Australian 457 visa row fosters discontent within government

- Posted in Australia by Visa Bureauon 08 March 2013

The decision to tighten the regulations of the 457 visa were announced late last month and have already led to a worrying argument that has quickly become one of the most talked about issues in Australian politics.

It was reported yesterday that Pauline Hanson - once a prominent public figure known for her strong anti-immigration rhetoric - is considering a political comeback in the wake of the row while politicians from across the divide bickered over the program's importance.

Critics of the changes - led by business groups and the federal opposition - claim the program is needed to support the country's economy - particularly the mining and construction industries based in more remote parts of the country.

However, the government has largely remained united behind Prime Minister Julia Gillard's support of the changes with most toeing the line that the 457 visa system was rife with 'rorts' - exploiting the system to undercut local labour.

Yet that unity within the governing Labor Party is becoming increasingly fragile with The Australian newspaper reporting that dissent is spreading within Ms Gillard's Cabinet and caucus.

One MP who did not wish to be named in the report said the changes were a 'sinister' decision reminiscent of the 'White Australia policy' that dominated Australian immigration policy throughout much of the 20th century.

Another MP said that while they supported the changes, the rhetoric around them 'doesn't sound like Labor'.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard has already thrown her backing behind the changes but was forced to defend them once more yesterday, saying: "I believe we should only be looking for temporary workers from overseas if there are skills shortages that we cannot fill any other way.

"[Opposition Leader Tony] Abbott believes that temporary workers from overseas should be a mainstay of our migration program. I just don't think that's right."

Exchanges between Ms Gillard and Mr Abbott have led some to accuse the government of adopting xenophobic attitudes designed to sway voters in Western Sydney.

While the debate looks set to continue in the run up to the general election in September, a worrying development for Ms Gillard has been her long-time political foe Kevin Rudd, who Ms Gillard unceremoniously ousted from the prime ministership in 2010, coming out in support of the 457 visa program by saying migrants 'have made Australia much stronger and richer than we would otherwise have been'.

"It is worth pondering for a moment where Australia would be today, in terms of both our living standards at home and our standing in the world, had we simply shut the door after World War II....our population stagnating at a little more than 8 million people," Mr Rudd told an infrastructure conference in Melbourne.

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