Much has been written here recently about Modern Monetary Theory (MMT), the job guarantee, structural deficits, fiscal statements, fiat currency and the like. But that, it turns out, is just the tip of the iceberg. There is also the neo-liberal ideology that drives our governments, the buffer-stock of unemployed so necessary, it seems, to keep wages growth in check, the fallacy of supply side economics and a host of other measures that most people don’t understand and shy away from for fear of appearing stupid.
Most of this was foreign to me except for the gold standard; I knew about that and well remember the day Richard Nixon made the announcement that the USA would no longer tie its currency to its gold reserves. I remember that the gold price was fixed at $US35.00 per ounce and Nixon abandoned that as well. But that story pretty much got lost or buried as Watergate began to encroach upon ‘Tricky Dick’s’ tenure in the White House.
But last Friday, listening to ABC Radio 774 in Melbourne with Jon Faine, there was a discussion raging over the 457 visa programme and as it progressed I quickly realised its proximity and relevance to the previously mentioned buffer-stock of unemployment. The 457 visa programme, as most people would know, is designed to enable a company to employ people from overseas on short term visas; people who have the necessary skills needed for particular work where the company cannot find an Australian citizen or permanent resident to fill the position.
It was heralded as analogous to plugging a gap in the wall; a short term fix. Interestingly, such a worker with the required skills did not have to be outside the country when the application was made. Importantly, they did need to have the skills required and be sponsored by an approved business for up to four years. Holders of 457 visas could bring their families and even change jobs after they arrived provided a new employer sponsored them. Even more interesting, there was no limit on the number of people a company could sponsor.
On Jon Faine’s programme last Friday, two particular callers alerted me to what might be described as a window to rorting on a grand scale. One caller decried the system because it allowed one applicant to be sponsored and employed as a truck driver. Just how the sponsoring company was able to convince the Department of Immigration and Citizenship that they could not find any citizen in Australia able to drive a truck was beyond both me and Jon Faine, but somehow they did.
The second caller alerted me to something even more sinister. He claimed that he had received calls from a person offering him $10,000 to sign a few application forms that would enable multiple 457 visas to be issued to persons unknown for which he (the caller) had no need.
Clearly, there is something wrong here. Notwithstanding the obvious fact that 457 visas are being issued to foreign workers when local workers could quite easily be found, i.e. truck drivers, it also looks suspiciously like it is being used to maintain a buffer-stock of unemployed in the true tradition of neo-liberal economics.
In February, the Abbott government quietly lifted the cap on business nominations for skilled migrants imposed by the former Labor government and undertook a review of the scheme.
Subsequent changes meant that businesses could increase the number of foreign workers above their initial application.
The Australian Industry Group claimed the change would help those businesses that were struggling to find highly skilled people, but clearly the move has the potential to impact on wages and conditions for Australian workers and leave foreign workers vulnerable to exploitation. Currently there are more than 90,000 foreign workers in Australia with 457 visas.
When we look at what is happening with 457 visas and overlay that upon the neo liberal economic platform one can see it fits quite neatly into its broader ideology and looks a lot more like a programme designed to maintain a buffer stock of unemployed than it is to help meet the sometime dubious requirements of business. It might seem to be only a small part of a much larger conspiracy, but a conspiracy nonetheless; a conspiracy that proponents of MMT could effectively highlight and expose.