Detail needed after 457 announcement

They took our jobs!

In four words, repeatedly yelled out by an angry crowd, the TV show South Park summed up the number-one reason people worry about immigrant workers.

The sentiment echoes truth for some in Australia, just as it did in the fictitious American town.

That's why a pretty dry story about a change in government policy makes it onto page three of today's edition.

Today is too soon to praise PM Turnbull for the changes he says he will make, and too soon to damn him.

Politically speaking, yes, it's a smart move: the federal government gets to capitalise on anti-immigrant sentiments without necessarily reducing the number of foreign workers in Australia.

The numbers 457 have come to be hated in every town where there aren't enough jobs to go around, which seems to be everywhere these days.

But a temporary work visa by any other name will smell pretty similar.

What will be really interesting is the "labour market testing" that will be needed to prove there are not enough suitably skilled locals to fill the available jobs.

Of the 1000-plus people without a job in the Murraylands, how many would be completely unsuited to pick produce or process meat after a bit of training?

Anyway, now that the announcement has been made, the government needs to follow up with details so employers and workers can plan their futures with certainty.

And unlike in previous cases such as 18C, it needs to walk the walk by showing it can get the changes through parliament.

While we wait for that, here's something to bear in mind: the workers now in Australia on 457 visas, and other foreign workers, are not the real problem.

They are too often exploited by labour hire companies who underpay them and cram them into share houses.

I can understand the frustration, anger and disappointment of being turned down at interview after interview – I’ve been there.

But punch up: blame the HR agencies which manipulate the 457 system, the companies which use them and the successive governments which have allowed them to flourish.

Racism and resentment are overly simple answers to a complex problem.

Peri Strathearn


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