Startup News & Analysis

A “paper maché” solution: Labor slams government’s new visa options for lacking long-term viability

Dominic Powell /

Labor has slammed the government’s recently announced Global Talent Scheme visa as a “paper maché” solution for the tech industry’s skills shortage, saying the trial visa was rushed through and doesn’t achieve a long-term fix for the industry.

Speaking to StartupSmart, shadow minister for the digital economy Ed Husic said while he could understand the startup sector’s excitement for finally having an appropriate visa class to replace 457s, the Global Talent Scheme visa values “style over substance” and lacks real long-term solutions for the industry.

“After making the shock announcement 12 months ago that impacted the whole tech sector, the best the government could come up with after all the concerns that have been raised was a one-year pilot program,” Husic says.

“It’s not a fair dinkum set of changes, and it’s clearly been rushed through.”

The government revealed its new trial visa yesterday, which will allow startups to hire up to five candidates a year through the scheme, provided the hires have three years’ of relevant work experience in the role and are being paid at the market salary rate. Industry authorities will decide which companies are considered a “startup” and are therefore eligible.

Husic, along with shadow minister for innovation Kim Carr, shadow minister for employment Brendan O’Connor, and shadow minister for immigration Shayne Neumann released a joint statement claiming the government was “playing catch-up” after Labor revealed its SMART visa policy in May last year.

The SMART visa program is described as a four-year visa “with appropriate salary safeguards, for world leaders in Science, Medicine, Academia, Research and Technology”, allowing tech companies to hire the best and brightest in international talent to come to Australia, with a path to permanent residence for some workers.

“I’d be careful about placing too much faith in the capacity of a trial program to deal with the serious concerns about skill shortages that are throttling the startup sector,” Husic says.

“I think it’s a paper maché solution. The government has made it look like they’ve got a solution but in reality it’s hollow.”

Startups remain happy the policy is here

BlueChilli entrepreneur in residence Alan Jones believes the government’s visa policy has a lot of similarities to Labor’s visa plan, and tells StartupSmart both approaches are a “promising start” towards solving the skills shortage.

However, the long and the short of it is that the startup sector “doesn’t give a damn” about whose policy it is, says Jones. Companies are simply happy to have some clarity after the 457 visa changes were announced almost one year ago.

“It’s a promising start but we still don’t know very much detail on the cost and time needed to get someone into the country. My gut tells me the qualification requirements for the startup stream may be a bit too rigorous and may work out to be quite costly,” he says.

“Labor’s alternative proposal would take an even longer time to qualify for thanks to the focus on not losing any Australian jobs, but if we’re talking about a couple of thousand people coming to Australia every year it’s not really a significant impact on jobs for Australians.”

Jones is hoping to see thousands more skilled international people come to work at local startups, saying each one would create many more jobs locally. He’d like government to recognise the job-creating benefits of hiring more international workers, but notes it’s hard to change the perception thanks to the risk of political self-sabotage if a policy is perceived as not taking an “Australian-first” approach to visa policy.

“It’s hard to change the perception in the electorate because any time one party tells the truth, it’s too easy for for the opposing party to drum up fear and ignorance, so they’ll just take turns for many years,” he says.

“Maybe at some point one party will have such a lead on the other they’ll actually be able to implement bold policy, but its a problem now with such narrow margins politically.”

Husic believes its time for swift action on visa policy, saying it’s imperative to bring in global talent while continuing to work on developing local talent.

“Building local talent is going to take time, and we shouldn’t choke off the talent pipeline. To meet the current needs of the sector we need to walk and chew gum,” he says.

“Startups have been so desperate to see some movement on this so I can totally get why some would welcome it, but it’s a case of buyer beware – you’re not necessarily getting what you think you’ll be getting.”

NOW READ: Bill Gates offers solution to Australia’s tech skills shortage as local startups “suffocated” by visa changes, says Labor’s Ed Husic

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Dominic Powell

Dominic Powell is the lead reporter at StartupSmart.

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