|A Chinese boilermaker in Perth last year.|
It seems as though Labor is caught between two forces in the community. It can choose to appeal to the racist element living in western Sydney (and outer suburbs in other capital cities in Australia, no doubt) by demonising 457 visa holders to "ensure Australians get first preference for jobs". This is Labor in its White Australia Policy mode that harks back to the beginning of last century. On the other hand the middle class in this country has been highly professionalised for a very long time - and especially since the economic liberalisation started under Labor in the 1980s - and understands the need for skilled employees. There are also lots of small business owners who will completely understand why you'd want a skilled worker from Asia instead of a local. The middle class is also very much behind the multicultural program that was introduced (by Labor) back in 1973.
For context here's some bits from a story in the Australian today:
FEDERAL Treasurer Wayne Swan says some Australians have trouble finding work because of business rorting of the 457 visa system, but industry fears the debate demonises companies and should be toned down.This new approach by Labor seems to be whistle-stop policy-on-the-run based on anecdotal evidence ("I'm frequently approached in my electorate by people") rolled out to appeal to the blue-collar voter in Sydney's west, where the Labor Party is currently focusing its energies. Swan says he's met some "quite well qualified, hard working Australians" and they're not happy being squeezed out of good jobs by people with brown skin.
The federal government is clamping down on the temporary foreign worker visa program saying it has to address abuses and ensure Australians get first preference for jobs.
"My summation of this is that there is a bit of a problem in parts of mining sector, where Australians are not necessarily getting a look in first as they should, where they are appropriately qualified and willing and able to work.News Ltd is livid, of course. Fairfax doesn't seem to be paying as much attention to the push, as their rival is. The Coalition is making hay with this and it turns out that a Gillard staffer is in Australia on a 457 visa. I haven't heard a peep out of the Greens on this but they might have said something. The boffin consulted in the article says the same thing as the Australian Industry Group representative: there is no problem with companies rorting the system.
"(But) it's not only the mining sector where this is an issue."
As I said at the beginning of this post, Labor appears to be being squeezed between two large voting blocs in the community. They're losing the asylum seeker debate and this 457 push is a good way to cement their Aussie cred with the erzatz white supremacist element living in Blacktown (where many first-generation Australians live). That's how this thing appears to me. But the middle class will just be sitting back scratching its collective head in complete and utter puzzlement at the rhetoric befouling their TVs, while they think about which foreign country to visit for Easter.
Australia has benefited hugely from immigration over the past two decades. Immigration is the only thing that has stopped Australia stagnating economically as Japan has. (Japan does not bring in hundreds of thousands of people every year to boost its economy and they're in the second decade of a recession.) A 457 visa holder or a new permanent resident will be wanting to bring his or her family to Australia to start a new life in a new, promising country. We should welcome these productive, hard-working and honest people. Labor's hive mind has had a brain snap. Let's hope they recover soon.