"Bill Shorten backs rise in 457 work visa charges"

(c) DAVID CROWE theaustralian.com.au

The Opposition Leader put industry on notice to expect tougher visa rules under a Labor government to spur the use of local workers while signalling his ambition to lift investment in technical education to reverse years of neglect.

The message came with a pledge to try to restore trust in politics by backing a Senate inquiry into a national integrity commission and legislating more disclosure of political donations, just as the latest payments to parties are revealed today.

“Too many Australians think the political system is broken — and more than a few don’t trust us to fix it,” Mr Shorten said, referring to all sides of politics as well as the “political class” including the media.

He conceded politicians had “traded our status” by simplifying their messages into “eight seconds on the nightly news” and said ­integrity measures — including tougher rules on politicians’ ­expenses — were the first steps in restoring confidence in the political system.

Citing the rise of Donald Trump as a sign of voter disaffection, Mr Shorten named “jobs, jobs, jobs” as his dominant policy agenda this year including a push against the use of the 457 skilled foreign worker visas to undercut Australian jobs.

“This nation will pay the price in the future for simply the short-term importing of skills, rather than training our own,” he told the National Press Club.

“Labor has never said you shouldn’t have guest workers where there is genuine vacancies, but do we really need to import early childhood educators?

“Do we really need not to be training up our own diesel mechanics and motor mechanics and fitters and turners?

“Do we really need not to be training our own electricians for the future? So there is a problem with exploitation and that’s real.”

With apprenticeship numbers falling and with spending on technical education slipping far behind universities, Mr Shorten declared Labor to be the “party of tradies” in a contrast with Malcolm Turnbull’s argument for a company tax cut as a way to boost jobs.

Asked if the application fee for 457 visas could be raised to spend more on TAFE, the Opposition Leader signalled his support for the idea. “In terms of the application fee for 457 visas, I do think that is an issue. If it becomes too easy and too cheap to import someone rather than train someone, inevitably, like water flows to the lowest level, people will go to where the opportunity is,” he said.

Employers pay $380 and workers pay $1060 for the visas under current rules. With about 40,000 new grants every year, an increase in the employee fee to $2000 would raise $64 million a year.

While Mr Shorten stopped short of endorsing a national integrity commission to tackle abuses in politics, he backed a Senate inquiry into the idea to canvass the options. “I think it’s important to understand the lessons from the state anti-corruption bodies to see what can be done better,” he said.

But he added that this was the “strongest possible message” to the Australian people that changes should be made.

“We know you expect the highest standards and we are prepared to examine all and everything to ensure that Australians have a renewed confidence in politics and public administration,” he said

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