Australian jobs come first in mining plan: Gillard
The Australian Climate Change and Industry Minister, Greg Combet, says mining companies will have to make 'genuine efforts' to find Australian workers before they are allowed to bring in large numbers of foreign workers.
The government announced on Friday that it had approved the first Enterprise Migration Agreement.
The agreement will see 1,700 overseas workers brought in to work on mining magnate Gina Rinehart's Roy Hill mine in Western Australia's Pilbara region.
The plan has provoked outrage from unions and even some on Labor's backbench, but Prime Minister Julia Gillard has promised to put Australian jobs first.
"My concern here and the concern of the Labor government is always to put Australian jobs first," Ms Gillard said.
"The sheer size and scale of what's happening means we will need some foreign labour but we're working to make sure Aussies get jobs first."
Ms Gillard also says a "Jobs Board" will be created to give Australian workers information about jobs that are available.
Mr Combet says that will apply to the Roy Hill project.
"To make genuine efforts to get people...and if there are Australians available who want to work on this project then they've got to get the opportunity to work their first, and that's what this jobs board is about essentially," he said.
Ms Rinehart, Australia's richest woman, has long called for easier access to foreign temporary workers to help fill shortages.
The Roy Hill project is expected to dig out 55 million tonnes of iron ore a year for 20 years by the end of 2014.
It will hire 6,700 Australian workers during its three-year construction phase, but says it will need another 1,700 workers from overseas on 457 visas, where the positions cannot be filled locally.
Immigration Minister Chris Bowen says the project will have massive economic benefits.
"The government is committed to ensuring jobs arising from the project are filled locally," he said.
He says the company did not get all it wanted, and that another 10 to 30 projects are negotiating with the government for similar enterprise migration agreements.
But it has drawn an angry response from union leaders, who have accused the government of "sheer lunacy".
Australian Workers Union national secretary Paul Howes says it is bad news for Australian workers.
"Frankly, I just can't get my head around what political genius thought this was a good idea," he said.