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Immigration law under Labor

  • 31 October 2007
Forty years can make a difference. In 1966, the ALP immigration policy contained four major points. It would strengthen and protect Australia’s national and economic security. It would safeguard the welfare and promote the integration of all citizens. It would preserve our democratic system and the balanced development of the nation. And finally it would not disturb the predominance of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales as sources of Australian immigrants.

The first three points would still be represented in both the government and opposition policies. But only minority parties of the right would still openly promote the last policy. Mainstream parties have come a long way in the past 40 years. But many policy areas still need attention.

In its 2007 policy Labor focuses on four aspects of immigration. These are temporary working visa issues (457 visas), refugees and protection visas, reform of the department and English language teaching.

The ALP has criticised perceived abuses by employers in their use of the 457 visa. A recent inquiry noted that the amount of abuse was low, but the examples of abuse highlighted by the media have been extreme. The ALP accepts a temporary work visa is required. But it argues that it should neither be at the expense of jobs for Australians nor provide a lower salary than that available to local workers.

The 457 visa provides a useful way for employers to find skilled staff they could not otherwise find. The gazetted list enumerates more than 500 occupations, ranging from hairdressers to petroleum engineers, for which this visa can be available. Although it is important to correct abuses, the large numbers of occupations covered by the visa makes it difficult to formulate policy in specific terms. This is especially so in a growing economy. The ALP policy emphasises training, but commercial pressures forbid waiting until someone is trained for work needed today.

The ALP policy has much to say about refugee and temporary protection visas (TPV). Although the ALP supported the introduction of the TPV in 1999, it has finally accepted that it must go. Psychologists such as Zachary Steele recently published studies showing that TPV holders experience much trauma due to uncertainty about the future and their inability to bring family members to Australia. Critics have argued this case since the introduction of the visa, but the ALP did not accept it until 2007. The Coalition still supports this