457 Visas: The PM fiddles while lurching to the right

Nic Crowther
Wed 19 Apr

It’s always interesting to see how quickly a politician can turn 180 degrees. Yesterday, committed internationalist and doyen of the centre-right, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull lurched in the direction of One Nation with a curious repackaging of 457 working visas.



The 457 regime has been as popular for Australian employers as Indian chefs and nurses. Established by the Howard Government in 1996, the programme allows foreign workers to enter the country to fill specific positions on a temporary basis. As recently as December 2014 – under the watch of the current immigration Minister who so gladly lined up for the media yesterday – the rules were relaxed to allow longer stays with less oversight… including English language proficiency



In an announcement via Facebook the policy does include some sensible measures. There number of job types that qualify for the visa will be reduced by around a third. There will be no more temporary visas for judges, television presenters, antique dealers and, (inexplicably) migration agents.



In 2017, Malcolm Turnbull faces a very different political environment. The reality is that all the noise is being made to highlight the casting of some red meat to the Government’s back bench, and is part of a broader strategy to shore up voters leaking to One Nation. Turnbull knows he is bleeding on the far right. By securing that section of voters and MPs he can secure his position up to – and possibly beyond – the next election.



But, as so often is the case, this is really fiddling around the edges, and is the sort of announcement which would attract very little attention if actual policy work was being undertaken by the government.

So, for voters, the outcome isn’t so great. Cynics are keen to point out that 457 visas are just another example of policy used as a political football. Much like the Gonski education reforms, Safe Schools and penalty rates, the major parties might seem to agree with 97 percent of an existing policy, only to beat each other to death over the remaining three per cent.



Little wonder the voting public gets frustrated. It doesn’t take much to extend this behaviour to create the vast chasm that has destroyed US politics. We’re now far too aware of what that gets you.