Abbott likens PM to Hanson in 457 attack

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott says Labor is trying to divide the nation over 457 visas. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen Tony Abbott on Pauline Hanson… She “set out to divide this country”. Photo: Simone De Peak

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has lectured Prime Minister Julia Gillard on what ”true love for this country” means, labelling her crackdown on skilled foreign workers as ”false patriotism”.

While accusing Ms Gillard of using class, gender, and now country of birth, to score political points he made a veiled reference to former senator Pauline Hanson who 15 years ago ”set out to divide this country”.

”We saw a member of this parliament set out to make perfectly decent Australians feel like strangers in their own country,” he said.

Mr Abbott said he never thought he would see the day when it was not just an independent member of parliament but the Prime Minister setting out to deliberately divide Australian from Australian to serve a political purpose.

”It is an embarrassment,” he said.

The rousing speech against the government’s tough new measures to tackle 457 visa abuse came as key independents crucial to the bill’s fate refused to say how they would vote.

NSW MP Rob Oakeshott confirmed on Thursday that he would oppose the measures – including rules forcing companies to prove they first tried to hire local workers – on the grounds current penalties for misuse were adequate.

The government needs to win over at least five of the seven crossbenchers to secure the passage of the controversial bill before the election.

But independent Tony Windsor said on Thursday that he was still working out how he would vote and former Liberal Peter Slipper also refused to declare his hand.

If the pair vote with Mr Oakeshott and the Coalition against the bill, it will fail.

In parliamentary debate on Thursday, Mr Abbott said he believed all MPs loved their nation ”but true love for this country is expressed by trying to unite us, not by setting out to divide us”.

”What this bill is, it’s false patriotism from a failing government and that’s why it should not be proceeded with,” he said.

Mr Abbott accused the government of demonising foreign workers, before he tried to turn the focus back onto asylum seeker boat arrivals by denouncing the ”border protection disaster” and ”illegal arrivals by boat”.

Unions have strongly backed the measures, which include new powers for Fair Work inspectors and new rules for employers to show they have tried to hire suitable local workers, for example by placing job ads.

But Mr Abbott said the government’s bill was troubling because it implied people who came to Australia to work and pay taxes were stealing local jobs.

”This is a contemptible and false suggestion,” he said.

”The people who came to this country to work and pay taxes from day one are not stealing our jobs; they are building our nation.”

The crackdown on 457 visa rorts has been a central part of the Gillard government’s election-year agenda and an attempt to reconnect with Labor’s working class base.

Business groups and the opposition accused Prime Minister Julia Gillard of xenophobia after she campaigned in western Sydney campaign in March with a vow to ”stop foreign workers being put at the front of the queue”.

Independent MP Craig Thomson, who had already flagged his support, said the Coalition’s record on asylum seekers meant the party’s claims about foreign workers were ”extraordinary”.

”We now have an opposition claiming the government is demonising foreign workers through the 457 visas process. I’m speechless,” said Mr Thomson, a former Labor MP.

”Here they are now, the friend of foreign workers.”

Mr Thomson said Australian workers should be given the benefit of the doubt.

”If that means a business has to go out and market test to see if there’s someone who can do the job, well terrific,” he said.

But Mr Oakeshott said businesses hiring people under the skilled foreign worker program already signed forms obligating them not to abuse the scheme.

Existing laws also included penalties for misuse including barring sponsors from hiring workers on 457 visas and thousands of dollars in fines.

Mr Oakeshott said when the government began its tough-talking rhetoric on the 457 visa program earlier this year, he asked for evidence of widespread rorting.

But he said figures showing that the uptake in 457 visas in certain industries was higher than employment growth was not evidence of broad misuse but rather lack of enforcement.

Mr Oakeshott questioned whether existing agencies were under-resourced.

”The [existing] powers are actually pretty good and pretty strong. What’s the problem with using them?” Mr Oakeshott said.

Mr Windsor told ABC TV on Thursday he still had not decided how he would vote and he could go either way following further talks with the government. Mr Slipper declined to comment.

Labor MP Janelle Saffin hit back at Coalition claims the labour market testing rules would introduce unnecessary red tape for business.

”It can never be a burden to protect Australian jobs. I just can’t understand how that can be a burden,” she said.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.