Economy

Apr 19, 2017

The 457 ways to keep foreign workers while pandering to racists

Under the pretence of abolishing a catalyst for xenophobic populism, Malcolm Turnbull is leaving a mostly successful skilled migration program intact.

Bernard Keane — Politics editor

Bernard Keane

Politics editor

If you're going to hit the panic button, it helps if that button actually achieves something and does it effectively. What's surprising about yesterday's 457 visa "abolition" announcement from the government is that it stands a relatively good chance of achieving its political goal, while having minimal impact on the economy.

It is, of course, a profound act of hypocrisy from Turnbull and the rest of his party. When Julia Gillard started the bashing of foreign workers back in 2013 by making changes to the 457 system, Turnbull, like his colleagues, defended them to the hilt as you'd expect the stout tribunes of the business sector to do. But nearly four years later, the visas have "lost credibility" -- even though the Coalition has been in government for all but six months of the intervening period. Moreover, while the system was apparently working sufficiently well in 2013 that there was no need for significant change, it now turns out that Bill Shorten had by that time -- at least according to Turnbull -- opened the floodgates. It's all very like the middle-class welfare cuts the Liberals denounced when in opposition -- but once in government, they went much further. Or, at least, that's what they want voters to think.

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