Government members of the committee are of the view that Australia has a
robust and flexible skilled visa regime that delivers benefits to the
Australian economy as well as conferring proper protection on the jobs of
Australian workers and of skilled migrant workers. This regime is responsive to
changes in labour market shortages, encompasses emerging technologies and the
creation of new skilled roles, and maintains a contemporary, consultative and
up-to-date approach to skills assessments.
inquiry has been another example of the Senate Committee system being used by
the Labor Party to conduct political and policy research at the taxpayers'
expense in the guise of a parliamentary inquiry. In essence the inquiry
appeared intended to give some of the union movement an opportunity to
reinforce its demands on the federal opposition.
inquiry report is scheduled for tabling in the Senate on Tuesday April 2nd.
The Chair's report of over 100 pages was provided to Committee members at 11pm
on Saturday March 30th. This meant that the work of compiling a
response to the Chair's report could not properly commence until Monday April 1,
24 hours prior to the tabling of the report. The usual practice of the
committee is to allow more time than this for members to consider the content
of a draft report.
The Chair’s report presents a view that we should be suspicious of workers and
professionals who enter Australia on skilled visas. Government members of the
Committee are deeply saddened by this insular and parochial position.
Government Senators take an alternate view which is that the holders of skilled
visas can bring great energy, diversity and opportunity to the Australian
labour market. By bringing skilled professionals and workers from overseas to
fill gaps in the labour market here, we are ensuring continuity in industry,
helping regional areas not to stagnate economically due to skills shortages,
and creating opportunities for Australian workers to engage with methodologies
that might otherwise remain unfamiliar.
Committee members also acknowledge the social and cultural value that skilled
migrants can bring to regional communities – a fact that is implicit in the
current Government's approach to skilled migration, regional migration and
decentralisation. Evidence to one of the inquiry’s public hearings supported
the view that the greatest benefit is conferred on regional communities where
migrant workers become embedded in the local community:
The 400 visa—the one that's only for
about six months—is good, but I guess we want to see the people here for four
years, because they're the ones actually living in our community. They're going
to be renting here, spending their wages here, buying cars here and buying
furniture here in our local community, and they're engaged in our local
community. And that's what we would prefer, rather than people flying in and
out for work.
Chair’s report repeatedly refers to 'stakeholders' who have provided evidence
to the inquiry; however, Government Senators are convinced, having reviewed the
Chair's report, that these 'stakeholders' are in fact the ACTU, the AWU and the
CFMEU. These unions are not stakeholders in the skilled visa framework.
On the contrary, they are agitators for the deconstruction of the framework and
would gladly deny Australian industries – the same industries that employ so
many Australians – the benefits of the skilled visa framework. This again would
appear to support the alarming conclusion that Labor Senators are using
taxpayer-funded Senate committees to conduct research and study into policy
areas on behalf of the Labor Party.
Chair’s report states at paragraph 3.78 that:
The committee is concerned by evidence
received during the inquiry that various occupations included in the skilled
migration occupation lists do not, in fact, appear to be suffering from a
shortage of appropriately skilled Australian citizens and permanent residents.
Senators are greatly concerned that the Chair’s report characterises anecdote
and opinion as 'evidence'. This practice, and the politically opportunistic
nature of the Chair’s report, would again point to the politicisation of this
issue. A single idea, proffered without authority or support by an official of
the ACTU, ought not be cast as empirical evidence that is beyond dispute. This
is clearly deceptive and wrong.
paragraph 3.79 the Chair’s report states:
Given that the stated purpose of the TSS
visa is to fill critical skills shortages and ensure that Australian workers
are given the first priority for jobs, the primary basis for occupations being
included on the occupation lists must be empirical evidence demonstrating a
genuine labour market shortage that cannot be resolved through increasing wages
or training Australian workers.
again the Chair and the Labor Party appear to have missed the point. The
primary basis for occupations being included in the occupation lists is not
that a labour shortage in that area cannot be resolved by increasing
wages or additional training, but that such a shortage has not been
resolved by increasing wages or additional training. Excluding an occupation
from the scheme because a shortage of workers in that occupation could be
resolved by increased wages or additional training would have a limiting impact
on the relevant sector by reducing the available workforce and/or reducing the
number of positions available by artificially inflating applicable wages.
while the Chair’s report mentions "training" repeatedly, it fails to
mention 'incentive to relocate' as a factor that could alleviate skills
shortages in certain regional locations. Government members of the committee acknowledge
that very often the required skills can be found in Australia, the problem is
that the people who possess these skills cannot always be persuaded to
re-locate to regional Australia.
