No one is buying this from Turnbull

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PM Malcolm Turnbull has flagged changes to the citizenship process after abolishing the 457 visa.

Malcolm Turnbull says 457 visa changes are about supporting Aussie workers. Picture: AP Photo/Rick Rycroft


COMMENT

MALCOLM Turnbull seems to have reshaped his own thinking as well as the 457 visa scheme in a decision heavily laden with politics.

Few had a keener appreciation of the opportunities provided by mobility of labour and skills than the Prime Minister, in part because it was a matter of family pride.

Son Alex Turnbull is a successful and well regarded Singapore-based businessman, one of hundreds of Australian executives using the island as a forward base for access to lucrative Asian markets.

Malcolm Turnbull himself relied on open doors globally when he was a partner, Australian chairman and managing director of the transnational giant Goldman Sachs between 1999-2001.

Back in the late 1980s he was in Australia but transmitted his barrister skills to Britain in the Spycatcher case which made his name internationally. This was after he worked as a journalist in London.

For as substantial chunk of his life Mr Turnbull has seen himself thrive on the globalisation of employment.

And the Prime Minister was lectured during his recent visit to New Delhi on the importance of Australia allowing in Indians with appropriate skills to come here for work. It’s a major element of negotiations for a free-trade agreement.

All of which explains some of the scepticism greeting his announcement of an overhaul of the 457 visa system which allowed in workers said to be needed to fill gaps in the labour market. For some the visa has been a way-station to settling here permanently.

The Prime Minister has tapped, even if only gently, a sentiment of nationalism of the Australia first style, and joined an immigration debate he previously might have considered anti-productive for a country which boomed thanks to new arrivals.

PM Malcolm Turnbull has been criticised for his changes to 457 visas. Picture Kym Smith

PM Malcolm Turnbull has been criticised for his changes to 457 visas. Picture Kym SmithSource:News Corp Australia

There is no doubt the 457 system needed a shake out. There were too many job categories listed — some of them clearly absurd — and only vague reckonings of whether scarcities actually existed.

The objective of skilling the local workforce to meet demand rather than importing those skills was relegated, in part because many employers were desperate for staff during the frenzy of the mining boom.

The idea we have shortages of turf growers and goat farmers, or fast-food outlet managers is daft.

And so is the notion we can cherrypick the workers educated elsewhere rather than boost our own talent stock for national economic benefit.

However, as worthy as this clean-up of the 457 process is, Malcolm Turnbull has moved further and challenged the broader question of labour mobility with an Australia first slogan he previously would have avoided.

“Well we’re putting Australian workers first and Australian jobs first,” the Prime Minister told Ross Greenwood on 2GB Tuesday night.

“And I think every national leader should seek to do that — whether you’re the Prime Minister of Australia or the President of the United States.

“So it’s a commitment to protecting our national interests.

“And our migration program has got to work in our national interest. It’s got to deliver, obviously the immigration that we need and the skills that we need when we don’t have them here, but above all it’s got to serve our national interest.”

And the inclusion of a tightening of immigration rules also appears to contradict past Turnbull statements.

In November, 2015 he launched a book by George Megalogenis, Australia’s Second Chance, and supported its argument for a nation with “openness to the world”.

The nub of the argument was that Australia’s economy grew heartily with greater immigration and the infusion of other cultures.

Malcolm Turnbull personally considers the world to be one giant workplace, but for his domestic political purposes he has to restrict the entry to the Australian section.

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