By Lexi Lachal

‘Talking about values is always an attempt first, at comforting some white minority who is feeling down and gets a bit high on thinking that they have something special called “values” and second, at hurting a non-white minority by making it feel to be lacking something.’

The Government has been busy this week announcing a ‘shakeup’ of their immigration policies. On Tuesday, Malcolm Turnbull revealed his proposal to replace 457 visas with a new system that would ‘put Australians first’. He declared the new measures would ensure Australian workers have priority for Australian jobs.

So what are 457 visas? The 457 is a business visa given to workers and their families to come to Australia for four years. This is what we mean when we talk about temporary skilled migration. The visas were designed to fill jobs that Australians are unable or unwilling to do and there is a list of eligible occupations, which ranges in skill and salary levels. In the 2015-16 financial year, Australia granted 85,611 457 visas making up less than 1% of the overall labour market.

The reforms propose to abolish the 457 and replace it with two ‘Temporary Skills Shortage Visas’ – a short term visa for up to two years with no pathway to permanent residency and a medium term visa of up to four years. Basically, the list of eligible occupations will shrink from 651 to 435 (goat farmers, antique dealers and sports umpires need not apply) for short term visas and will shrink further still for medium term. There will also be stricter English language testing, previous work experience requirements and labour market testing.

Are these changes a ‘shakeup’ of the current policy? Economics editor at the SMH, Peter Martin, says not really. He contends that Turnbull isn’t really abolishing 457s at all, just refining some conditions and changing the name. Peter Mares at Inside Story on the other hand says it’s more than just a rebranding exercise and it is actually making a complex system more complicated.

The 457 reveal was followed up on Thursday by the announcement of the new citizenship policy, which will make it harder to obtain Australian citizenship. New hurdles include:

  • Stricter English tests;
  • Longer wait times – applicants must have been a permanent resident for four years as opposed to one;
  • A new citizenship test that will reflect ‘Australian values’ and
  • A requirement that applicants ‘demonstrate integration into the community.’

The Refugee Council of Australia says that refugees will be the hardest hit by these changes. They argue that older refugees and those who’ve arrived from conflict zones with disrupted educations would find the new English requirements the most challenging and consequently be denied citizenship.

And what about ‘Australian values’, what might those be? Malcolm Turnbull for one doesn’t seem to have the foggiest. When asked a press conference, ‘could you give a summary of those things you believe all Australians should sign up to?’ his answer was faltering. University of Melbourne anthropology and social theory Professor Ghassan Hage told SBS News that the exercise of talking about Australian values has a long history in Australia, “And it is always a racist history: that is, talking about values is always an attempt first, at comforting some white minority who is feeling down and gets a bit high on thinking that they have something special called “values” and second, at hurting a non-white minority by making it feel to be lacking something.’

Perhaps a better question might be: what problem exactly are these reforms solving? We over at RAP are not too sure and it seems we’re in good company.