Chair’s report goes on to reveal its bias at paragraph 3.80 which states:
..decisions made on the composition of
the lists should reassure all relevant stakeholders that their input and concerns
have been taken into account. This includes both the union sector, which is
often best placed to provide on-the-ground evidence on whether a reported
skills shortage is genuine or not, and industry, which will suffer adversely if
it is unable to fill critical vacancies.
suggestion that the union movement, rather than the relevant Commonwealth
departments and employers, should be called upon to adjudicate whether a
shortage is "genuine" is farcical, especially considering the unions
only represent a very small percentage of Australian workers and can hardly be
Chair's suggestion at paragraph 3.81 that the skilled visa occupation lists are
compiled ‘..subject to ministerial or departmental whims’ is offensive,
petulant and inaccurate.
Senators also note that the Chair's suggestions of implementing additional
oversight to the skilled visa system will likely only serve to have a limiting
effect on the system's success. Adding layers of bureaucracy to the operation
of the skilled visa will not add value to Australian businesses and industry,
it will not add expedience, and it will not improve the experience of skilled
Senators are reassured by Australian Bureau of Statistics and Department of
Home Affairs data that indicates that on average across all industries and
occupations, the number of primary TSS/subclass 457 visa holders in Australia
represent less than one per cent of employed persons. The Chair’s report itself
acknowledges this figure at paragraph 2.13.
Chair’s report complains that the government has not published any reasons for
its decisions on occupation lists, for example stating at paragraph 3.38:
The committee heard
significant concerns about the lack of transparency surrounding the final
ministerial decision-making process for adding and removing occupations on the
Department of Jobs website, however, relevantly provides that ‘In May 2018,
the Department released a Traffic Light Bulletin on possible changes to the
skilled migration occupation lists, and held a period of public consultation.’
The Chair’s report states at paragraph 6.65 that:
The committee notes the
evidence from the ACTU and others that ABNs are misused by unscrupulous
employers. While acknowledging current efforts the government has recently made
to address this concern, the committee agrees that ABNs should not be available
to temporary visa workers, including those on student visas and working holiday
Chair’s report goes on to recommend that that the Government implement the
recommendation of the Migrant Workers Taskforce. The
Chair appears to have overlooked the fact that the Migrant Workers Taskforce
was established by the Government in 2016 as part of a suite of programs
designed to protect vulnerable workers. The Taskforce report was released on
March 2, 2019 and the Government has accepted all 22 recommendations.
1 of the Chair’s report calls for the Australian Government to ‘continue to
monitor the trajectory of visa applications and grants under the Temporary
Skills Shortage (Subclass 482) visa over the next six months, with a view to
making any necessary adjustments to the overall settings for this visa subclass
in 2020.’ The relevant Commonwealth Departments have provided to this
Inquiry extensive and credible evidence that speaks to their effective ongoing
oversight and deployment of the skilled visa regime. Government members of the
committee accept this evidence and believe that the Chair should also.
2 calls for the Australian Government to ‘increase the Temporary Skilled
Migration Income Threshold (TSMIT) to a minimum of at least $62,000, and
mandate that the rate of the TSMIT be indexed annually in line with the average
full-time wage.’ Government members support any measure that addresses specific
and demonstrable need in the Australian skills landscape and recommend that if a
Government-led review of the TSMIT is to be conducted that it specifically
consider the challenges faced by regional, remote and non-regional employers.
1.23 Recommendation 3 calls on the
Department of Home Affairs to ‘review and update its policies regarding
health assessments of temporary visa holders, to ensure that visa applications
will not be rejected on health grounds in cases where there is no possibility
of health and social services costs accruing to the Commonwealth or state and
territory governments.’ Government members reject the premise of this
recommendation, the basis of which is the assertion, detailed at paragraph
2.103 of the Chair’s Report, that the Department of Home Affairs:
..may be rejecting temporary skilled
visas on the basis that an applicant or a family member with a health condition
or disability would cause undue health and social services costs to accrue to
the Commonwealth and state or territory governments.
Government members of the Committee would welcome any evidence of this
phenomenon that the Chair may be able to provide and would reserve the right to
reply to that evidence if and when it is provided.
members note that the Temporary Skill Shortage (TSS) visa holders (Subclass
482) may ask for a waiver of the health requirement where family members or the
visa applicant have a disability / medical condition assessed as costing more
than $40,000 to the Commonwealth for only the length of the temporary visa only
(the cost is assessed up to 4 years per visa for a TSS). The Committees Chair’s
Recommendation 3 is not made in light of the full facts and have not have fully
considered all the evidence that is available.
