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When in trouble, push the immigration button


It’s happened too many times to be a coincidence. In periods of political strife, coalition governments going back to John Howard have flicked the switch to focus on issues surrounding asylum seekers, immigration and national security.

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Under pressure to appease an increasingly disenchanted electorate flirting with a change a government, either directly or by way of a third-party protest vote, Malcolm Turnbull this week unveiled a two-pronged crackdown on immigration.

First up, the prime minister announced the 457 visa process for temporary foreign workers would be scrapped and replaced with a tighter regime. Two days later, it was tougher requirements for Australian citizenship.

“We are putting Australians and Australian jobs and Australian values and Australia’s national interest first,” he boasted.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton rejected suggestions the new arrangements for foreign workers were a knee-jerk reaction to increasing pressure from Labor and One Nation.

The government had been working on the issue for months, he insisted.

And it’s true, Dutton had targeted Bill Shorten over his handling of 457 visas during his time as employment minister, when annual numbers peaked at about 120,000.

The Opposition Leader, said Dutton, had allowed foreign workers into the country to flip burgers under a deal with fast-food employers, depriving young Australians a job.

But, given the Coalition has been in government for nearly four years, it sounded like a TV chef presenting “one I prepared earlier”.

The new laws were unveiled after a difficult pre-Easter week for the government, described by one former Liberal leader as an “embarrassing free-for-all”.

John Hewson was referring to the debacle over whether young people should be allowed to tap into their superannuation for a home deposit.

It seemed everyone on the government’s frontbench had an opinion about the idea and, worse, talked about it publicly.

It ditched all sense of unity and trashed the usual hush-hush approach to the May 9 budget.

The fiasco clearly didn’t do the government any favours, with the latest Essential Research poll showing Labor increasing an already healthy margin over the Coalition to eight percentage points.

Tackling housing affordability has been flagged as a key component of Treasurer Scott Morrison’s second budget.

But it’s becoming increasingly hazy what this will include given it is the states that largely govern land release for additional housing supply, while housing taxation like stamp duty is a state impost.

Unless the federal government goes back on its word, changing negative gearing for property investors is not an option, and neither is reintroduction of the first home owners grant for fear it would further fuel the housing price boom.

The package though will include the introduction of a “bond aggregator” as an intermediary to attract greater private sector investment into affordable community housing, similar to a process used in the UK.

Important as such cheap rental accommodation is, it will hardly have potential home buyers punching the air.

A few weeks ago a testy Morrison snapped at a press pack for repeatedly asking what impact his partially legislated 10-year business tax plan would have on the economy, arguing people in pubs weren’t talking about “econometric models”.

Unfortunately for the treasurer a “bond aggregator” awaits a similar response from voters.

Hewson argues it’s very bad politics to raise expectations beyond what you can deliver, and believes the government has created expectations of an instantaneous solution.

He wasn’t the only former Liberal leader offering an opinion about the Turnbull government.

Fresh from his annual “pollie peddle” charity bike ride, Tony Abbott relayed conversations he had on the road.

The people were sick of politicians who were more talk than action, especially ones who changed policies to suit their political convenience.

They also hated oppositions that oppose just to score political points, Abbott said.

That raised a few eyebrows coming from someone who was labelled “Dr No” when he was leader of the opposition.


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