Two top CEOs, including the head of Gina Rinehart’s $9.5 billion Roy Hill mining project, have added to the rising chorus of warnings from industry about the federal Government’s planned restrictions on the skilled migration program.
Roy Hill chief executive Barry Fitzgerald says the debate is becoming “irrational”, while the chief executive of biotech giant CSL Paul Perreault says the government should be “very cautious” about changing the scheme.
The Government wants to crack down on 457 visa numbers after a rapid rise in applications and concerns that it was being abused by employers. Prime Minister Julia Gillard said last month the changes would stop “foreign workers being put at the front of the queue with Australian workers at the back”.
The planned changes have caused alarm in some industry sectors that rely on importing skilled workers, particularly in mining.
The Roy Hill development in Western Australia, one of the country’s largest, will use around 1,700 foreign workers under an enterprise migration agreement struck with the government to ensure adequate labour supply.
Fitzgerald said at a Perth mining conference the debate over the visa changes needed to be “fixed in reality”. He said it “seems to have gotten into an area which is starting to become more irrational – more about ‘foreign’ as opposed to ‘skilled’ workers“.
“It is an Australian project, but this project needs a significant amount of input from overseas,” he said. “That’s both on the equity side, on a contracting side and also on a financing side.”
Perreault, meanwhile, told the AFR in an interview published today that CSL had relied on imported labour in the past – and if the government wanted to reduce the 457 program, companies would need to be certain that the skills would be available in the local workforce.
It was necessary to “look at the policies here to make sure you have the right systems to build the expertise. It’s fine to say you want everything here but then you better have the support to build the right education system and the science to innovate,” Perreault said.
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