Gillard, Abbott must end ‘birthplace war’ over skilled migrant visas
Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott should conduct a more informed debate over the 457 visa program for skilled workers, migrant and business groups say.
MIGRANT advocates and business groups have urged Labor and the coalition to stop politicking over foreign workers and asylum seekers.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard has sparked a debate over the rorting of the temporary skilled work program – known as 457 visas – by seeking to tighten guidelines for employers.
It’s become a key issue as Ms Gillard and her ministers, as well as opposition frontbenchers, conduct a mini-campaign in western Sydney marginal seats.
The federal government was responding to economic evidence as well as “community concern”, Ms Gillard said in Sydney on Tuesday.
“We’ve worked to get those rorts out of the system, and we’ll continue to work to make sure that this program does what it should do, address real skills shortages … (not) substitute temporary foreign workers for Aussies who are ready, willing and able to do the job,” she said.
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said people on the visas were making a contribution to the nation “from day one” and Labor was trying to demonise them.
“First of all we had the false class war, then we had the false gender war, now we have got the false birthplace war,” he told reporters in Melbourne.
However, the prime minister said Mr Abbott’s words were hollow, given that he had once claimed asylum-seeker boat arrivals were mounting a “peaceful invasion” of Australia’s borders.
She also cited opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison’s call for asylum seekers on bridging visas to be monitored in the community.
Migration Institute chief Maurene Horder, a former Labor politician, called for calm in the debate.
“I just think we need a steady mind and calm conversation going on around it, and not pitting Australian workers against some of these overseas people,” she said.
“That’s the thing I’m a little bit alarmed about – that we don’t develop a political bunfight for the purposes of an election.”
Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief Peter Anderson said while a “handful” of abuses were occurring, the program was working.
“We don’t ask our politicians to avoid discussing the issue, but we do ask that it not be brought into the highly inflated debate about refugee policy,” Mr Anderson said.
But Immigration Minister Brendan O’Connor said a system that allowed a Parramatta-based business to bring in temporary workers as security guards, described in immigration paperwork as “Project and Program Administrators”, was not working properly.
Labor and the coalition also exchanged blows over tax cuts and family payments.
Campaigning in the western Sydney suburb of Parramatta, shadow treasurer Joe Hockey said a coalition government would be able to deliver tax cuts and welfare increases without the carbon tax.
But the details wouldn’t be released until the pre-election budget position was revealed 10 days into the federal election campaign, which will begin on August 12.
Liberal candidate for Parramatta Martin Zaiter said in any case Labor was delivering only a $3 a week tax cut to people earning more than $80,000 a year.
Treasurer Wayne Swan seized on the comment, saying two-thirds of taxpayers earned less than that figure and had received a $300 tax cut.
Independent MP Tony Windsor said the wooing of city voters by Ms Gillard and Mr Abbott proved the need for country voters to reject “city-dominated parties” and support independents. - AAP