Australian business group slams highly politicised immigration rhetoric

In the run up to the forthcoming by-elections in Australia, the subject of immigration has become highly politicised, with Labor and the coalition trying to outdo each other with tough talk.

On the coalition side, they were heralding the fact that the number of migrants obtaining permanent residency (PR) visas last year was the lowest number in ten years – the drop apparently due to the government enforcing stricter vetting procedures to cut down on fraudulent applications.

In turn, Labor slammed the Turnbull government for allowing over one and a half million people to reside in Australia on temporary visas with some form of work rights.

What has become an absolute problem has been the explosion, the misuse and abuse, of issuing of temporary work visas,” shadow minister for employment Brendan O’Connor said.

“If you want to know why unemployment amongst young people is so high compared to other OECD countries, just look at the amount of visas being issued.”

Treasurer Scott Morrison hit back at Labor’s claims about the number of temporary workers last week.

“Bill Shorten needs to check his facts. I mean, this bloke lies like he has breakfast in the morning. The number of people here on temporary skilled visas, here right now, is 20 per cent less than it was when Labor left office.”

In light of this back and forth between the two parties, the Australian Chamber of Commerce had weighed into the debate, slamming the heavily politicised rhetoric being used.

James Pearson, head of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry described the debate as “mischievous”, accusing both parties of misrepresenting the migration figures.

“There are lies, damn lies and statistics and I’m sorry to say that the numbers being bandied about in this debate are being bandied about in the most misleading way.”

Mr Pearson said the claims and counter-claims were disappointing and confusing to voters and marked an end to many years of relative bipartisanship on the skilled migration program.

“I regret the fact that what for so long was strong, bipartisan support for a strong, well-managed migration program … seems to have been put to one side,” he said.

The reason for the discrepancy is Labor is counting all temporary visa holders with any right to work, including international students, New Zealanders on special visas, and backpackers, Mr Pearson said.

Those numbers do add to around 1.6 million, but he said the figure was misleading.

“To suggest for a moment that all of those people are working, let alone working full time, is wrong, because many of them are not,” he said.

Working holidaymakers have caps on how much work they can do in Australia, while international students are also limited to 40 hours per fortnight.

Elsewhere, Carla Wilshire of the Migration Council said Labor was taking a “huge cross-section of different visa categories” and combining them to get a large figure.

She too has concerns about the political language being used in the immigration debate.

“I think we need to be very careful. The Australian economy very much relies on a certain level of migration flowing through,” Ms Wilshire said.

Labor alleges the international student issue is exacerbated by students who breach their work limits, often under pressure from employers.

“You have temporary visas being issued as student visas, where the applicant is not primarily studying,” Mr O’Connor said.

The Migration Council said while there were some compliance issues with students, the level of such issues was not “particularly high”.

Ms Wilshire said the recent linking of immigration data with Australian Tax Office records had improved compliance.

Category: Migration News
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