Jobless Rate Sparks Visa Row

The Abbott Government is being urged to wind back skilled migration in the wake of unemployment reaching a 12-year high.

The West Australian, by Andrew Tillett Canberra, 8 August 2014

In figures that defied Treasury and market expectations, the jobless rate last month rose to 6.4 per cent from 6 per cent, overtaking the US unemployment rate.

In WA, unemployment rose 0.2 of a percentage point to 5.2 per cent.

The increase was partly caused by a small rise in the national participation rate to 64.8 per cent as more people looked for work, and a change in the Australian Bureau of Statistics' survey sample.

It also pointed to slow growth in the jobs market.

The surprise increase is another blow to the Abbott Government, which is already battling a hostile Senate over almost $44 billion of spending cuts and tax rises.

Treasury forecasts had expected unemployment to peak at 6.25 per cent this year.

The last time unemployment was this high was in August 2002.

It peaked at 5.9 per cent in June 2009 during the global financial crisis.

Echoing union concerns, Labor MP Alannah MacTiernan urged the Government to slash the number of 457 visas granted to foreign skilled workers in the wake of the figures, saying it was a "scandal" qualified Australians were missing out on jobs.

"How we can be bringing in people on 457 visas is just completely irresponsible," she said.

"We need to be keeping those jobs for Australians."

Ms MacTiernan said many young mining and petroleum engineers were unable to break into the resources industry.

"The majority of the shareholdings of mining companies are overseas owned," she said.

"The way which we get a good return for Australians is having some good, well paying jobs and jobs that develop our skills as a nation."

Assistant Immigration Minister Michaelia Cash accused Labor of allowing the 457 program to run rampant, with the number of visa holders jumping from 68,400 in June 2010 to 110,280 when it lost office last September.

Under the coalition, the number of 457 visa holders had edged down to 108,500 as of June 30.

"Perhaps Ms MacTiernan would like to refer to the facts rather than the fiction that she and Labor spin when it comes to the 457 program," Senator Cash said.

Employment Minister Eric Abetz blamed the jobs figures on the Senate blocking key Budget measures and the scrapping of the mining tax, stalling the carbon tax's repeal and opposing the restoration of the building industry watchdog.

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