Has Malcolm Turnbull thought through this 457 visa change? The agriculture sector is already nervous about how these latest changes could make an already tight situation more difficult.
It is well and good for the Coalition to crack down on a visa program that was it itself introduced many years ago under John Howard, but what will be done to fill the void? The 457 visa was a pro-business initiative, but plagued by loopholes, tedious application processes and limited opportunity for agriculture. A lot of jobs that need filling are vacant because Australians won’t take them, or aren’t willing to move to where the work is. In the words from Coalition Senator John “Wacka” Williams, who complained to The Land some months ago when the backpacker tax was in the news, he said his local Inverell abattoir struggled to get workers, because simply, some young Australians didn’t want to get “off their butt”.
Will regional piggeries, abattoirs and dairies now be left in the lurch by a lack of access to workers? And how will this hurt regional economies? In its changes, the government must preserve the flow of labour to these businesses if home-grown labour isn’t prepared to do the hard yards.
The changes need to be accompanied by a strategy to get young Australians trained, willing and able to work and relocate. Right now, many Filipinos work in regional piggeries because they have the right qualifications in animal husbandry that Australian residents don’t seem to be prepared to obtain. The Filipinos and other nationalities who genuinely come here to work usually become part of the local economy and bring a wealth of experience and good will, which is great for regional communities, often struggling to attract and keep families in their towns.
Making it harder to employ workers on a 457 visa won’t, by itself, get more Australians into employment. The government appears to again be thinking in silos here?
In conjunction, we need to look more carefully at decentralisation, relocation incentives, regional infrastructure, planning regional centres not to remain as they are, but with a vision to the role they can play as population centres, and whether our education and training institutions are focused in the right areas. Changing the rules around the 457 visa without accompanying strategies will only exacerbate the underlying issues that have created the need for foreign workers in the first place.