A federal Labor MP claims moves to repeal legislation requiring all foreign resources workers to obtain a 457 visa will deny Australians jobs in the expanding offshore gas and oil sector.
ABC NEWS, by Andrew O’Connor, 27 May 2014
The Federal Government is planning to repeal laws made by Labor which are due to come into effect at the end of June.
The federal Labor member for Perth, Alannah MacTiernan, said without the laws mandating 457 visas, Australian workers will simply be sidelined on future projects.
"The decision to change the legislation so that not even a 457 visa would be required to employ an overseas workers on our oil and gas industry is very short-sighted," she said.
The laws were passed last year to close what Labor said were inconsistencies exposed by a federal court case.
In Allseas Constructions SA v Minister for Immigration, the federal court found that two ships working in Australia's resources sector did not meet the definition of a resources installation.
As a result, the foreign workers on board were were not considered to be in the migration zone, as defined in the Migration Act, and were not required to have a visa.
Australian unions expressed deep concerns about the implications of the case, arguing it would pave the way for wider use of foreign workers on reduced pay and conditions.
Labor moved to close what it saw was a loophole by amending the Migration Act, changes the Abbott Government wants to repeal before they come into force.
Workers will have 'fewer opportunities' in oil and gas
A regulatory impact statement prepared by the Government said the oil and gas operations will grow faster than other areas of the resources sector, with the number of offshore workers climbing from 475,000 to 766,000 by 2018.
Ms MacTiernan said without the protection of the existing legislation, workers will have few opportunities in a growing sector.
"The vast majority of jobs in the gas industry in the future will be offshore, and there is no guarantee that Australians will have even a chance at getting this work," she said.
But the regulatory impact statement also quoted a key industry organisation expressing deep concerns about the Labor-initiated legislation.
It cited comments from the Australian Mines and Metals Association characterising Labor's legislation as "a further suffocating regulatory burden" which would "place untenable cost pressures on the resource industry".
The statement said repealing the act prior to its commencement would "give the most certainty to the offshore oil and gas industry and to the individuals employed in undertaking the offshore resources activities".
Immigration Minister Scott Morrison was not available for interview but told Parliament this week that the repeal of the legislation was justified.
He said the previous Labor government had failed to demonstrate the need for a new regulatory regime to control offshore workers.
"Despite the clear significance of the impact of the reforms upon the future growth of the energy and resources sector in Australia, at the time of the introduction of the act that this bill now seeks to repeal, the previous government could not even quantify or estimate the number of foreign workers in the offshore maritime zone," Mr Morrison said.
"So absurd was the entire basis for that act, that the previous government could not even show how significant the apparent issue it sought to address was."
Mr Morrison said there was no basis to believe that mandating 457 visas for all foreign workers was necessary.
"Despite the claims of the maritime workers union and other union interests, no need exists to extend any additional protection or safeguards to workers on offshore installations," he told Parliament.
"The claim simply formed part of a concerted campaign to render it near impossible for the energy and resources industry to employ foreign workers."