Murdoch blasts 'racist' Australia on skilled visas

SYDNEY (AFP) - Global media baron Rupert Murdoch on Tuesday accused the government of his native Australia of "disgraceful and racist" language over a crackdown on visas for skilled migrants.

The Australian-born News Corporation chief condemned the centre-left Labor government's rhetoric about the tightening of the 457-class skilled visa programme amid claims of abuse by employers and disadvantage to local workers.

"I think the way that they're talking about the 457 is pretty disgraceful and racist, but I'm a big one for encouraging immigration, I think that's the future," Murdoch told Sky News on a business visit to northern Australia.

"A mixture of people - just look at America - is just fantastic," he added.

Murdoch said there were "difficulties for generations of migrants sometimes if there are too many from one area, but they meld in a couple of generations and it leads to tremendous creativity in the community".

He said skilled migration was vital to economic growth in Australia's north, which is in the grip of a mining and resources boom with billions of dollars of investment slated for the coming years.

Assistant Treasurer David Bradbury rejected the remarks, saying there was "nothing racist about standing up for jobs and job opportunities for Australians".

There is little love lost between Murdoch's Australian operations News Limited and Prime Minister Julia Gillard's Labor government - ministers have accused his newspapers of campaigning for regime change.

News Limited has, in turn, been highly critical of the government's proposed media reforms which came in the wake of Britain's phone-hacking scandal.

Gillard's Labor has been criticised by the left-leaning Greens party, commentators and some business leaders for plans to crack down on 457s in an election year, accused of angling for the anti-immigration vote.

According to the immigration department, growth in 457 visas has significantly outstripped national employment growth, suggesting "the program is being increasingly driven by temporary visa holders seeking to remain in Australia instead of the demands of the Australian labour force".

The number of 457 visa holders expanded 21.5 per cent between February 2012 and February 2013 to 107,510.

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