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Shorten says axing 457 visa a con job

Bill Shorten has labelled as a "con job" the Turnbull government's decision to scrap the 457 visa program and replace it with two new foreign worker visas.

The Labor leader hit out at Malcolm Turnbull's "cosmetic" announcement, questioning what impact the changes will have.

"I'm sceptical that Mr Turnbull's crackdown is actually a con job and it will make no real difference," he told reporters on the NSW Central Coast.

Labor has released an analysis showing just 8.6 per cent of foreign workers on a 457 visa are working in occupations that would be excluded under the new visa system.

Of the roughly 200 jobs being cut from the eligible occupations list, 18 have not been used once in the past decade. Among these jobs are turf growers, deer farmers, homeopaths and detectives.

Another 46 occupations haven't been granted a visa once in the past year, including antique dealers, park rangers, funeral directors and golfers.

Mr Shorten said he backs reforms to 457 visas, but not just a category name-change.

"That's just shifting deck chairs on the proverbial sinking ship."

Mr Turnbull was out defending the new two-year and four-year visas on Wednesday, warning the labour market testing requirements would be rigorously policed.

Employers who fail to meet requirements, including advertising jobs over six months, would be named and shamed.

"Where employers breach their obligations, then they won't be able to get further people in under visas," Mr Turnbull told ABC radio.

The prime minister couldn't say how many more jobs would be available to Australians when the new scheme starts.

There are 95,000 workers on 457 visas at the moment, comprising less than one per cent of the workforce.

"What we want to make sure is where there are long and enduring skills shortages in Australia, that Australians are being trained to do that work."

Employers who hire foreign workers will have to contribute to a new training fund to support apprenticeships and traineeships.

Under the government's plan, the 457 visa will be replaced initially by a new temporary two-year visa that won't be a pathway to permanent residency.

A second four-year visa will require a high standard of English language and a criminal check.

A list of 650 occupations that now qualify for a temporary visa will be cut by 200 and applicants must have previous work experience.

The co-founder of successful technology company Atlassian, Mike Cannon-Brookes, said 457 visas were essential, telling News Corp Australia anything that makes bridging the talent gap more difficult is bad for the country.

But Immigration Minister Peter Dutton questioned Atlassian's role in the local market.

"Are they going into schools looking for young kids to go and work in jobs? Are they employing mature aged workers who have found themselves out of a job elsewhere?" he said on the Nine Network.

Australian Industry Group chief Innes Willox said the existing 457 visa system was opaque and open to abuse, and he hoped the new scheme would be more transparent.

But he expected some businesses would end up paying more.

© AAP 2017

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