Senator says borders should stay closed to prevent foreigners pushing down wages

One of Scott Morrison’s backbenchers says the international border should stay closed because foreign immigrants are bad for Australians’ wages.

Queensland LNP Senator Gerard Rennick also used a live television appearance to say he would “sit back and watch and see” how the vaccine rollout goes, directly undermining federal government pleas for the population to get their COVID-19 jabs.

Queensland LNP Senator Gerard Rennick appears on Sky News Australia.Credit:Sky News Australia

The government is battling a rise in vaccine hesitancy with just 3.69 million vaccine doses administered to date, well short of the government’s pledge of 4 million jabs by the end of March.

Around 40 million doses are required to fully vaccinate the eligible population and the government’s new goal is to have offered everyone a first jab by the end of the year, ahead of a gradual opening of the international border from mid-next year.

Senator Rennick rejected pressure on the government to speed up the vaccination rollout so that the border could reopen, saying it was better for local wage growth if “foreign immigrants” were kept out.

“I’m going to sit back and watch and see how it goes, that’s my view, I’m the 31 per cent,” Senator Rennick told Sky News Australia, referring to a recent poll conducted for this masthead showing almost one-third of Australians are unlikely to take up the jab.

“Even if we rolled out the vaccine perfectly … I still doubt that we would open the borders in a large way anyway because people aren’t ready for that.

“This idea that we’ve got to open the borders and let all the foreign immigrants come back in and push down wages and that, I’m looking forward to seeing wage growth actually come back.”

Shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers condemned Senator Rennick’s comments.

“Not content with stuffing up the vaccine rollout, now members of the government are trying to stuff up the borders too,” Mr Chalmers told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

“This is what’s wrong with these people, always playing politics and making excuses.

“What are workers and businesses in sensitive industries in Queensland and elsewhere to make of this incompetence?

“After eight years of attacks on wages, and eight years of wage stagnation, making a mess of vaccines is not a wages policy.”

Senator Rennick’s comments directly undermine Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt’s plea on Tuesday that anyone eligible should “come forwards and join the 3.7 million people that have been vaccinated”.

They also represent a significant departure from the government’s insistence that the closure of the international border, including the recent threat to fine and jail Australians who tried to return home from India, was based on medical advice rather than any stimulus effect they have on the domestic economy and wages.

Australia’s international borders are set to be closed for more than two years, separating families, decimating the international university sector and eliminating overseas tourism.

The border closures have also caused a backlog of between 30,000 and 40,000 Australians stuck outside the country who are trying to get home but are blocked by the cap system imposed by the national cabinet on quarantine spaces.

Business groups are warning of a chronic skills shortage because of the border closures locking out an estimated 174,000 migrants.

Australia’s unemployment rate fell to 5.5 per cent last week and the number of job vacancy advertisements are at record highs.

Deb Tellis from Free and Open Australia, which is challenging the international border closure at the UN Human Rights Committee, said Australia was founded on migration.

“Our economic recovery from COVID-19 is dependent on the talent of skilled migrants,” Ms Tellis said.

“Now in their absence, Australia is poised to post record losses – not just for the past 16 months, but for the foreseeable future as skilled migrants look abroad with Australia no longer being deemed viable.”

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