The ongoing row over the 457 visa program threatens to belittle Australian political debate.
06 March 2013
457 visa row continues
The Australian government’s decision to tighten legislation surround the 457 visa program has provoked a political row which, according to some, is descending into pettiness which will do neither party any favours.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard's government announced it would be tightening legislation around the 457 visa program - which allows foreign workers to temporarily live and work in Australia - last month, claiming unscrupulous employers were 'rorting' the system - exploiting the rules to undercut local labour.
The opposition criticised the decision as pandering to the electorate, claiming they were unable to detail any examples of rorting and promising that the program would be a mainstay of their immigration policy should they be elected.
In response Ms Gillard claimed the system was 'riddled with rorts' but again, did not detail any specific examples. Speaking on a separate news program, Ms Gillard's recently appointed immigration minister, Brendan O'Connor, said it was hard to quantify rorts as there are 'many different ways' to exploit the system.
However, Mr O'Connor, who announced the changes originally, did mention cases of a company in Western Australia hiring 'project and program administrators' on high level wages to comply with the program's rules, before demoting the staff to other positions such as security guards.
"We have a small hospitality firm in Melbourne that says it needed to import an HR manager, [as if] to suggest there were no HR managers in the city of Melbourne," said Mr O'Connor.
Hitting straight back, the opposition highlighted the fact that Ms Gillard's own communications director, John McTernan, is a Briton on a 457 visa.
Independent MP Rob Oakeshott said both parties' attempts to outdo one another in their rhetoric over the issue were descending into petty arguments that belittled the issue and did little for either parties' image.
"I think on the one hand we've got a party that's demonising foreign arrivals and on the other we've got a party that's demonising foreign workers," said Mr Oakeshott.
"From my perspective, I think most people will see that as a pox on both."
The Australian Visa Bureau is an independent migration consultancy specialising in helping people lodge applications with the Australian Embassy.