Is it time that 457 visas were abolished? You bet.
The rort has gone on for too long.
Businesses that wanted to get mates or family into the country, and those who want to exploit labour rules here or earn higher wages, found rich pickings in Australia.
Don’t get me wrong. The PM’s abolition of 457 visas today is a deliberate political act to wrest the agenda away from Bill Shorten and Tony Abbott. But that’s not to say it’s poor policy.
The problem of 457 visas is that in their hey-day — the mining boom of the mid-2000s — we needed a range of unskilled workers, including cooks and hairdressers in the big cities, to make up for those who left and sought their fortunes in the mines.
But that’s not now. What Australia needs is young, highly skilled workers who will generate taxes and create new business and employment opportunities to create the taxes of the future. The taxes that will sustain our rapidly ageing population and insufficient social welfare.
The thing most Australians forget is that we do live in one of the most desirable countries in the world. While we have our constant grumbles about Government and the Budget, Australia remains one of the first destinations people from all over the world want to live in.
Therefore, being a pure issue of supply and demand, there is more demand for people to come to our country than there are places we can accommodate (notwithstanding an increase in net population of just over a million people in the past five years because of immigration).
The point here is that Australia can pick and choose the people who come to Australia. We can pick the brightest and the best. We can still be compassionate to some of those in need, and we can help families to re-unite.
But what the Government is hoping to tap into is a rising disgruntlement about large numbers of people coming to Australia with few skills and fewer hopes of gaining employment. The people who come to Australia through the rorting of a generous scheme — that became too easy to exploit.
Politically, will it work? There’s no guarantee. But it is a surprise. And the ability for a prime minister to shock with bold, sensible reform is a weapon he should use more regularly.