Labor rejects Coalition’s wage-crushing immigration plan


Last week, the Coalition-dominated parliamentary committee into skilled migration released its Interim Report, which recommended sweeping changes to Australia’s immigration system to enable employers to easily employ foreign workers.

The key reforms proposed by the committee were:

  • Relax market testing requirements for Medium and Large businesses, and abolish market testing altogether for smaller businesses.
  • Eliminate the need to market test at all for positions on the Skilled Occupation List.
  • Remove the requirement for employers to pay the Skilling Australia Fund as part of the visa sponsorship process.
  • Significantly expand the Skilled Occupation List to address “urgent skills shortages” by including almost any role.
  • Improve and expedite visa processing times for employer-sponsored visas.
  • Give all employer sponsored visa holders a clear pathway to permanent residency.
  • Give automatic permanent residence to Business Innovation and Investment Program (BIIP) and Global Talent Independent Program (GIP) visas.
  • Reserve places on flights and in quarantine for skilled migrants ahead of stranded Australians.

In reviewing these reforms on Friday, I labelled them “the biggest direct assault on Australian workers I have seen in 10 years of writing at MB”.

If these reforms were to go ahead, they would enable almost any Australian business to hire foreign workers over locals, would give these foreign workers priority access to flights and quarantine over stranded Australians, and would offer prospective migrants the explicit carrot of easy permanent residency.


These reforms would flood the nation with cheap foreign labour, undercutting Australian workers and wage growth. They would also drive up population growth, crush-loading our cities, infrastructure and housing.

In short, the Committee’s recommended immigration reforms are a dream for the business lobby and wealthy elite but represent an unmitigated disaster for ordinary Australian workers who would see their wages and living standards destroyed.

To its credit, the Australian Labor Party’s dissenting report has rejected the Committee’s recommendations, labeling them “simply outrageous – ill-conceived and appallingly timed”:


Labor members of the Committee strenuously object to this report’s recommendations and findings which were made after a rushed inquiry without hearing adequate evidence and all points of view….

Yet, astoundingly, while millions of Australians are searching for work, the priority for Government members is to put Australians at the back of the queue.

To be very clear, Labor members oppose the Government’s desire to:

  • “Streamline” (i.e. trash) Labour Market Testing, as doing so would reduce incentives for businesses to employ Australian workers.
  • Scrap the requirement for employers to pay into the Skilling Australia Fund to train local workers when bringing in foreign labour, removing the price signal for business to train an Australian and make is virtually cost free to bring in foreign workers.
  • Immediately expand the number of occupations on the skills shortage lists…
  • Reserve special seats on flights and places in quarantine for skilled migrants, abandoning over 40,000 stranded Australians…

Wage theft and exploitation have become prevalent in industries that rely on temporary migrant workers, and now that same exploitation of workers is regrettably spreading through the wider economy… Shame on them for selling out Australian workers and those looking for a job.

For its part, the Australian Greens’ dissenting report is contradictory. On the one hand, the “Greens do not support the approach of this report”, noting that the proposed reforms would lead to greater exploitation:

The interaction between labour laws and migration laws in Australia are full of loopholes which allow for massive exploitation of local and overseas workers. Those loopholes need to be closed, but this report fails to take the necessary steps.

Further, loopholes in free trade agreements allow employers to circumvent local labour laws, which leads to the systemic exploitation of temporary visa workers and local workers being denied job opportunities and training…

The system regulating the use of migrant workers should be negotiated between unions, employer organisations and the federal government.


On the other hand, The Greens want to sell-out local workers and stranded Australians by ensuring “the urgent return of Australia’s existing skilled visa holders to Australia”:

These skilled migrants have now been stranded overseas, separated from their homes, jobs, and families – including children – for around a year…

That is no way to treat people that we’ve invited into our country, to support and strengthen our industries and economy, and to build lives and make a home in Australia.

Many of these skilled migrants have lived in Australia for many years, working their way through various student and skilled visas on a pathway to permanent residency…

Recommendation 8… calls on the Government to reserve places on flights and in quarantine for skilled migrants… Recommendation 8 should first be extended to the tens of thousands of skilled visa holders who are currently stranded overseas, with no idea when, or if, they’ll ever be able to return to their lives in Australia… Australia runs the risk of losing skilled migrants to countries that are considered more welcoming, such as Canada and the United Kingdom.

In summary, it is great to see the ALP take a stand and represent its working-class base.


The mass immigration ‘Big Australia’ policy was already unpopular pre-COVID. And the Coalition’s proposed reforms are precisely the wrong policy at the wrong time.

Thus, if Labor maintains its opposition to a mass immigration reboot, and continues to put Australians first, they should cruise to an easy election victory.

The Greens, on the other hand, are as useless as always. They continue to put the interests of non-voting foreign nationals ahead of actual voting Australians.

About the author
Leith van Onselen is Chief Economist at the MB Fund and MB Super. He is also a co-founder of MacroBusiness. Leith has previously worked at the Australian Treasury, Victorian Treasury and Goldman Sachs.