Fewer English tests, uncapped number of 457 visas high on agenda for Ai Group’s pre-budget submission

Australian business groups are preparing their pre-budget submissions, with hot topics including 457 visas, engagement with Asia and innovation already targeted by the Australian Industry Group.

The organisation released its submission today and called for a reduction in English language testing on foreign workers and for uncapped numbers of 457 visas to remain.

However, there is disagreement among small business groups when it comes to the 457 visa issue, with the Council of Small Businesses of Australia offering a slightly different solution.

The requests come as over the weekend the federal government announced a crackdown on foreign worker visas, with Immigration Minister Brendan O’Connor citing cases of abuse and rorting.

The AIG submission states the 457 program is “responsive to economic need”, with rates of foreign workers dropping during the global financial crisis, but picking up as the economy recovered.

“The 457 program is an important economic shock absorber that, while working well in its current form, could benefit from some improvements. Growth in 457 numbers should not be assumed to be a problem but instead an indicator of success,” the submission says.

It says restricting the number of visas would carry economic risk.

“AIG urges the Commonwealth Government to recognise that it would be counterproductive to make changes that would restrict the accessibility of the program even further than the already very significant restrictions introduced in 2009,” the submission says.

Employers fear a tightening of the visa scheme could lead to a reduction of skilled workers from overseas.

AIG also wants improved levels of collaboration between businesses and a range of innovation partners by rebalancing incentives and introducing a program of collaboration vouchers for SMEs.

“Despite the strength of Australia’s public research system, collaboration and networking have been cited as consistent weaknesses in the Australian innovation system.”

A recent report by the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research found only 2.4% of innovation-active businesses collaborate with universities and 4.4% with publicly funded research agencies.

AIG also wants an economy-wide Productivity Commission inquiry into regulations which support or hinder the use of digital technologies and networks.

Other areas the AIG submission touched upon included skills development through education, cutting the company tax rate to 25% and restoring the R&D tax cut for large businesses.

Chief executive of AIG, Innes Willox, said in a statement said these issues require policy attention, but there are other issues outside of the budget which should also be scrutinised.

“These policy areas require attention if Australia is to build a more productive, resilient and diverse economy,” he says.

Executive director of the Council of Small Businesses of Australia, Peter Strong, told SmartCompany COSBOA is also considering including recommendations regarding the 457 visa program in its submission.

“We don’t want the visas to be capped either. We have a skills shortage in Australia and there needs to be a different sort of review, not a response.

“But I think the English requirements are important. English skills are to function in Australian society and within the workplace, without the proper English skills there are often safety issues,” he says.

As well as working on its pre-budget submission, COSBOA has verbally pitched to the government an idea for a website to help small businesses by providing translation services.

“It’s the small traders that lead the way in creating good diplomacy between countries. This website would help with interpretation and provide basic assistance in translation,” Strong says.

COSBOA is also looking at budget recommendations regarding strengthening skills development with an emphasis on small business, supporting the disabled and encouraging them to consider starting a business and greater differentiation between ‘workers’ and the ‘self-employed’.



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