Hewson's View | April 21

Did you catch the front page of the Telegraph on Wednesday showing Malcolm with a Trump hairstyle?

My favourite placard from the recent US presidential campaign was, buried in a crowd, “We shall overCOMB”.

The Tele was reporting on Turnbull’s recent decision to ‘scrap’ the 457 visa program, which was introduced by the Howard Government to deal with emerging skill shortages in various industries and activities across our economy.

INFLUENCE: The scrapping of the 457 visa is one among many ways our politics are being swayed by Trump-style concerns. Illustration: Cathy Wilcox.

INFLUENCE: The scrapping of the 457 visa is one among many ways our politics are being swayed by Trump-style concerns. Illustration: Cathy Wilcox.

Used judiciously, of course, this promised to be a very effective improvement to our labour market, especially in times of a ‘boom economy’.

But, as so often happens, there was mounting evidence that the scheme was being abused in some sectors, even setting aside the political hyperbole and exaggeration that soon also creeps into ‘discussions’ on such issues.

The point is, yes, the scheme needed repair, but did it really need to be described as having been ‘scrapped’, yet obviously replaced by a second cousin that promises to do pretty much the same thing?

Also, did the explanation really need all those Trump-like nationalistic, jingoistic references, to “Australia First’, “Saving Australian jobs”, “Protecting our Workers”?

Moreover, was the timing just too ‘cute’, to coincide with a similar initiative by Trump himself, soon to be also emulated by the Kiwis?

Well, of course, the visa system could just have been ‘fixed’, without the flourish, all the ‘colour and movement’. But, that would have missed an opportunity to hopefully bring back those voters who were threatening to support Hanson?

Did you notice how quick Hanson was to claim credit?

Sure, this gets the desired publicity for the government, but we are left to wonder whether it actually will ‘fix’ the system? This is especially so, as so little detail has been provided to date. Apparently we need to wait for the budget for this.

It is important to keep a clear sense of perspective here, as well. The significance of the decision, if it actually works, should not be exaggerated.

We are talking about some 90-100,000 workers on 457 visas – that is, less than 1 percent of our workforce. Sure, the numbers went up under the Labor Government, and they are now coming off, in part as the system is tightened, but also simply as a reflection of the poorer state of our economy, and the lesser need to augment our workforce in this manner.

It is interesting how soon the union leadership seized on this decision as an opportunity to see this as a means of funding some training initiatives, using fees from employers so recruiting offshore. I wonder why they didn’t pursue this when their political wing, the ALP, were in government?

Clearly, our politics are being Trumped. I fear just how many more of these ‘announcements’ we will have to endure, especially as Hanson gains real momentum in the forthcoming Queensland State election?

The irony is that the Trump phenomenon is basically an anti-establishment, anti-institution movement, capturing voter dissatisfaction and disillusionment with a political class and process,that has left them behind, excluded them, and so on.

Sure, this visa stunt by the government can be seen as a move in their interests. But, it is also easily seen through for its politics and cynicism, especially with a commitment to ‘Jobs and Growth’, without any substance.

 – John Hewson


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