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13 May 2016
Edited by Sanwar Ali
Written by Daniel Waldron and Sanwar Ali
Australia's Labor Party is being warned that offshore oil rigs could be at risk should changes to foreign worker visas, such as the 400 and 457 visas, go ahead. In Parliament on May 2nd, 2016, the Labor Party put forward proposals to cancel the visas of foreign workers in the oil and gas industry.
According to comments published in The Australian, those opposed to the proposals say that cancelling the visas of foreign workers could result in the 'shut down of critical parts of the industry sector, costing hundreds of millions and inflicting substantial reputational damage on Australia.'
However, Labor Senator, Kim Carr said that he planned to proceed with a disallowance motion, under the Legislative Instruments Act 2003 (LIA). A disallowance motion is an action that can result in changes in the law.
If successful, Carr's disallowance motion would result in facilities such as oil and drilling rigs being unable to use foreign workers on highly skilled 400 or 457 visas. Senator Carr said: "We'll proceed with the disallowance motion because there's been far too many abuses of the 457 visa regime."
With over $200 billion worth of projects currently in operation or due to start, the offshore oil and gas sector fears that Senator Carr's disallowance motion will result in costly delays to extraction, exploration and construction activities.
Carr's disallowance motion comes at a time when the Maritime Union of Australia, an organisation that represents over 10,000 of Australia's sea workers, is pursuing a High Court challenge to oppose government visa proposals in the oil and gas sector. Government plans include a 'ministerial exemption of vessels from Australia's migrant zone', according to The Australian.
Plans to expel overseas workers from the industry sector follow a fierce campaign launched by the Labor Party and a number of unions in 2015, opposing the labour provisions in the milestone China free-trade deal, which saw labour-market testing provisions lifted and the mandatory skills assessment being scrapped.
Steve Knott, the head of the Australian Mines and Metals Association, recently wrote to Richard Marles, immigration spokesman for the opposition, warning him that the disallowance motion would spark an 'imminent crisis' should it gain support from the Senate.
In the letter, acquired by The Australian, Mr Knott stated that preventing the sector from using overseas personnel will result in delays, damage Australia's international reputation, force domestic drill crews to stop work and lead to rigs leaving the country altogether.
Knott wrote: "Every one of the six or seven offshore drill rigs that are currently operating off the coast of Australia would have several international expats on board under 400 or 457 visas. These are key senior people who travel around the world with the rig. "The cost of running each rig is in the realm of $1 million a day."
He added: "If those senior personnel are not able to work because the regulation has been disallowed, the junior Australian drill crew cannot work either and they would have to be stood down. It would be impossible to get an Australian worker to work those rigs and the rigs would have to leave Australia."
The letter written by Knott, copied to Bill Shorten – the leader of the Labor Party – also refers to a 'procedural issue' in Parliament, which he argues 'heightens the urgency of the situation and the potential damage.'
Knott warns that 'by disallowing the Migration Amendment (Offshore Resources Activity) Regulation of 2015, the key parliamentary instrument which specifies appropriate visas for foreign workers, parliament would effectively be washing its hands of the issue.'
He argues that because a regulation disallowed by parliament can only be resubmitted after a six-month duration, the 'government's hands will be tied' and will leave 'no scope to provide work rights and certainty.'
Peter Dutton, Australia's Immigration Minister, described the Labor Party's actions to disallow the regulation as 'completely irresponsible.'
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