20 March 2013

Watch out for a migrant bashing election campaign

Listening to the new Minister for Immigration about 457 visas I had to check on Google that he wasn't in fact the Opposition spokesperson. He seemed to be taking some pretty hefty swipes at the temporary visa program, which his own government has had the running of for the past five and a half years. The Prime Minister sounded similarly oppositional, as if it wasn't her government who was in charge. Maybe they are just getting in some practice for September, after which they are almost certain to be in opposition for real.

On the other hand, maybe they are being far cleverer than I thought. In attacking their own policies, the plan might be to get the Opposition to defend them. Abbott and Morrison seem to have fallen for it alright. I fear the subtlety may be lost on the electorate, however.

Seriously, though, subtlety has nothing to do with it. Gillard's speeches to the Western Sydney masses have all the finesse of old-time migrant bashing jingoism. We won't put foreign workers ahead of Aussies on the jobs queue (like we have been doing ever since we got into office?).

So much for the headlines. Now for the fine print (taken from the Department of Immigration website http://www.immi.gov.au/skilled/strengthening-integrity-457-program.htm):

What is labour market testing and how has it been used in the past?
Traditional forms of labour market testing involves [sic] advertising the position prominently in national and local newspapers, trade magazines and/or on job seeker websites over a number of weeks to prove that no suitably qualified Australians could be found for the position.
In the past, by the time an employer approached the Government to sponsor a skilled worker from overseas, they had already tested the local labour market thoroughly. However, they were still forced to go through the prescribed process which usually involved extra costs and delays for the employer.

Why is the government not reintroducing Labour Market Testing?
The 457 program is an important part of how Australia meets a number of our international trade obligations. These obligations mean we can't limit access to our economy of people who wish to do business with us. Part of doing business with us often involves sourcing skilled labour from other countries. Australia must remain open for business people and service providers and the reforms to the 457 program will not adversely impact these obligations.
You will probably have to read that last paragraph over a few times before you can make any sense of it. Apparently our international obligations prevent us from actually insisting that employers give preference to local workers. Never mind, thump the table hard enough and no one will notice.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, shouldn't we be asking questions like: if we are bringing in foreign workers to fill skill shortages, what are we doing to prevent those shortages from occurring in the first place?

Still, it has to be said that Labor is pretty amateurish at the migrant bashing thing, although they are learning. The real Opposition spokesperson, Scott Morrison, came up with the idea of "behaviour protocols" for asylum seekers living in the community, and Opposition Senate Leader Eric Abetz backed him up by saying it is necessary for a cohesive society that people be told if someone with less than perfect English or a traumatised background moves in next door. He went on to say that he wasn't comparing asylum seekers to paedophiles, "necessarily".

Watch out for a migrant bashing election campaign.

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