Brendan O'Connor, the Australian immigration minister has been forced to admit that he had no evidence to support his claim, made on Australian TV last week, that about 10% of subclass 457 temporary work visas had been 'rorted', or obtained fraudulently.
On Sunday 28th April 2013, Mr O'Connor claimed that 10,000 foreign workers were in Australia with fraudulently obtained 457 visas. He appeared on Sky News and said ''Insofar as numbers, I believe that the areas where there's been an illegitimate use of 457s numbers are not negligible. I would say it would exceed 10,000.'
Australian government figures show that there are about 107,000 temporary workers in Australia with 457 visas. These visas allow foreign workers to work in Australia for up to four years.
O'Connor admits 'forecasting' number of fraudulent 457 visas last yearOn Friday 3rd May, Mr O'Connor was forced to admit that his claim that about 10,000 457 visas had been obtained by 'rorting' was a 'forecast'. He said 'I'm making a forecast like others have made forecasts. The difference is I seem to be being challenged – fine. My point is this: There are transgressions… they're more than negligible. I've sought to estimate what I think is the appropriate number'.
As soon as Mr O'Connor made his initial claim on Sunday, employers' representatives expressed scepticism at the claim. Peter Anderson of the Australian Chamber of Commerce said that, if it was true, then this reflected very poorly on the government which was, itself, the largest single employer of people on 457 visas.
Innes Willox of the Australian Industry Group said that 'the extreme rarity of prosecutions or even sanctions against employers would suggest that there is no systemic abuse of the 457 program'.
DIAC report says rorting is rareEmbarrassingly for Mr O'Connor, a report prepared by his own department, the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC), in December 2012 says that abuse of the 457 visa system was rare. The report was released shortly after Mr O'Connor's Sky TV interview on Sunday 28th after a Freedom of Information Act request was made to DIAC demanding to see data about the abuse of 457 visas.
The Australian Freedom of Information Act allows Australian citizens to request information held by government and state government departments. The governmental body concerned should, under most circumstances, disclose any information requested unless there is a valid reason to withhold it, such as national security.
The Australian opposition coalition has complained that Mr O'Connor's claims were part of the Labor Party government's attempt to divert attention from the growing number of refugees arriving in Australia by sea.
Opposition says O'Connor using 457 abuse as a diversionScott Morrison, the coalition's immigration spokesman said 'Labor's smearing of skilled migration is a desperate attempt to distract attention from their chronic border failures that this year will see more than 20,000 people arrive illegally by boat'.
The coalition claims that the governing Labor Party is seeking to use allegations of 'rorting' to cast themselves as the supporters of Australian workers in the run-up to the Australian general election which will be held in September.
Scott Barklamb of the Australian Mines and Metals Association told Australian paper The Age that the government was 'irresponsibly attempting to stir up a dog-whistling, quasi-xenophobic campaign'.
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