15 March 2013

Australian IT industry slams government over 457 visa changes

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The IT industry in Australia has been one of the government's main targets in its attempts to justify the changes to the 457 visa program.

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The IT industry has accused the prime minister of vilifying the industry to justify changes to the 457 visa program.

Australian Immigration Minister Brendan O'Connor announced late last month he would be tightening the regulations surrounding the 457 visa scheme, claiming the scheme was being abused by unscrupulous employers looking to undercut Australian workers.

The announcement immediately sparked a row which has dominated Australian news since with politicians, workers' unions and business leaders offering their opinion.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard was quickly dragged into the debate; Ms Gillard supported her minister's decision and repeated Mr O'Connor's claims that the scheme was filled with 'rorts'.

Ms Gillard once again defended her government's decision in a speech at an Australian Council of Trade Unions event yesterday:

"Fact: there is clear evidence that in some growing sectors, importing workers on 457 visas is a substitute for spreading important economic opportunity to Australian working people," said the prime minister.

"It is just not acceptable that information technology jobs, the quintessential jobs of the future, the very opportunities being created by the digital economy, precisely where the big picture is for our kids, should be such a big area of imported skills.

"This is work for which we can and should train young Australians."

However, Ms Gillard's comments have sparked the ire of Australian-based IT firms, who claim Ms Gillard has underestimated the importance of foreign workers in that industry.

Mike Cannon-Brookes, co-founder of Sydney based software firm Atlassian, said his firm would gladly hire more Australians but 'we don't have the scale or scope of talent here', adding that Ms Gillard is right that Australia needs more skilled computer graduates but clamping down on temporary workers was not the solution.

"Ms Gillard should spend time improving that today - because she didn't do it yesterday or the day before that."

Mr Cannon-Brookes' comments were echoed by Matt Barrie, CEO of Freelancer.com, who said the prime minister's comments were 'absolutely outrageous'.

"There wouldn't be an IT industry in Australia if it wasn't for the fact that we could draw from overseas labour," said Mr Barrie.

"The bigger problem is the government has under-funded and ignored the technology industry and education in particular. [Ms Gillard is] desperately trying to get votes from the unions...it shows absolutely complete disconnection with her and the practical realities of the industry today."

The Australian Visa Bureau is an independent migration consultancy specialising in helping people lodge applications with the Australian Embassy.

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