Less than 24 hours after the government’s shock scrapping of 457 visas, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton met with some of the newest Australians in Wagga.
Despite media clamouring for answers about immigration changes and the possible deportation of a seven-year-old local girl, Mr Dutton was welcomed by the Yazidi refugees.
Wagga’s newest residents celebrated their new year in peace and freedom for the first time in many years at Mount Austin Public School on Wednesday, with Yazidi spokesman Mazin Nawaf saying Wagga was a beautiful and welcoming place that the refugees were grateful to call their home.
It was the first time many of the families had stopped to recognise their traditional new year after fleeing Islamic State genocide in Iraq and Syria, with hundreds travelling to Wagga for the celebrations.
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton was warmly welcomed by the refugees, many of whom lined up to get a photo with their “saviour”. But it wasn’t all smooth sailing for the controversial politician.
Two of Wagga’s key Labor figures held signs that said “let them stay” with photos of the soon-to-be-deported Angela Aseka and her seven-year-old daughter Esperanca, but Mr Dutton said the family’s case would have to go before the courts first.
“As I understand in this individual case it has to go before the court to see what (it) says on the case and the facts,” Mr Dutton said.
“I can’t comment on that process, it’s an issue for the Administrative Appeals Tribunal to look at. If there is to be ministerial intervention it can’t come before that, (but) I am sensitive to community sentiment around this case.”
After dining with the Yazidis and welcoming them to Australia, the minister posed for photos before speaking to local and national media outside the school as the celebrations continued.
He said the 457 visa program was a “debacle” and criticised Opposition Leader Bill Shorten’s “last gasp” effort to protect it.
“We want to put Australian workers into Australian jobs,” Mr Dutton said.
“Particularly in areas where there is high youth unemployment, we want to make sure the training and support is there to help those young people into work.
“I just ask people to get the facts – if somebody is here on a 457 visa their conditions will be honoured… abbatoir workers won’t be affected.”
Wagga’s Teys plant and Griffith’s Baiada plant were tight-lipped on the government’s decision to scrap the skilled foreign worker visa, with both major employers issuing statements that said they would review details of the announcement.
NSW Farmers’ Association president Derek Schoen said the Turnbull Government’s decision to replace the 457 visa with a new Temporary Skill Shortage Visa must guarantee farmers were not negatively impacted.
“Agricultural enterprises rely on overseas workers when they are unable to fill skilled jobs with local workers,” Mr Schoen said.
“The new temporary skill shortage visa must not add additional hurdles to the process that allows farmers to fill jobs when they can’t get Australian workers.
“Any move that would see red tape added to the visa process could hamper farm productivity and have negative flow on effects for rural and regional economies.”