We should be wary of Trump-style rhetoric

A lot of fuss has been made about immigration policy in the past few days. The 457 visas will be scrapped, replaced, we’re told, by two slightly tougher versions. Eligible professions will be stripped back. The focus will be Australian jobs, Australian values, Australia first. 

Replace the word “Australian” with “America” and the rhetoric could be straight from Donald Trump’s populist playbook. And under the lightest analysis it’s already looking as hollow as Trump’s.

And locally, it all seems particularly irrelevant, designed to play on people’s fears and prejudices.

Despite our efforts on Wednesday, no one could tell us how many people were working on 457 visas in the Gilmore electorate. What we do know is the many professions taken from the list of eligible workers have little or no relevance across Australia. Who could resist chuckling at the news deer farmers were no longer eligible?

What wasn’t amusing was the inescapable suspicion the tinkering with immigration was a blunt attempt at road-testing an election slogan. Nor was it edifying to realise both sides of politics had been trafficking in the same sort of rhetoric.

The Coalition was a late starter, with its 457 visa announcement on Tuesday; Bill Shorten had floated the “Australia first” theme in January. And, of course, One Nation inflated its own sense of self-importance by claiming credit.

We see nothing wrong with tightening the 457 visa system to reflect current needs in an ever changing economic environment. What we do object to is the parroting of Donald Trump in selling the measure.

We cast our minds back to September 2015 when Malcolm Turnbull launched his leadership bid against Tony Abbott and told the gathered media Australia needed more than slogans. He was right, which makes it all the more disappointing he has been tempted to do exactly the same.

Our politicians should be chasing credibility rather than insulting the electorate’s intelligence by repeating ad nauseam meaningless catch-cries. A good start would be to present a policy that will equip Australians will the skills necessary to fill those jobs being taken by foreign workers.

Racing to the bottom of the populist fever swamp might get you into office but will not ensure good government. Look no further than the least popular new US president to see how that plays.