But predictably the system has been rorted:
Evidence of widespread rorting of the controversial program has grown. One company employed more than 400 foreigners and no locals on a building site, and it has been claimed fake businesses have been set up to bring in foreigners who then seek permanent residence.It's an election year and the left-liberal Labor Party are taking a populist position (and the correct position) that unemployed Australians should have preference in our job market. The Labor Party Immigration Minister, Brendan O'Connor, has said:
It is clear there have been abuses of the 457 visas and qualified Australians are missing out on jobs in a number of fields.
And what of the more right-liberal Liberal Party? They want the rorting to continue and to be expanded. The Victorian Liberal Party, for instance, wants the 457 visa system to be extended to Geelong, a town struggling with 10,000 locally unemployed people.
Even worse was a comment from the federal leader of the Liberal Party, Tony Abbott. He accused the Labor Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, of engaging in "the false birthplace war".
I hope that was just an ill-thought, throwaway line. What worries me is this. Western countries once had what might be called an ethnic nationalism. But an ethnic nationalism is something that we are born into - it is predetermined rather than self-determined. It therefore violated the liberal idea that we are made free when we are autonomous and self-defining.
So it was replaced by a civic nationalism, in which a nation was tied together by a common citizenship and a shared commitment to liberal political values. That was a weaker form of national identity and it was always going to struggle to hold ground. Why? Because it still violated the liberal ideal of autonomy as it meant giving preference to people largely on the basis of a predetermined quality, namely where they were born.
As I noted in a recent post, a host of past Labor PMs have come out and rejected even a civic nationalism on the basis that it discriminates against those who aren't Australian citizens and that it discriminates on the "arbitrary" basis of birthplace.
So it's a bit ominous to hear a Liberal leader imply that birthplace shouldn't matter when it comes to jobs, and that those who are not Australian citizens and who were born elsewhere have an equal claim to job vacancies in Australia.
If Abbott means this, then he too has moved not just beyond a deeper ethnic nationalism, but beyond the civic nationalism that was supposed to replace it. It means that we have moved one step closer to a post-national consensus amongst the major parties.
If Australians are to have no more loyalty toward each other than to those who live dispersed throughout the world, then what does it mean anymore to be an Australian? It just becomes a descriptor of where you happen to live, rather than a meaningful description of belonging to a particular people.
And if the ruling elite has no more loyalty to those who are citizens here (let alone to their ethnic kin) than to those who are not citizens and who live elsewhere, then what is the basis of loyalty to the state?
And what is to stop a generation of young Australians from being left behind? If their own government has no particular concern for them, then who will?