4 calls on the Australian Government to ‘publish, in future updates to the
skilled migration occupation lists, its reasons for including new occupations,
moving occupations between the different lists, or removing occupations
altogether that were included in previous iterations of the lists.’ Government
members of the Committee are not opposed to the level of transparency being
suggested by the Chair’s report but would caution against any move towards a
system of challenging these decisions. It is obvious that the only individuals
who are in any way limited by the program is the union movement who may lose a
very few potential members, and also the illusion of having control over
5 ‘recommends that the Australian Bureau of Statistics prioritise its review
of the ANZSCO framework’. Government members of the committee agree that the Australian Bureau
of Statistics should conduct a review of the ANZSCO framework but rejects any
call for the ABS to do so outside the scope of the agency’s routine funding
arrangements. Government members are confident that the ABS will embark on its
review in the fullness of time.
6 recommends ‘that the current skills assessment regime for the skilled visa
system be strengthened by:
- ensuring all testing is performed by an
appropriate industry body and not by immigration officials;
- guaranteeing that workers who currently require an
occupational license must successfully complete a skills and technical
assessment undertaken by a Registered Training Organisation approved by Trades
Recognition Australia before being granted a visa;
- introducing a risk based approach to assess and
verify that workers are appropriately skilled for occupations that do not
require an occupational licence; and
- introducing a minimum sampling rate of visas
issued in order to verify that migrant workers are actually performing the work
the employer has sponsored them to perform.’
members of the Committee do not agree with this recommendation and are
concerned that placing assessment or oversight of the skilled visa program in
the hands of unions or industry bodies could create a conflict of interest. Government
members also dismayed to once again see the Labor Chair’s report suggesting
that holders of skilled visas present risks as opposed to opportunities. It is
disturbing that the Chair seems opposed to welcoming workers from around the
world who bring with them great opportunities for Australian workers and
industry to learn new approaches and new skills.
7 call on the Australian Government to ‘consider the establishment of a new
independent tripartite authority to provide advice and recommendations to
government on skilled migration issues’. Government members of the Committee are opposed to
Recommendation 7. The creation of an independent authority would create
additional layers of unnecessary oversight that would duplicate existing
oversight functions, place an unfair burden on the Australian taxpayer, and add
bureaucratic and administrative complexity to the skilled visa framework that
would have little effect other than to slow down a process that the Chair’s
report already claims inaccurately is slow and complex.
8 calls on the
Australian Government to ‘introduce more stringent evidentiary requirements
for labour market testing to ensure that the intent of labour market testing
arrangements is achieved and Australian employment opportunities are protected’.
Government members of the committee agree in principle that the accuracy of
labour market testing translates directly to the efficacy of the skilled visa
framework. Government members however note that this recommendation is vague
and does not venture to suggest what might constitute ‘more stringent
9 recommends ‘that the Australian Government resolves not to enter into any
future free trade agreements that would involve labour market testing waivers’.
Government members of the committee do not support the application of
prescriptive limitations to the negotiation of free trade agreements that may
potentially have economy-wide benefits. Government members would, however, add
that this recommendation is entirely hypothetical and should be treated as
10 recommends ‘that the Australian Government undertake a review of the use
and effectiveness of labour agreements under Australia's skilled migration
program, and implement any necessary changes to ensure that:
- labour agreements
are only entered into where there is publicly demonstrated evidence of a
genuine skills shortage that cannot be addressed by the Australian workforce;
relevant stakeholders are genuinely consulted during the process of finalising
labour agreements and provided with appropriate feedback in relation to
concerns raised; and
Department of Home Affairs' reasons for entering into a labour agreement (or a
renewal of any labour agreement) are made publicly available.’
members of the Committee do not agree with Recommendation 10 of the Chair’s
report. Government members support the continued consultation between
employers, employees and government to determine skills shortages and take the
appropriate action where such shortages are identified.
11 recommends that the Australian Government ‘guarantee adequate, additional
funding if the income from SAF levies does not meet the needs of industry and
the vocational education sector to provide high-quality training to apprentices
and trainees’. The view of Government members is that the Government has
demonstrated its commitment to skills development in Australia, including the
allocation of funding to skills-development programs.
