Rudd angers business on first day as PM

CHANGES to the 457 visa scheme passed the lower house yesterday despite the business community crying out for the new Rudd government to ditch the crackdown proposal.
Rudd angers business on first day as PM Rudd angers business on first day as PM Rudd angers business on first day as PM Rudd angers business on first day as PM Rudd angers business on first day as PM

The bill went through by a single vote, 73:72, with the support of crossbench MPs Bob Katter, Tony Windsor, Craig Thomson and Andrew Wilkie securing its passage through a divided house.

Under the new laws, which must now go through the upper house, employers will be forced to conduct labour market testing and prove they searched for Australian workers before hiring 457 visa workers.

The amendments come as the federal government says it wants to crack down on dishonest use of the scheme by some employers - an argument that remains unproven but supported by the unions.

Yesterday's passage of the bill angered the business community, with the Australian Industry Group, Business Council of Australia and Consult Australia all saying the 457 amendment bill will hamper businesses.

"This is bad policy resulting from bad process and it needs to be stopped," BCA chief executive officer Jennifer Westacott said.

"Business has been clear since the damaging changes to the temporary skilled migration scheme were first mooted back in February - there is no hard evidence of systematic wrongdoing, the scheme is not growing excessively and any abuses can be dealt with under the current scheme."

Westacott said the BCA had consistently called for concerns about and changes to the temporary migration scheme to be subjected to a proper regulatory assessment, in appropriate consultation with those affected - but it had been ignored.

"It is disappointing, given Mr Rudd reached out to business on his election to the prime ministership, that he did not respond to serious business concerns about a critical live issue which can only be described as anti-business and anti-growth," she said.

Consult Australia CEO Megan Motto agreed and said the 457 bill amendments was Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's first failure against his commitment to listen to business "and represents another blow to an already struggling sector that is critical to productivity".

Motto said the bill would affect the construction sector through the undersupply of engineers.

"For an industry that uses the program effectively, the reforms will add an unnecessary burden, result in infrastructure project delays as firms struggle to procure skills and will disrupt the flow of work for Australian engineers," she said.

Ai Group CEO Innes Willox joined in the conversation when he said on Sky News yesterday that the changes to the 457 visa scheme had been the result of pressure on Labor by the unions, which felt Australians were missing out on construction and mining jobs.

"And we just don't really understand what their motivation behind it is except that only 7% of people who are here on 457 visas are union members and we can only think that that's a concern from the unions that they're not getting their fair share of that part of the workforce and they're trying to crack down," Willox told Sky News.

"Look, there's no rationale for this crackdown at all.

"It is not business friendly and let's be really clear about this - we find it to be unnecessary.

"There is no need for this. It's only going to do harm for our economy. And that's a big issue for us."

The bill is currently sitting in the upper house for review.

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