- Newspaper title
Sydney Morning Herald
Fairfax Media Limited
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The fate of new laws cracking down on the skilled foreign worker visa scheme will come down to the wire amid doubts the Gillard government will find enough support from the independent MPs for the measures.
The bill, labelled by Liberal MP Don Randall as "the most racist piece of legislation" he had ever seen, includes new rules to ensure Australians get priority for jobs and would force employers wishing to hire foreign workers under the 457 visa program to prove they had tried and failed to recruit suitable local employees first.
But there would be exemptions from this "labour market testing" rule, mainly for positions requiring higher levels of skills.
Given the Coalition will vote against the bill, the Gillard government needs support from five of the seven crossbenchers to secure its passage in the lower house before Parliament rises for the election.
Debate on the bill will continue on Wedneday evening with it expected to continue on Thursday.
Key independent Rob Oakeshott has signalled he will vote against the new law as the government has failed to substantiate its claims of widespread rorting of the 457 visa scheme.
Greens MP Adam Bandt and fellow crossbenchers Andrew Wilkie and Craig Thomson have said they will vote for the bill while Bob Katter is also likely to do so.
That leaves the position of Peter Slipper, a former Liberal, and Tony Windsor as critical to the outcome. If both vote with Mr Oakeshott and the Coalition against the bill, it will fail.
Mr Windsor's office is yet to make clear his position, while Mr Slipper is also yet to respond to requests for comment.
The bill would also increase powers for Fair Work inspectors and beef up obligations on businesses to train local workers.
But in a move to ease the pressure on 457 visa holders who lose their job, the time they could remain in Australia before securing other work or leaving would increase from 28 to 90 days.
Unions have strongly backed the measures but business groups have argued the changes are unnecessary and will create extra red tape in absence of proof of widespread rorting.
Mr Randall, who was first elected as a WA Liberal MP in 1996, attacked the government for putting forward the bill in its "dying days", describing it as "xenophobic" and "jingoistic" in its attitude to foreign workers.
"I want to make sure people understand that this is the most racist piece of legislation that has come to this house since I've become a member and I suspect at any time," he said.
Immigration Minister Brendan O'Connor said the legislation was "something that Australian workers have told us they want" and arose from evidence the scheme was being misused.
"The legislation also supports Australian businesses by placing them on a level playing field, ensuring those already doing the right thing are not undercut by the minority who are exploiting the flaws in the current system," he said.
"Most Australians would expect that employers look local first before hiring workers from overseas, and only legislative change will ensure that occurs where it's not already happening."
Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison complained the government was trying to push the bill through without proper consultation and without doing its homework.
"The government is seeking to ram through things on behalf of the unions," he said.
Mr Morrison tried to bring forward an imminent report on whether the bill should be scrutinised by a parliamentary committee, and when that failed he tried to postpone debate on the 457 visa legislation until after consultation had been done.
The Parliament repeatedly got bogged down in process votes on Wednesday morning, with the government trying to shut down the opposition's push.
Leader of government business Anthony Albanese said given the Parliament was in its last sitting days and had to deal with a range of bills, he could not understand the opposition's motivation.
"The fact is this legislation was introduced in the normal way and is being dealt with in the normal way," he said.
The parliamentary debate continues on Wednesday afternoon.
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