18 November 2016
Transcript - #2016070, 2016

Interview with Leon Byner, FIVEAA

SUBJECTS: 457 Visas, Backpacker Tax

LEON BYNER:

Kelly O’Dwyer good morning.

KELLY O’DWYER:

Good morning Leon, great to be with you.

LEON BYNER:

Likewise. Now, what does it say to you, before we get to this 457 detail, that we’ve got a million people approximately in this country who are doing temporary work. Why would that be, would it be that we can’t find the people to do the job, or we can’t find qualified people to the tune to a million.

KELLY O’DWYER:

Well look, the first point I’d make is that where Australians can do a job and they’ve got the skills to do a job, they should actually get the job and there is a concern that we have that there are a number of people who can work but who don’t work. I mean you know in South Australia that you’ve got one of the highest overall unemployment rates, 6.7 percent, and you’ve got one of the highest youth unemployment rates at 14.7 percent. Now there are a lot of people who do have the capacity to go out and get a job but who perhaps sometimes need the skills in order to get that job, or who need the incentive to not get a welfare payment but instead to go out and to become self-reliant. So the government is very, very focused on how we can actually change this and we’ve made some announcements in the budget about particularly around young people, people aged under 25, being able to give them the skillset and the opportunity to get those jobs. And for the small businesses who are looking to employ them, for them not to take on the employment risk but for the Government to actually put them in place so that those businesses can see them and can test them out, and can then potentially give them a job.

LEON BYNER:

Does it surprise you to know that about one in six workers approved for a 457 visa in this state are employed by the State Government?

KELLY O’DWYER:

Well I do find that figure absolutely astounding but then again, I suppose I’m not too shocked by it because under the previous Labor Government, frankly they were the king of 457 visas when they were actually employing staff within their own government as well as federal level. I mean if it was an Olympic sport, they would’ve been gold medallists at it. But it’s a very serious issue as you say and a lot of people are very concerned that Australians aren’t being given a fair go at being able to have these jobs and that’s why we have really strengthened the rules around who can come in on a 457 visa, we’re actually reviewing the list in terms of the skills that we need because frankly 457 visas should only be used in circumstances where our economy actually needs people with a particular skill set and it supplements the Australian –

LEON BYNER:

How did it get to this, Minister, because we’ve allowed these, in fact when you look at the categories, it’s just about anybody.

KELLY O’DWYER:

Well this is the thing, the list is very long, there are about 600 professions that are on that list right now. We’re going through a process where we’re reviewing that and we’ll have that included, as I understand it, before the end of the year, and I think you’ll see that that list is substantially reduced.

LEON BYNER:

So you’re going to reduce the list, but what about the idea, what about the other idea that you’ve got companies going out recruiting, or it could even be a Government, when they haven’t actually established that they can’t find somebody locally for it?

KELLY O’DWYER:

Well there are penalties for not properly advertising these positions and not properly looking –

LEON BYNER:

How many penalties have we given in the last one or two years? Any?

KELLY O’DWYER:

I don’t have those figures, Leon, directly to hand but I’m very happy to come back to you on that particular point. But you’re absolutely right to say that, I mean yesterday I was pretty gobsmacked when I heard the comments that were made by Bill Shorten, the Leader of the Opposition, when they were last in office there were about 68,000 people who had actually come to Australia in 457 visas, and they increased it to more than 110,000.

LEON BYNER:

They blame the mining boom for that, what do you say to that?

KELLY O’DWYER:

The only problem with that is the facts actually don’t support that. I mean these people were actually going into often hospitality jobs in Melbourne and in Sydney. They weren’t actually going into the mining jobs that Bill Shorten has said that they were going into. And at the same time, the Labor Government made it even easier for people who are on these employer-sponsored 457 visas, if they lost their jobs, to actually stay for longer to look for another job. The increased the days that people could stay from 28 days to 90 days. We have reduced that, we actually gazetted last year in October, a change to 457 visa arrangements that said that you don’t have 90 days, you’ve actually got 60 days, and that takes effect from this weekend.

LEON BYNER:

Are there people taking jobs on these visas from locals?

KELLY O’DWYER:

Well look I think there probably can be no doubt about that given some of the numbers involved and that’s why it’s very important that you have a very rigorous regime that can ensure that there is proper advertising of those jobs and that people who have capacity in Australia to get those jobs that they be given the opportunity to take those jobs and that’s what we’re doing as a Government. But what I think is pretty extraordinary is that at the same time we’re hearing some of these comments from Labor, which is very different to their actions, they’re arguing that there needs to be lower tax rates for Swedish backpackers for working holidaymakers, than for Australian workers, I mean –

LEON BYNER:

That’s a different issue, Kelly that’s a different issue because here, you’ve got a specific labour group who the fruit and beverage industry rely on for picking, and so that’s not really this part of the issue. I want to ask you a very leading question, in fact two. First is, is this an admission that we haven’t been doing the enforcement that we should’ve or is it an admission that it was very hard to enforce because it nearly included every profession, which one is it?

KELLY O’DWYER:

Well I certainly think there are too many professions on the list and it hasn’t been appropriately reviewed in a timely manner, which it needs to be for it to be an effective regime and that’s what our Government is actually doing right now to make sure that it is actually property reviewed so that we have the right skillset in Australia that we need and that we’re not substituting the Australian workforce, that we’re supplementing it where we actually need it in our national economic interest.

LEON BYNER:

Let me again ask you something else – are we really putting in 457 or other visa work holders because Australians are disinclined to do that job, or are they not qualified?

KELLY O’DWYER:

Well as you’ll note from the list of professions there, it’s a pretty broad list, and there are some professions that are very, very highly skilled, so in some cases, there’s a requirement as such that you do need to look around and find someone who is appropriately qualified to do that job and we might not have enough people in Australia who have those skills and qualifications at that particular point in time, but in other cases, I think it’s also fair to say that there are professions on that list as well where we could do a better job at training Australians to be able to take on those employment opportunities. But there’s another element to all of this too and I think we can’t ignore the fact that there are a number of people as well on the welfare system who have the capacity to work. This is not all, of course, because the welfare system’s there as an absolute protection for some of the most vulnerable people in our community, but there are some people who have the capacity to do some work but who choose not to and certainly, we’ve got a strong focus on that as well.

LEON BYNER:

Alight, Kelly O’Dwyer thank you for joining us, that’s the Revenue and Financial Services Minister responding to Bill Shorten’s comments yesterday.