Fresh from failing as employment and workplace relations minister and botching his Haneef case, Kevin Andrews has made a goose of himself defending the way he runs the 457 guest worker racket.

A little ministerial editing would have him saying “there’s nothing happening here, move along” as the SMH rolls out another body for forensic examination. What he actually said though was: “Claims that 457 workers are vulnerable if they complain about their employer or conditions of employment are incorrect. Every 457 worker has the same rights and protections as any other Australian worker.”

Yep, the same rights as any other Australian worker who can’t speak English, has been flown from the Mongolian border to outback Queensland to live in an isolated camp with no phone, has had a substantial amount of his pay disappear, didn’t have the skills he was allegedly hired for and is now dead. Kinda hard to exercise those rights, Kev.

Today’s SMH installment by Matthew Moore is a ripper, a tragedy in very foreign land. Beyond the emotional response, you could also form the opinion that it’s an expose of how the 457 visa scheme is being exploited to import unskilled workers for $800 a week and less. It seems we haven’t progressed far from the indentured labor of Chinese coolies in the century before last.

Never mind the push by various industries to officially extend 457s to semi-skilled occupations, it’s already happening. But Kevin Andrews, with all the credibility of Kevin Andrews, says everything is all right.

Crucial skills shortages in a number of areas means the idea of a flexible and fast temporary visa system has considerable merit, but the badly-administered and demonstrably slip-shod 457 scheme presently run by Kevin Andrews doesn’t.

And there are broader issues yet to be debated about the impact of 300,000 migrants this year on the labor market and economy, the role such an unprecedented intake will play in keeping down inflation by keeping down wages. Don’t expect Kevin Andrews to make a worthwhile contribution or that either major political party to want to hear about it before the election.

Peter Fray

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