My speech on the Australian labour market, 12th October 2015


I am very pleased to be speaking on and indeed seconding the motion from the member for Makin. He and I have been members of the Joint Standing Committee on Migration in the last two parliaments. We have been involved in three inquiries: an inquiry into multiculturalism and the benefits of migration, an inquiry into the business investment visas and currently the inquiry into the seasonal workers program. All three inquiries have repeatedly raised concerns regarding the nature, implementation, impact and level of scrutiny of Australia's temporary working visas program. Anecdotal evidence suggests that rorts, manipulation of the visa system and exploitation by employers exist and are going unchecked, as is the possibility of an oversupply of working visas. Because there is a lack of comprehensive information, research and review into how the temporary work and skilled visa categories intersect in the Australian job market, we do not know the extent of the impact they are having on job prospects and opportunities for Australians.

This motion calls for genuine and stringent labour market testing and adequate research and review of temporary working visas. It also calls for the government to ensure sufficient resources are made available so that temporary working visa conditions are complied with and met in order to mitigate possible rorts and adverse impacts, such as undermining of work pay and conditions for both temporary workers and local people, as well as mitigating an oversupply that could disadvantage local workers.

What information we have to date in relation to these issues unfortunately is anecdotal and episodic. A report on the misuse of the 457 visas in the building industry conducted by the CFMEU sounded alarm bells some time ago. More recently we saw the ABC Four Corners program on the 7-Eleven 457 visa workers scandal. Rorts are real and organised, although we do not fully know to what extent and to what level. So information is essential given that in August 2015 there were 780,000 Australians unemployed, and 280,000 of them were aged between 15 and 24.

There is a growing anxiety amongst Australians about employment opportunities and prospects. The value of a job to the quality of an individual's life is immeasurable. Their capacity to learn and better themselves to contribute to their community makes for a more rounded, healthier, productive individual and an inclusive society. In all, a job is good for the individual, good for the community and good for the country.

Parts of my electorate have rates of youth unemployment as high as 26 per cent. Calwell also has a high rate of mature-aged unemployed and low-skilled workers. Manufacturing has taken a savage hit in recent years. Thousands of jobs have gone, especially in the car-manufacturing industry, with the closure of the Ford Motor Company being one of our biggest losses. Calwell has the largest intake of residents who have come here under the refugee and humanitarian program, predominantly from Iraq. Many of them are educated and skilled. They cannot get jobs because we do not recognise their previous work experience and it is often too difficult, if not impossible, to obtain recognition of their qualifications and skills. Yet, paradoxically, they have maths, science and engineering backgrounds—areas that are always highlighted as areas of skills shortages here in Australia.

Many job seekers I speak to, especially young people, tell me that it is becoming increasingly difficult for them to find work, especially those who are seeking part-time work, because, as they tell me, employers who do not want to pay award wages are bypassing Australian job seekers in favour of 457s, international students and backpackers, because they can pay them much less. I understand the impact that globalisation has had and is having on labour markets and I also support foreign investment. I also understand that skills shortages are a reality here in Australia and we need to address them for the sake of our growth and development.

The government and the opposition are both keen to invest in skilling Australians and supporting them in finding jobs. This applies to the young, the old and the disabled alike. We want Australians who can work to work. We have to, however, make sure that there are jobs available for them, across all ages, circumstances and skill levels.

We face many challenges in creating new jobs as we lose our traditional employment sectors and shed old jobs. So we need to know what impact the 106,000 457 visa holders or the 160,000 Work and Holiday visa holders are actually having and whether they are in fact addressing genuine skills shortages. We need to act on allegations that rorting is rife in the current system, where supply chains involving unscrupulous employers, registered training organisations, job providers, migration agents and labour hire companies are making it increasingly difficult for Australians to enter and remain in the workforce, whilst exploiting temporary work visa holders.