11 September 2006

More visas needed in Western Australia

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State Treasurer Eric Ripper is calling for a radical shift in the way skilled migrant visas are distributed to the states to tackle the damage done by Canberra as it ignores the needs of Western Australia's powerhouse economy.

The claim by state Treasurer Eric Ripper follows the refusal of Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone to issue temporary work visas to 150 meat workers needed in West Australian abattoirs to process livestock affected by the drought.

Mr Ripper will write to John Howard this week asking that the commonwealth re-examine the formula for allocating workers on section 457 temporary work visas.

Western Australia's economy was growing at 14 per cent, he said, but Canberra was allocating the majority of work visas to states that were bumping along the bottom.

He said the skills shortage in a range of industries, particularly construction, was holding back an economy that had been a panacea to the nation's sluggish economic performance.

Western Australia was looking to expand its population and workforce to keep up with the resources boom, he said. An inability to do that meant some projects that were part of the Carpenter Government's $18billion capital works program would be put on hold, while the cost of others was growing rapidly.

Mr Ripper said the state Government was picking up the costs of the social infrastructure that came with the boom, but Canberra did not understand how important the west was to the national economy. Western Australia was not seeking special favours, but the state was experiencing a major problem, to which the federal Government seemed indifferent.

But Liberal senator David Johnston accused Labor of hypocrisy on the issue, highlighting claims by West Australian Labor senator Ruth Webber that one abattoir at Albany, in the state's south, was paying below award wages to workers on 457 visas - a claim described as "ridiculous" by abattoir owners Fletcher's International.

Senator Johnston said the visas stipulated that no Australian would be put out of a job by a worker from overseas.

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