Will Turnbull's 457 Backflip Break The IT Industry's Back?

Source: SBS

In a stunning act of political courage, Prime Minister Turnbull chose Facebook to tell us that we are “the most successful multicultural nation in the world”. He then abolished the 457 Visa scheme, which allowed for skilled workers to come to Australia. Saying that “Australian workers must have priority for Australian jobs” is a great grab for the TV news and radio commentators to latch onto. But does this change address the real issue - a long-term under-investment that technology skills?

A later press conference by Peter Dutton, the Minister for Charisma and Personality Immigration and Border Protection explained that workers already here won’t be affected until their current visa expires. The goal, says the government, is reinforcing the temporary nature of the 457 visa and making the path to permanent residency more challenging.

Effective today, the number of occupations that qualify for a 457 visa is being reduced by about a third to 435.

There’s little doubt that some employers used the 457 visa as a way to undercut the labour market. For example, one Darwin firm paid a $430,000 penalty last year. And there are countless stories of local workers missing on jobs going to overseas candidates.

The real issue in Australia isn’t about visas or skilled immigration. Immigrants have long come to this country, worked hard and contributed to the fabric of our nation. And with unemployment sitting at just under 6% it’s hard to argue that the job market is being disrupted by 457 visa holders. A recent fact check by the ABC found the number of 457 visa holders to be fewer that half a million workers. And fewer than 200,000 were actually using the visa.

The real issue is a long term under-investment in the development of technical skills. It’s easy to get caught up in a game of buzzword bingo but the reality is our world requires a level of technical expertise that was previously unimagined. And when those skills aren’t present locally we need to fish outside our pond for a decent catch.

I’m not completely against the proposal to change the visa arrangements. I do think it plays up to the undercurrent of anti-immigration sentiment present in much of the community. But unless this change is matched by a commitment by the federal government to boost the number of people seeking technical careers then it’s simply a popularist grab for headlines.

By the way, in 2013, Malcolm Turnbull tweeted this gem.

While the unemployment rate is a little higher today than it was when he made that tweet, it would be simplistic in the least to suggest abolishing the 457 visa program would drop the unemployment rate by enough to get us back to the 2013 unemployment rate.

The upside of this is businesses will need to reconsider their investment in educating staff. We also need to make some of the less sexy IT roles, particularly in support and testing, more attractive. But I’m not sure the government has any plans for this. Turnbull’s coalition government seems more intent on making short statements that will help their poll numbers than really fixing problems.


Comments

    Rather rare to see a "journalist's" political allegiance quite so boldly displayed.

    But what of the headline, will this change break the ICT industry's back? Mr Turnbull's populist change does clamp down on technical support and web developers being imported but these are not difficult jobs to train a school leaver in in any sense of the word. It also keeps in place the chance of immigration in jobs that we do lack in, allowing startups to import the skills needed.

    Clearly the answer has to be, there is no change. This is just putting lipstick on a pig.

      Can't journalist's have opinions? BTW - I think the last 15 years or so have been a political blackspot for our country. There has not been a single leader that has done any actual leadership. There have been some examples (Rudd's apology, Howard on gun control) but no sustained program where we could see something being done to ensure the continued growth of the country. But that's a discussion for another time and place. Thanks for your comment.

        I think a lot of the attempts to bring technical jobs back on shore with this are a moot point.

        Most of these roles will just be outsourced to companies like Accenture who operate campuses in India anyway. Not only because it's cheaper, but it's simply impossible to find talent domestically that is willing to do roles like IT support or testing.

        Last edited 19/04/17 1:26 pm

    "...which allowed for skilled workers to come to Australia".

    Unfortunately in my experience, uni students on an IT work placement had a much greater skill level than these "skilled" workers who often (but not all) had the skill level of a primary school student.

    As someone with experience in both the IT sector in Australia and the 457 visa scheme, it is my experience that Australian "skilled" technical workers have very little interest beyond filling the "blue collar" roles in IT (e.g. level 1 helpdesk tech). The more senior, specialised or highly skilled workers tend to be imported.

    There are, of course, exceptions to this - I know of and have and still do work with IT staff who have come from overseas who are not very capable at all, and I also know many Australians who are excellent engineers. But that is the trend I have noticed.

      Dealing with out sourced work a lot in the power industry I'm yet to see any skilled or qualified labour.
      It's cheaper that's the whole reason. If there's reduced skills, get more trainees more apprentices. Its a fact of we can't off shore the work so we will get people from off shore to do it in the cheap.

    To be honest, we've seen abuse of this in the IT industry for ages. The reason? IT companies want to gain a competitive edge and they are prepared to do so at the expense of local resources. TCS, Wipro, Accenture, IBM, etc, they all do it. They bring in people on 457's, pay them a fraction of what a local resource would get and send them back after the project. The customer gets a cheap deal and they are competitive, but it does nothing for the local markets or local jobs. Granted, the market is buoyant so any resource worth their weight in salt won't stay out of work for long, but there is little incentive to keep the jobs onshore for these companies, and those who don't use this lose business to these competitors. I think it cause some shifts in the industry, the customers will pay more but it may actually force some good changes in the industry.

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