(Private Member's Statement, Wednesday 21 June 2017, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)
The Sydney electorate is home to: people working on 457 visas; citizens and residents who initially moved to this country through the 457 program; and businesses that rely on overseas workers to fill skilled vacancies.
The federal government’s announcement that 457 visas will be replaced with a two-year temporary skilled visa that will exclude any pathway to residency has left people, families and businesses in limbo, unaware of their future.
The list of occupations eligible to overseas workers will be significantly reduced, although it is not clear what jobs will be removed, visa holders will have to have a much stronger command of English and businesses will be hit with a $12,000 levy for every foreign worker hired on the new temporary skilled visa.
I am concerned that these changes could reduce Australia’s competitiveness in future economies which will be based on information, ideas and high level skills, while harming Australia’s reputation as a welcoming and inclusive country.
Entrepreneurs in my electorate repeatedly tell me that Australia is not producing the graduates with the skills needed to give their start-up businesses the competitive edge. In New South Wales this problem is worsened by the failure to adopt the national Digital Technologies curriculum.
Information, Communications and Technology jobs are undergoing rapid growth and could help replace the jobs that we will lose to automation, but we have to attract talent that can help the digital economy grow.
Australia’s technological and scientific infrastructure is lagging behind world leaders and the recent Jobs for NSW “Jobs for the Future” report identified a need to skill up for the knowledge economy. Global digital leaders are needed to train and mentor our workforce while skilled migrants keep the digital economy momentum strong. If we let new digital businesses shrink while we wait to train local workers, we will lose business to global competitors.
Other industries that could suffer include biotechnical firms, corporations, and universities.
Biotech companies and medical industries are globally competitive and have a globally mobile workforce that moves across cities within each company to share knowledge. The CEOs of many government agencies and projects, as well as businesses like GrainCorp and David Jones, are on 457 visas and major companies advertise globally for the best CEO. The Prime Minister has even admitted that universities will find it harder to hire academic and research talent from overseas under the changes.
There are about 95,000 skilled migrants on 457 visas and the scheme represents less than one per cent of Australia’s workforce. The reality is that local unemployment has nothing to do with the scheme.
Restricting the 457 visa program and making it less attractive to overseas skilled talent will not have a positive impact on the economy. On Tuesday The Sydney Morning Herald reported high profile business leaders including the heads of Coca-Cola Amatil, Woodside and GE and global economic experts including a World Trade Organisation director slamming the changes as economically destructive.
If the government is concerned about local employment prospects, it should not reduce the workforce but look at ways to create new jobs by supporting the entrepreneur and start up economies, as well as green economies which are growing as we move beyond fossil fuels for energy.
Since being elected, I have welcomed thousands of residents at citizenship ceremonies who came to this country on 457 visas excited about becoming citizens. Australia has a long history of providing opportunities for people from across the globe who can contribute to our society and help our economy grow. My husband came to Australia on a 457 visa.
We need to ask whether people would want to come to Australia if migration was not an option. For many, working in Australia is about opening opportunities for a new life and to contribute to a place they love and that reflects their values – it is more than a two year job.
I support a fair process for people who contribute to the community and seek to become Australian citizens. No case has been made for the need to make urgent changes to citizenship requirements that retrospectively apply to those already with permanent residence. Australia is a nation of migrants and we should make sure that those granted permanent residence can become full citizens without long delays.
The Commonwealth Government’s decision seems poorly conceived and does not have the support of business or most Australians, many of whom have a migration heritage.
I call on the house to join me in condemning the changes.