The Australian Government is in the process of trying to pass legislation that will significantly hinder the entry of skilled immigrants wanting to work and live in Australia. There are concerns within the Government about alleged widespread rorting of the current 457 Visa system (which allows skilled workers to work in Australia for up to four years) by business which, apparently, is limiting the employment opportunities for Australian nationals in their own country. But evidence of these 'systematic abuses' has not been produced.
One of my principle frustrations in leadership, and I'm sure I'm not alone, is when an individual or party in power says one thing, but does another, leaving one confused as to what they really stand for. This visa crackdown with proposed new regulations is a striking example of this. For years the Government has touted its commitment to helping prepare Australia for successfully conducting business in what has been termed the "Asian Century." Putting up extra barriers to skilled and knowledgeable foreign workers contributing to our economy is at odds with this vision. Asian investors, business, students and tourists will be scared-off.
Australia has a skills gap that is holding back the delivery of projects vital to its future prosperity, so it is in the national interest that we utilise skilled labour from other countries to plug those gaps. Blockading Australia from skilled workers, the majority of which will contribute to our knowledge economy and international competitiveness, is an obvious and huge mistake.
Putting aside the fact that Australia is in an election year, and perceptions that a Government beset with bitter leadership rivalries is pushing a 'protect Australian jobs' agenda to connect with its disenfranchised voter base, there are real questions to be asked about the efficacy of what's being proposed. The reality is that a crackdown on skilled labour and the 457 visa scheme is a crackdown on Australia's future. A plan to protect Australian jobs that may force Australian businesses offshore - and cost Australian jobs - is a plan that needs a rethink.
Of course Australian workers should be given preference and that's what the current visa regime ensures. There is no real evidence of widespread rorting or any activities that can't be dealt with through existing sanctions. Sadly, this is another example of the Government's bewildering tendency to add to the cost and complexity of doing business in Australia.
I truly hope the Australian Parliament resists this latest protectionist push, but the realist in me says: if you're a skilled worker with aspirations of a career in Australia, you better get in quick.