20 March 2013

Senate to conduct Australian 457 visa inquiry

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After weeks of fiery debate over the 457 visa stream, a Senate committee has been charged with conducting an inquiry to 'cut through the rhetoric and politics'.

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A Senate committee will conduct the inquiry into the 457 visa program.

The Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee will look at the role of the Australian 457 visa scheme in the labour market and whether there are appropriate controls in place to protect foreign workers.

The scheme has been the target of intense ire in Australia in recent weeks after Immigration Minister Brendan O'Connor announced that he would be tightening the scheme's regulations last month.

The minister cited 'rorting' within the system: undercutting local workers by bringing in overseas workers and paying them less. Prime Minister Julia Gillard quickly supported her minister, claiming she had heard first hand of the abuse within the IT industry.

However, a bitter row quickly erupted and the issue has dominated news ever since.

Independent Senator Nick Xenophon has called for calm in the debate and it was his motion within the Senate which has led to the inquiry.

"We need clear and impartial information about this program so we know what problems there are and now to fix them," said the senator.

"We know there are people who need work, but we aren't training people in the occupations where it's needed.

"This inquiry will give us a better idea of what benefit it provides to the economy, what training we need to do to deal with long-term skills shortages."

Meanwhile the chief executive of one of Australia's largest resource projects, the multi-billion dollar Roy Hill project in Western Australia, has said Australia cannot enjoy the economic benefits of the valuable resources industry without embracing the need for foreign workers and criticised the tone of the debate.

"The 457 debate ahs got into an area that's a lot more irrational and more about foreign as opposed to skilled," said Barry Fitzgerald.

"[Roy Hill] is an Australian project, but this project needs a significant amount of input from overseas."

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