Union bosses are fuming that the government has approved a scheme to allow mining magnate Gina Rinehart to bring in 1700 overseas guest workers for her Pilbara iron ore project, without making proper attempts to find local workers first.
Immigration Minister Chris Bowen told the National Press Club today that the government had approved the first Enterprise Migration Agreement - which allows "mega" resource projects to negotiate temporary migration needs up-front - and that it would be for Mrs Rinehart's $9.5 billion Roy Hill project in Western Australia.
"The project will create significant benefits to the Australia economy through its capital investments, export earnings and employment and training opportunities for Australians for decades," Mr Bowen said.
Hancock Prospecting's Roy Hill arm was the first company to apply for an EMA. It is believed the EMAs will stipulate a maximum number of positions that can be filled by migrant workers, who must have experience in their area of trade and be English-speaking.
But as Mr Bowen was addressing the Press Club, union bosses - who were in Canberra for a regular meeting on manufacturing with Prime Minister Julia Gillard - held a simultaneous press conference to express their anger at the decision.
ACTU secretary Dave Oliver said that home workers had been "overlooked" and called on Ms Gillard to intervene in the situation immediately.
"We think its a reprehensible situation," Mr Oliver said.
Mr Oliver said that job adds had not even been placed to try to find local workers.
Australian Workers Union national secretary Paul Howes called the move "sheer lunacy" in a week during which there had been significant job losses at Qantas and the Kurri Kurri aluminium smelter.
"I can't understand why this decision was made in the current climate," he said.
Mr Bowen said the government would establish a Jobs Board so that positions from the project were filled first with Australians and the recruitment of foreigners would occur only after genuine efforts to employ locals. He said the project would provide 2000 training places for Australians.
Treasurer Wayne Swan had been waging a public campaign against Australia's mining magnates - including Ms Rinehart - arguing they use their wealth to exert too much influence in public debate.
During his Press Club address today, Mr Bowen also announced a new visa for wealthy business people, which will fast-track applications for people who invest at least $5 million in Australia.
"While we are talking about a comparatively small number of people, their investments will offer a disproportionate boost to the Australian economy," Mr Bowen said.
The Immigration Minister also said the government wanted to select business migrants with a good track record of entrepreneurship.
Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said the new visa category was a "double standard" and came at the expense of reuniting family groups.
"Today's announcement shows Australia's migration program is being outsourced to big business at the expense of Australian families and workers," Senator Hanson-Young said.
"If you're going to fast-track people, why fast-track millionaires and not the family members of those already here who are so keen to bring their loved ones to Australia?"