12 calls on the Australian Government to ‘commit to increasing overall
funding levels for TAFE and vocational education and support a comprehensive
and thorough commission of inquiry into Australia’s post-secondary education
system.’ While Government members agree in principle with the suggestion
that the scope of educational and vocational training programs be reviewed and increased
from time to time, the effective application of this suggestion would require
consultation with, and the cooperation of, state and territory governments.
Government members of the Committee would encourage COAG participants to
further engage regarding TAFE and vocational education.
13 calls on the
Australian Government to ‘consider ways in which to encourage better information
sharing between industry, vocational education and training providers and
potential students in order to encourage student uptake and local employment in
industries experiencing skills shortages’. Government members of the
Committee are of the view that this recommendation (Recommendation 13)
duplicates the previous recommendation (Recommendation 12) and Government
members' response would also be the same.
14 recommends ‘that the Department of Education and Training be required to
present a report to Parliament bi-annually on the progress of the National
Partnership Agreement on the Skilling Australians Fund and the extent to which
it is achieving the outcome of addressing skills shortages in the Australian
labour market’. Government Committee members are satisfied that there is
sufficient transparency across this sector and would note that the cost of
duplicating existing functions would outweigh the benefits of providing a small
amount of additional oversight.
15 calls on the Australian Government to ‘work with the Australian Bureau of
Statistics and the National Centre for Vocational Education and Research to
investigate and establish a research instrument to enable analysis of employer
investment in the development and training of their workforces’. Government
members recognise that businesses increasingly seek less red tape and the
Commonwealth needs to be mindful of any extra imposition on business.
Government members have concerns about the likelihood of collecting a viable
data sample without unduly imposing on the time, operating costs or privacy of
16 recommends ‘that the Australian Government implement all recommendations
from the Report of the Migrant Workers' Taskforce as soon as practicable’.
The Migrant Workers
Taskforce was established by the Government in 2016 as part of a suite of
programs designed to protect vulnerable workers. The Taskforce report was
released on March 2, 2019 and the Government has accepted all 22 of the
17 recommends ‘that the Australian Government increase funding for Taskforce
Cadena—or a similar taskforce—to ensure that the Taskforce is adequately
resourced’. The Chair’s report acknowledges at paragraph 6.67 that
taskforce Cadena has made ‘an important contribution to reducing exploitation
of workers’ and then goes on to speculate wildly about the efficacy and funding
of the Taskforce. The Government has accepted the Migrant Workers Taskforce recommendation
that a review be conducted of Taskforce Cadena within twelve months. Government
members are confident that, as with all aspects of national security and border
management, the Government and the Department of Home Affairs are consistently providing
all necessary resourcing to Taskforce Cadena.
18 recommends ‘that the Australian Government require that employers pay
wages for temporary visa holders into an Australian bank account’.
19 recommends ‘that the Australian Government propose amendments to the
relevant law to make it unlawful for temporary visa workers, including
persons on student visas and working holiday visas, to apply for or to hold, an
Australian Business Number (ABN)’.
20 recommends ‘that the Australian Government consider amending the Fair
Work Act 2009 and the Migration Act 1958 to grant unions standing, where
appropriate, to commence civil actions for breaches of those Acts in relation
to visa work conditions’. Government
members do not agree with this recommendation. Unions do not have standing to
initiate action regarding visa work conditions because unions are not
representative of the Australian workforce generally, nor of the specific
occupations relevant to the skilled visa program.
21 recommends ‘that the Australian Government ensure that unions have
standing to complain to the Fair Work Ombudsman or the Department of Home
Affairs about concerns relating to the exploitation of temporary visa workers,
even if that worker is not a union member’. Government members of the Committee disagree with this
recommendation. Granting standing to unions to initiate court action where they
have no specific interest and do not have any relationship with the worker in
question is simply absurd.
of Government Members of the Committee
Government members of the committee recommend that the Skilling Australians
Fund be operated in regional locations in a manner that takes into account and
is responsive to specific local needs.
Government members of the committee recommend that the relevant Departments
take mechanical, technological and social advancements into consideration and
consider updating occupation lists to include new occupations (such as Drone
Pilot) and evolving work environments and circumstances.
1.48 The Government members of the committee recommend that
Government continues to support regional growth by incentivising skilled
Australian workers to fill identified skilled shortages in regional Australia.
Government members of the committee recommend that regional skilled visas, and
employers who are deemed ‘low-risk’, are prioritised in the application
Government members of the committee recommend that a Government-led review of
the TSMIT be conducted and that it specifically consider the challenges faced
by regional and remote employers.
the Hon Ian Macdonald
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