Photo: David Nielsen / The Queensland Times
Photo: David Nielsen / The Queensland Times David Nielsen

'Two sides of the coin': Why Gladstone needs foreign workers

A BAN on 457 visa workers would be damaging to central Queensland farmers and tourism companies, according to Flynn MP Ken O'Dowd.

As Labor's leader Bill Shorten embarks on a regional tour speaking about creating "tougher rules" to enable Australian workers first dibs on jobs, Mr O'Dowd said the current system for 457 visas did not need an overhaul.

Mr Shorten's push has seen support stem from some surprising places including a Liberal National politician.

Federal member for Dawson George Christensen said "there is no need for the issuance of any further 457 foreign worker visas in our region" where unemployment was high.

But Mr O'Dowd, who won his seat by 1800 votes in July, said there were "two sides to the coin" when talking about 457 visa workers.

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"If we haven't got Australia workers then we need a fallback," he said.

"Speaking to the Biloela Meatworks, they told me any Australian who walks through the doors would get a job, but that is very rare."

GIVING A TOUR: Flynn MP Ken O'Dowd (right) shows Assistant Rural Health Minister David Gillespie around Biloela.
GIVING A TOUR: Flynn MP Ken O'Dowd (right) shows Assistant Rural Health Minister David Gillespie around Biloela. Andrew Thorpe

The Flynn member said Labor's federal election campaign targeted union workers and Australians seeking high-paying jobs like those at Gladstone's big industries.

Mr O'Dowd said the 457 visa campaign resonated with Gladstone residents after it was thrust in the public eye as construction started on the three Curtis Island LNG plants.

The Financial Review reported that half of Bechtel's 14,000 workers on the three projects were fly-in,-fly-out or on 457 visas.

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Bechtel says just 3% of its employees were on 457 visas during its employment peak of 14,500 workers. The 457 visa is a four-year work permit that allows Australian firms to hire foreign workers.

The company said of its 480 employees at the three sites, about 2% have 457 visas. It says that figure will be at or near 0% by the end of the year.

Mr O'Dowd said Labor's strong campaign on "Australia First" for jobs at this year's federal election hurt his results.

During his visit to Gladstone this month Bill Shorten said there were "too many scandals" in the visa system.

"When locals can't get work I can't see the case being made to bring in a whole lot of external or foreign guest workers," he said.

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