often as they want. This visa program exists to fill the temporary gaps and fluctuations in the market, and is very important in the tourism industry. These visas allow businesses to respond to any sudden need to fill positions. The chamber also works hard to ensure that the system has integrity and that our employers are actually doing the right thing.
I am not saying that the system is perfect by any means, but unfortunately the changes proposed by this bill fail to address any of the current flaws that I see in the system. I would like to highlight two case studies from Cairns. The first is a local Indian restaurant, Marinades, owned by Dev Rao. Dev is incredibly hard working and produces amazing food, but he has been driven to the wall because of the 457 visa situation for three reasons.
Firstly, as a result of new rules brought in, his chefs are not able to renew their 457s unless they pass an International English Language Testing System. While Dev appreciates that people living in a new country should learn the local language, the extent to which these chefs are exposed to English gives them a workable standard, but not enough to pass this very rigorous test. And understand this: these are not people coming here on full-time migration visas; they are coming here on 457 visas for up to four years. The skills that they have, particularly in the case of Dev, are skills that are picked up on the streets of places like Calcutta; they are not necessarily skills that come out of your normal trade schools and what have you.
Unfortunately, if a chef fails the test, Dev has two options: the chef can pack their bags and head back to India, or-this is really blew me away when I learnt about this-Dev must pay the chef an annual salary of $92,000, plus nine per cent super before the IELTS requirement is waived. This essentially says to the department of immigration that the chef is so important to the business that you cannot live without him. Dev did take the second option, and pays his chef what must be one of the best wages in the region. But again he is penalised because, as he says: ‘I’m suffering financially. Restaurants don’t make huge profit margins generally, but if I do find a candidate who has acceptable English, the department says that I’m not making enough profit, so how can I afford to be able to employ him?’ They must realise that chefs in India who do speak good English are able to work in the Sheratons and other international chains. If they are that good, they do not need to leave their families and come to Australia to make the same money. Dev said that this must be addressed as the English language requirements are killing multicultural employers.
Secondly, Dev is required to ensure that his Australian employees receive industry training. Unfortunately, there is no accredited facility in Australia that teaches Indian cooking. Therefore, Dev has to create his own training modules, teach them, gain signatures from the staff to show that they have undergone the training, document all of this and then submit it to immigration. What a waste of time for a small business owner already battling staffing costs and compliance costs.
Thirdly, Dev tells me that the government-sponsored employment agencies will provide $6,000 to an employer if they give a new migrant on Centrelink benefits a job for 25 hours a week for 13 weeks. It does not matter if they do not speak a word of English; if they speak Hindi they can work in the kitchen. This is despite the fact that the chef on a 457 visa has worked for four years, understands all the health and safety laws, and yet is considered to be a risk to the community. It just does not make sense.
The second case I would like to highlight is that of the JCU dental school. This is a fantastic facility and one that I helped to establish. It trains young dentists and provides low-cost dental treatment to local residents. The dental school has five Irish dentists who, because they are not receiving enough hours at the dental clinic that brought them in on 457 visas, are volunteering their time to train students JCU students in Cairns. JCU wrote to the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Chris Bowen, to see if they could legally employ them part time and pay them to continue training their students. As they said, ‘We would of course prefer to pay these dentists, as it is unreasonable to expect them to volunteer their time continually.’ Unfortunately, they were refused. Why, you ask, Madam Deputy Speaker? Because, even though medical doctors are able to work for other practices in addition to the one that sponsored them on their 457, dentists are not allowed to do so. JCU wanted the guidelines changed to allow the dentists to do likewise, which surely would have been a win-win situation on all fronts. The fact that this could not happen demonstrates yet another key flaw in the 457 process.
The bill that we are debating here today seeks to amend the Migration Act with a range of new requirements. It is important to note, from the feedback from Migration Council Australia, that a number of industry groups have been universally negative towards the new labour market testing regulatory requirements. I was in this place in 1996 when the 457 visas were first introduced and labour market testing applied. We remember that it proved to be cumbersome to implement and difficult to monitor, and it was dropped by the Howard government in 2001. Now Labor wants to reintroduce it by requiring certain classes of sponsors to undertake labour market testing for Australian workers, and show evidence of it, prior to recruiting from overseas using the 457 program. Employers are concerned that it will add to costs and delay for recruiting, for no effective purpose, if reintroduced. They also note that the costs to them for recruiting 457 workers from overseas are much higher than for recruiting a local worker, and overseas recruitment therefore only occurs when there are no local workers available. This is common sense to me. No employer is going to go to the effort and expense of recruiting and assisting a worker from overseas if somebody local down the road is suitable to fill that position.
Another key element of the bill is that it establishes the powers of authorised inspectors. There are two types of inspectors: compliance staff in the Department of Immigration and Citizenship and the workplace inspectors from Fair Work Australia. I recognise that feedback from industry groups has been less concerned with this aspect of the bill, in that they believe that the vast majority of employers will not be impacted and that any employer abusing the program should be identified. However, it should be noted that the bill also gives inspectors coverage of workers on student and working holiday visas in low-skill occupations with employers who do not have a sponsor obligation or role as such. In my electorate, many, many young people arrive on working holiday visas and seek to earn a bit of extra cash on their travels by picking fruit or working in one of the local bars or restaurants. Of course I do not condone any employer taking advantage of young people in this situation, but we need to be very, very careful that increased compliance costs are not seen to outweigh the benefits of employing these young people.
Lastly, the bill looks to extend the period that people can seek new sponsored employment. At the moment, if a 457 worker stops working for their sponsor, they have 28 days to find new sponsored employment or they must leave Australia. The bill proposes the extension of this time period to 90 days. This is consistent with one of the recommendations of the recent Migration Council Australia survey report and it has the support of industry groups. It provides some sensible flexibility to provide workers with a more realistic opportunity to find new sponsored employment. This particular element of the bill will certainly be supported.
As a whole, it is plain to see that this attack by Labor on skilled migration is a desperate distraction from their failed border protection policies. These policies have seen almost 700 boats arrive with more than 44,200 people on board, resulting in chaos and tragedy on our borders and more than $10 billion in budget blow-outs, not to mention the opening in my electorate near Weipa of the facility at the Scherger base, which has been converted from an Air Force base to a prison colony, which I think is absolutely appalling and certainly not the purpose for which it was built.
The hypocrisy is quite blatant. The Gillard government would rather focus on discouraging skilled migrants who make a contribution from day one in favour of supporting illegal boat arrivals, who are put into the community on welfare. It just does not add up and that is why the coalition will not support this bill. We stand consistent in our policies on 457 visas and will be strong in policing our migration laws on our borders, in the community and in the workplace.
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