The decision to grant 1,700 workers an Australia visa to work on the remote Roy Hill project in Pilbara has proved controversial.
28 May 2012
New Australia visa plan sparks controversy
A new scheme which would allow companies to bring vast numbers of foreign workers into the country on an Australia visa to work on mining projects has caused a storm of controversy from within the government.
The government is allowing mining magnate and the world's richest woman Gina Rinehart to employ 1,700 overseas workers on an Australia visa to work on the Roy Hill project in Western Australia in an agreement known as an Enterprise Migration Agreement (EMA).
The scheme, which was announced last week, has led to complaints from Australian unions who claim Australian workers could fill the positions as well as Labor Senator Doug Cameron, who has said he will take his complaints to the party's caucus this week.
"My biggest concern is the lack of communication, the lack of coordination and the lack of consultation," said Senator Cameron.
The senator's complaint comes after reports that the scheme was approved before Prime Minister Julia Gillard was informed as she was attending NATO talks in Chicago and the EMA was not submitted to the cabinet.
While opposition was expected from the Coalition, Labor ministers who endorsed the EMA say the political aspects of the agreement were very poorly handled with Skills Minister Chris Evans acknowledging the issue was 'politically charged' as it concerns Ms Rinehart, a vocal critic of the Gillard government.
However, the agreement has been defended by Immigration Minister Chris Bowen who claims barring the multi-billion dollar project's progress would have eliminated almost 7,000 jobs for Australian workers.
"This project is vital for Australia's future and this agreement is vital for delivering it," said Mr Bowen.
"The money needed to be raised for this project is AU$9.5 billion [£6 billion], and that needs to be raised on international markets and that makes this the biggest single debt raising to occur on the planet this year.
"And to get that finance, Roy Hill needs to convince its investors that it is able to complete the project on time and on budget."
Ms Gillard, who has since endorsed the agreement, told unions that she had only been informed of the Australian immigration agreement when it was too late to stop and has since ordered the formation of a committee to oversee the EMA and the other EMAs which are expected to be made.
The committee is expected to comprise Mr Bowen as well as Resources Minister Martin Ferguson, Workplace Minister Bill Shorten and Treasurer Wayne Swan. Ms Gillard herself could also form part of the committee has she looks to reassure Australians that no EMA will displace Australian workers.
"We will keep working in enterprise migration agreements to make sure that Australians are always at the front of the queue, that they are always the ones to get the opportunities growing from these resource projects," said Ms Gillard.
The Australian Visa Bureau is an independent consulting company specialising in helping people lodge their Australian visa application with the Australian High Commission.