Tamworth Mayor Col Murray believes that changes to the 457 visa program “could have an absolutely disastrous impact” and aren’t going far enough to get Australians into work.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced the sweeping changes on Tuesday afternoon, which established new criteria for short term working visas, instead preferring to take a more “Australian-first” approach, although Cr Murray believes that is only a job half done.
“There is a significant proportion of workers in the abattoir and poultry industries in the area that are 457 holders,” Cr Murray said.
“My discussions with management over the years suggests that they would prefer Aussie workers but the difficulty is finding Aussie workers prepared to do the hard work.
“Having the jobs on offer to Australians first is great, but if they don’t accept the job then they have to hold their benefits – there has to be some imperative on getting Australian workers to accept positions.”
It is not just the fact that some Australians are not taking available jobs that has the mayor concerned, but also the possible consequences of such a move.
“Companies or abattoirs might have 500 workers on the farms, but there is probably another 1500 to 2000 workers down the line that rely on the work coming down that chain,” Cr Murray said.
“If we take five or ten per cent of the workers away, there is a significant risk the chain won’t work at all. That could have super drastic implications - it could mean that the price of chicken, lamb and beef will be forced up. I am just not convinced it is the right way to go – we need to protect our best world practices and can’t compromise them, because we have worked so hard for them. At the end of the day a job is not a right, it is a privilege. And it is all about making a contribution.”
Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, who recently publicly championed the importance of the 457 visas, admitted that there are some jobs that Australian workers are still very reluctant to take.
“We are still going to have the capacity for people to come in from overseas, but we are going to make sure we look after the Australian people first,” Mr Joyce said. To be frank, there are jobs that, there’s packing offal in an abattoir or boning out skulls; yes, people want the high jobs, the better-paying jobs, but some of these other jobs they don’t. Now, we’re rationalising this process.”