Stranded Aussies have been warned by Labor they could be sent to ‘the back of the queue’ under a plan suggested by government MPs.
Stranded Australians will be sent to “the back of the queue” after government MPs called for more skilled migrants to fill jobs onshore, Labor says.
An inquiry into Australia’s Skilled Migration Program released its interim report on Thursday, recommending quarantine places and flights be set aside for skilled migrants.
Labor MP and committee member Julian Hill said the “outrageous” measure would shunt 40,000 Australians stranded overseas to make way for foreign workers.
“You can see it now, can’t you? Business class up the front of the plane for the migrants that business want to bring in, and cattle class down the back for the few stranded Australians who manage to get on the plane,” he said told parliament.
But Liberal MP and committee chair Julian Leeser played down that fear, saying Australia’s quarantine cap was “regularly adjusted” and keeping Australians safe would remain a priority.
“Skilled migrants would need to come in under the same conditions as any other international arrivals,” he told NCA NewsWire.
The report recommended “urgently” expanding the occupations on the skilled migrants list to include chefs, veterinarians, cafe and restaurant managers, and seafarers.
The Home Affairs Department was also urged to review the list with a view to including other occupations including civil engineers, mechanics, and a range of roles across hospitality and agriculture.
“There are no Australians who can do (those) jobs, apparently!” Mr Hill said.
But Mr Leeser argued evidence heard by the committee “indicates exactly the opposite”, saying the committed had “heard repeatedly that skilled migrants create Australian jobs”.
“If we want to help Australians back into work, skilled migration has to be part of the picture … It’s actually a continuation of the ‘Australians first’ principle,” he said.
“It can seem counterintuitive, but this is about job creation. Skilled migrants grow the economy and drive job creation in Australia.”
The proposals would also suspend a requirement for businesses to pay a skilled migration levy when hiring an overseas worker during the pandemic, and lessen requirements for them to seek out Australians before hiring a foreigner.
Labor argued the proposals were “ill conceived and appallingly timed”, with JobKeeper to expire at the end of the month.
“Astoundingly, when millions of Australians are looking for work, the priority of government members of parliament is to … make it easier for business to bring in foreign workers,” Mr Hill said.
Mr Leeser said a “huge skills gap” had been blown open by COVID-19, which saw around 500,000 temporary visa holders, including many skilled migrants, leave the country last year.
“Labor seems to not have realised that we have been through a pandemic. This is a policy that is entirely about advancing Australia’s interests,” he said.
Mr Hill said Australia’s skills shortage was the result of the government slashing funding to TAFE over its eight years in office.