As the opposition have only just become the opposition, many policies are off limits at Senate Estimates as it is difficult to attack policies an ALP government introduced. Instead, it is common to see Senators ask questions to lay the ground work over a much longer period of time. By asking questions about policies now, it is possible to generate a baseline immediately from when the government changed, and monitor any fluctuation of policy over time.
This is what appeared to be occurring this afternoon in relation to student visas. The Abbott government have publicly raised increasing the scope of student visas by expanding the streamlining processes for some education institutions who currently do not enjoy this. The reason this wasn’t done before was due to concerns about the integrity of certain education institutions, with shonky operators setting up shop to make some quick money. Therefore, the prudent line of questioning would focus on what considerations have changed in relation to non-approved education providers in access to streamlined arrangements given exploitation concerns. However we saw none of this except for a few questions about possible communication to interested education providers. A missed opportunity.
Another similar example is 457 visas. Most recently, the department have outlined how labour market testing will operate. The ALP senators did a good job asking about monitoring of employers who hire 457 visa holders. There are currently 44 inspectors, 68 total staff and over 300 inspectors across Australia when combined with the Fair Work Ombudsman and there have been 9496 allegations since July this year, an increase of 15 per cent compared to the same period last year. However the questions did not touch on the operation and assumptions that underlie the labour market test policy now required for 457 visas. Given the ALP introduced this policy, this is surprising. A clear understanding is required for this, to properly understand how the policy operates.
A brief example. A total of 225 occupations are required to under go labour market testing. Two points:
- One of the most egregious occupations that is likely to be exploited by employers is “Program or Project Administrator” (code 511112). This occupations has a salary level which is low, is one of the most used occupations in the program and isn’t actually a real job in the labour market. The fact it makes up about 3-4 per cent of all 457 visas is a clear issue. Why was this occupation not required to have labour market testing? I don’t agree with labour market testing for any occupation, with perhaps the sole exception of this position.
- The hypocricy of the Abbott government knows no bounds. They have the power under legislation to exempt nearly all occupations under the 457 visa. Before this time, they would constantly crow about imposing more red tape. Business groups such as AI Group, ACCI and BCA all say labour market testing is a waste of time and it doesn’t work (as do less partisan organisations like the Law Council of Australia). However the Abbott government have decided to impose labour market testing on employers regardless.
These are just two of the issues that should have been explored by opposition senators in relation to 457 visas. As with student streamlining, effective, longterm tactics require asking these questions now and finding out why policy changes are occurring. This allows an informed, evidence based approach to opposing new policy and future policy.
Poor marks to start the afternoon. Up next, Operation Sovereign Borders and the three star general.