The federal government’s decision to abolish 457 visas is the latest in a string of populist immigration changes likely to inflict pain on the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area.
It’s the last thing local businesses still reeling from the backpacker tax and crackdown on volunteer work need.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, once Australia’s most visionary politician, now seems like a pompous version of Pauline Hanson in drag.
While we don’t yet know the details of the replacement scheme, Mr Turnbull’s rhetoric of putting “Australians first” and intonations of a more restrictive system are not encouraging.
His stated rationale that it’s being done to encourage local jobs growth makes little sense – Australia-wide, 457 visa holders make up less than one per cent of the total labour market.
But in the Griffith region, where unemployment is less than 3 per cent, the decision could even lead to job losses.
All our businesses would prefer to put Australians first – rather than wear the cost, bureaucracy and hassle of recruiting foreigners not familiar with the MIA region or culture.
But Area News have spoken to big and small business owners across the region, and never have we heard someone complain about being inundated with locals applying for the jobs they advertise.
On the contrary, many struggle to fill both skilled and unskilled positions, and rely heavily on overseas visa holders to fill the void.
The engineers, scientists and tradesman the MIA desperately need to enhance our infrastructure, diversify our economy and create value-added employment will be that much harder to attract.
Companies primarily dependent on skilled foreign labour are at risk of going out of business.
If the federal government was investing heavily in TAFEs, universities and other skill development in regional areas, it might be a different story.
But they are not. Rather, they have responded to genuine concerns about local employment with a knee-jerk populist reform that hurts many and helps nobody.
Area News dreams of the day when we will see a government make considered policy decisions that are in the interest of all Australians – rather than ones that pander to the fears of a few in marginal seats.