MEMBER for Page Kevin Hogan has thrown his full support behind a move to offer 30,000 refugees visas if they live and work in regional New South Wales.
The Baird government is the first to sign up to the Federal Safe Haven Enterprise Scheme, which will allow refugees to live for five years in any part of the state other than Sydney, Wollongong and Newcastle.
Mr Hogan said concerns about job openings being taken by newcomers would be offset by population growth creating new jobs.
The Coffs-Clarence region's unemployment rate was at 7.5% in April - well above the state average of 6% and 6.1% for the country.
Richmond-Tweed had the second-highest jobless rate in NSW of 8.8%, behind only the Hunter Valley - not including Newcastle - at 11.8%.
"People moving to our regional communities means growing population and increased economic activity that benefits the whole community," Mr Hogan said.
"Population growth leads to employment growth in the area. There are also many seasonal opportunities people can take advantage of."
The allowance of 30,000 new visas in NSW alone would significantly boost Australia's refugee program, which granted visas to only 13,768 asylum seekers in 2012-13 - down from 20,019 the previous year.
The Tasmanian Government is already considering following NSW's lead and signing up.
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However, the plan has not been without critics. Federal Labor MP Tony Zappia said relaxed 457 visa laws would lead to exploitation of workers and less jobs for Australians.
"(It) should not be a default mechanism to replace Australian jobs, especially when unemployment is at a 14-year high and rising, when youth unemployment is in some places around 20% and when underemployment and numbers of people who have given up looking for work are at unacceptably high levels," he said.
Federal Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young has called for a "proper work-to-permanency pathway" to guarantee refugees could stay in Australia after five years if they kept their side of the bargain.
"If refugees stick by the rules of the new visa and agree to work in rural areas, where workers are needed, they should be guaranteed a permanent visa at the end," she said.
Refugee Council of Australia chief executive Paul Power applauded NSW for opening its arms to refugees, but said they needed security about their futures.
"All the evidence shows that people who have endured the immense challenges of fleeing persecution, and surviving their asylum claims before achieving refugee status, will need a secure environment to develop in," he said.
"The five years provided... will provide no surety to the recipients that this scheme will continue or upon expiration, that their visas will be renewed or that permanent residency pathways will actually be available."
But Mr Hogan was adamant refugees would be under the protection of Fair Work Australia and would not be simply chewed up and spat out once their labour was no longer needed.
"Taking advantage of regional visas means they are more likely to get a permanent visa," he said.
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