By Mehroz Siraj
In Australia, each day brings the September elections closer and the ruling Australian Labor Party (ALP) is whipping up its election agenda in a bid to win votes from what it calls “working Australians”.
Amongst the many issues debated in the parliament and the media over the last month, arguably, the debate on 457 visas and immigration stole the limelight, unfortunately, for all the wrong reasons.
In her pitch to working class voters in Western Sydney, Prime Minister Julia Gillard said that she detested the idea that many employers were placing foreign workers in the front of the queue and that these workers were stealing ‘Aussie jobs’ from local Australians.
There is no actual evidence provided by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) or any other authority that validates the prime minister’s stance on this issue.
Australia is a nation of immigrants and immigration is what has defined us as to what is our identity as Australians. The prime minister’s attack on those who are bringing the skills and money that Australia requires for economic development, was ruthless and totally unwarranted.
The prime minister’s views on 457 visas are catastrophically misguided. All along, we have been told that the visa is being abused by reckless employers but never once have we been presented with any evidence of the purported rorts happening.
In reality, the 457 visas are enabling Australian employers to source workers from overseas who have the skill sets that are in short supply locally. In doing so, the visa, is helping Australia in sustaining its economy and its regional communities.
The hospitality industry in Castlemaine and Ballarat, along with the medical communities in regional New South Wales (NSW) have benefitted immensely from the 457 visa programme.
In the two Victorian towns, over the years, the growing hospitality industry has encountered serious staff shortages that could not be filled by only hiring Australian workers. The need for professionally qualified hospitality staff has made employers recruit kitchen hands, qualified chefs and bar staff from countries like India and China, amongst others.
In NSW’s vast regions, the 457 visas have provided a readily applicable solution to the state’s chronic labour shortages in the health sector as they enable hospitals to allow foreign medical professionals to migrate to Australia and utilize their skills in order to serve the local health care industry.
In other words, migrant medical professionals holding a 457 visa are playing a major role in saving many Australian lives which otherwise could have been lost.
These medical professionals and their accompanying families are helping Australia in increasing its consumer base as well.
These are hard facts that Prime Minister Gillard had chosen to ignore in her senseless assault on Australia’s immigration programme.
What makes her statements look even more ludicrous is the revelation that her own media manager, John McTernan is working in Australia on a 457 sponsored visa.
Could Gillard not find anyone from within Australia to head her communications team?
Despite being an immigrant herself, why has the prime minister failed to sell out the achievements of Australia’s immigration programme to the electorate?
Why did she have to resort to fear mongering amongst the voters despite there being no proven evidence suggesting that immigrants were stealing ‘Aussie jobs’?
Unfortunately these and many other questions have not been answered well by the prime minister and her administration officials.
What we know however, was that Gillard was just implementing a populist agenda that her media managers said would click well with the Australian people. This has not been the case as many Australians from all walks of life have expressed their concerns regarding the government’s political attacks aimed at migrants in the country.
Trying to scapegoat immigrants in order to conceal its own internal breakdown has been a government strategy of late, but it is a narrative that has failed to deliver the desired political outcomes.
The Gillard government has alienated significant sections of the electorate as it seeks to terrify them about immigration at a time when labour shortages across the Australian economy are high.
However, one serious lesson that the government should learn from this entire episode is that it urgently needs to correct its political narrative on immigration. The sooner it is done, the better.
This post originally appeared in the Online Opinion magazine. It can be viewed at: http://bit.ly/13UbVEr
The writer is the editor and founder of the magazine Australian Affairs, Twitter: twitter.com/Mehroz_Siraj E: firstname.lastname@example.org