This article was originally published by Amy Remeikis in The Age on November 20 2016. Click here to read the original.
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has continued the “Australia-first” jobs pitch, seized upon by both major parties in the wake of Donald Trump’s election, confirming the Turnbull government will condense the number of occupations eligible for a 457 visa.
Labor has ramped up pressure on the government to act on 457 visas – which allow foreign workers and their families to stay in Australia for up to four years through sponsorship by an employer to fill specific positions Australian workers can’t – promising to reform the visa scheme.
It has forced the government to step up its own promises to reform the scheme, with both parties now angling to appeal to the centre following the rise of support for protectionist movements, displayed in the success of the Brexit and Trump campaigns.
Speaking to Sky News on Sunday, Mr Dutton said the government was also looking to narrow the number of occupations eligible for a 457 visa.
“We are having a look at it right now and I think it will be condensed,” he said.
“When Chris Bowen was in the Gillard government as a minister in the Gillard government, it was expanded out quite dramatically – the difficulty of course is to try and get the balance right. In some parts of the country it is very difficult to get a particular worker, say in hospitality or a doctor, whatever the classification might be, but in other parts of the country there is an abundance and most people want to work in capital cities or close to capital cities, but it is very hard to get people in regional areas.
“Some regional areas where there has been a mining downturn, it is very hard to fill vacancies and there is no demand for people because Australian workers will fill those jobs.
“So it is a different picture across the country and we need to respond accordingly. That is the nuance that we try and provide for, but I think the list at the moment is expansive and I think we will condense it and that work has already been under way for sometime and we will have a look at that very soon.”
Bill Shorten jumped on the issue last week, saying the government needed to prioritise “building Australian, buying Australian and employing Australian”.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull accused Mr Shorten of “breathtaking” hypocrisy, pointing to the “record” number of 457 visas granted during his term as employment minister in the Gillard government.
But the government announced it was reversing Labor’s extension on the number of days a foreign worker can remain in Australia while in-between jobs, from 90 days back to 60 days, with Mr Dutton rebuking claims the switch came after pressure from Labor, or Mr Trump’s election, by pointing to the changes having been gazetted in October.
Meanwhile, Mr Dutton increased his attack against the Opposition over border protection after Labor announced it would not back the government’s lifetime ban legislation, accusing Mr Shorten of “pandering to the left of his party” to starve off a leadership challenge.
But he did concede the legislation, which would ban maritime asylum seekers from ever setting foot in Australia, was not a requirement of the resettlement deal struck with the United States.
The government is also exploring third-country resettlement deals with other nations, but Mr Dutton echoed the Prime Minister by refusing to go into any detail or “pre-empt” any announcement.