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Seafarers hail High Court win on visas

AAP logoAAP 30/08/2016

Australian seafarers have hailed a High Court victory they say will protect local jobs on offshore oil and gas projects and curb the potential exploitation of foreign workers.

The High Court on Wednesday unanimously ruled against the federal government's decision to exempt companies from obtaining visas for foreign workers on vessels that are outside the redefined Australian migration zone.

Unions argued the move provided an incentive for companies to hire foreigners for cheaper wages and undercut safety standards and conditions.

The court found the immigration minister had exceeded his authority by exercising unrestrained powers.

Slater and Gordon lawyer Kathryn Presdee said foreigners hired by international shipping firms would not have been covered by Australia's Fair Work Act.

"It's not just about exploitation, it's a huge safety issue," she told AAP.

Maritime Union Australia spokesman Will Tracey described Employment Minister Michaelia Cash as shrill and the government's "chief job destroyer".

"It's disappointing this government continues to attack the jobs of Australian workers in the most lucrative industry in the country - offshore oil and gas industry," he told reporters, outside the court.

Australian Maritime Officers Union spokesman Tim Higgs said the government had massively overreached and the ruling would help preserve proper wages and conditions.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said the High Court's decision was disappointing.

It meant workers on vessels performing highly-specialised work now had to apply for and get a visa before being able to do any more work.

"This will add red tape, add costs to industry and reduce the competitiveness of what is one of Australia's biggest export earners," the minister said in a statement.

He accused Labor of putting the interests of its "union masters" ahead of the national economic interest in bringing in the requirement for visas in the first place.

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