Beattie: 457 visa debate ‘destructive’ for Australia


Beattie: 457 visa debate ‘destructive’ for Australia

By chief political correspondent Emma Griffiths, ABCUpdated March 15, 2013, 2:49 pm



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Former Queensland Labor premier Peter Beattie has warned Prime Minister Julia Gillard to be “very cautious” about sparking a “destructive” debate on foreign workers.

Yesterday Ms Gillard intensified her calls for a crackdown on 457 visas, telling temporary overseas worker numbers were up 20 per cent compared with the same time last year, whereas employment growth for the period was only 1 per cent.

But Mr Beattie has warned Ms Gillard not to get drawn into a “destructive” national debate on the issue.

“I think we need to be very careful about the rhetoric,” he told ABC News 24.

“That debate can be a destructive one for Australia.

“We have to remember we’re a global economy. We do need 457 visas [in some areas], frankly because we can’t get the job done without them.”

The Government’s anti-457 push has also been slammed by the business sector, with the Australian Industry Group accusing the PM of opening the way for “xenophobic views” to infiltrate public debate.

“What we’ve seen through this debate is that a platform has been allowed to be built for people with quite xenophobic views, views that are hostile to migrants quite generally,” Ai Group chief executive officer Innes Willox told ABC News Online.

“They’ve been allowed to crawl out of the woodwork again as a result of this debate.”

Mr Willox says it amounts to “demonising” visa holders and their employers.

He says there is no evidence to back up the Government’s assertion that some businesses are rorting the system, saying that foreign workers are filling a genuine skills gap in some sectors.

Demographer and Government adviser Peter McDonald says the Prime Minister’s statement about overseas workers and the employment rate does not bear scrutiny.

He says that is because the retirement of baby boomers means Australia starts each year 140,000 workers short.

“If the labour force grows by 1 per cent as the Prime Minister says, that’s about 120,000 [people],” he said.

“So we take the 120,000 growth, 140,000 we have to make up, [making a] combined 260,000 new workers that we have to get into the labour force, and 457s make up about 40,000 of that.

“I think the way the Prime Minister expressed it about growth rates, not using numbers, was really statistically misleading.”

This morning Immigration Minister Brendan O’Connor said Mr McDonald’s comments were wrong and irrelevant.

“The Government is perfectly correct in saying the total 457 issues has vastly outstripped total employment growth, but the total figures really aren’t the point of our reforms,” he said.
“The Government doesn’t think all 457s are rorts, the Government thinks there are problems with particular firms and particular occupations.”

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