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The Turnbull government's 457 visa scheme replacement should have made it easier for unskilled nannies from the Pacific Islands to be brought into Australia to help Australian women get back to work, says leading businesswoman Diane Smith-Gander.
Smith-Gander, a non-executive director of AGL Energy, Wesfarmers and Safe Work Australia, said the government should have provided an opportunity for nannies from Pacific Island nations to come to Australia to help address the childcare shortage.
As reported in April 2015, the government is funding a trial to subsidise 4000 nannies, which it says make sense for shift workers, but Labor is sceptical.
She said many countries use nannies from abroad, pointing to Filipino nannies working in Canada, Europe and Asia as an example.
“If we were to provide a mechanism for those workers to come to Australia in way that Filipino workers help out in [other] countries that could address the high cost of domestic childcare,” said Smith-Gander, who is also immediate past president of Chief Executive Women.
“I would have liked to have seen some consideration [in the changes to the 457 visa scheme] of where you might want [to] hire foreign workers to release Australian women to follow their careers.
“Women often have to park work while they are going through child rearing and it's a big loss to the economy.
“We know one of the biggest levers that we could pull to increase GDP in Australia is to get more women working and more older people working."
The Lowy Institute has previously proposed opening Australia to workers from Pacific nations including Fiji, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands as a way of easing some of the shortages predicted as a result of changes to the backpacker tax and as a way of helping workers from those nations far more powerfully than could foreign aid.
The Institute's report, The development benefits of expanding Pacific access to Australia's labour market, says allowing a relatively open market could boost the incomes of those who migrated by around $33 billion, “around 40 times Australia's current aid budget to the region”.
Allowing offshore nannies to come to Australia would also help ease childcare shortages in Australia and take pressure off government subsidies for child care.
The mid-year budget update released in December said that the number of children accessing subsidised child care is anticipated to grow by almost 300,000, from 1.7 million in 2016-17 to 2.0 million in 2019-20.
The Productivity Commission had recommended in its recent report into Australia's childcare system that parents who use qualified nannies to care for their children should be allowed to claim the taxpayer funded child care rebate.
Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott's “nannies pilot programme” was also designed to help women return to work after having children. But in December, the Turnbull government slashed the program's 3000 places to just 500, saving $170.4 million (US$127 million) over two years.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull this week scrapped the controversial 457 visa program and announced a stricter replacement for people wanting to work on short-term visas that includes tougher English language tests and at least two years of work experience and a mandatory police check.
Turnbull said the policy change would ensure “we are putting jobs first, we are putting Australians first”.
But Smith-Gander was not convinced it would see a surge in local jobs.
“Surely restricting supply of overseas workers isn't going to result in a sudden rush of Australians wanting these jobs,” she said.
But she agreed the 457 visa scheme needed a revamp and said it will make companies better prioritise who they hire.
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