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Monday, 26 November 2012
Page: 13313

Mr RANDALL (Canning) (16:00): I am pleased to speak on the Migration Amendment (Reform of Employer Sanctions) Bill 2012, because this bill seeks to impose an additional regulatory regime on employers who employ foreign nationals who are illegal or do not have work rights. We agree with that. That is common sense, and no-one in their right mind would disagree with that. In our opinion this bill goes too far and I will explain this as I go. The bill amends the Migration Act to alter criminal offence provisions and to create a new civil penalties regime with maximum fines of $49,500 for corporate entities and $9,900 for individuals in an infringement notice scheme. There is a whole lot of detail to the bill; I will not trawl over every bit, but the new requirements proposed by the bill are onerous, unnecessary and are in direct opposition to the coalition's commitment to reducing the regulatory burden and compliance costs on business. That is the crux of the matter. On this side of the parliament, we understand that business want government to get out of their way, make it easier for them and create a climate to operate in where they can actually turn a dollar and make a profit, because business are not going to employ anyone if they do not make a profit; they will go out of business and the worker will not have a job.

This bill adds to the already substantial regulatory burden imposed by this Labor government on employers who hire overseas workers; for example, those contained in the Migration Legislation Amendment (Worker Protection) Act 2008. This act provided DIAC with expanded powers to monitor and investigate possible non-compliance by sponsors and introduced new penalties et cetera. This was working quite well—and I will not go through the whole gamut of it because it is quite detailed. What the Labor party said was: 'Look, we don't think it goes far enough; we're going to engage Stephen Howells to conduct a review of this part of the Migration Act.'

In 2007 this act was brought in, and in 2010 they asked Stephen Howells to do an investigation; he reported in 2011. But the problem with Mr Howells's recommendations is that instead of having a common-sense approach to the numbers of people that have been found to be employed illegally or working without proper rights, he actually found that there were very few. In fact, in the whole of the work done beforehand—in 2008-09 the department located 11,428 unlawful non-citizens in Australia, and out of those only 990 were confirmed as working illegally. Mr Howells's report says, 'Yes, but it could be up to 100,000 people.' That is only anecdotal, and they do not have any figures to substantiate that. Even if it was, out of Australia's 11 million workers, on Mr Howells's own figures it is less than one per cent of workers. They would be far better off trying to do what they could to identify those working illegally than to put the onus on the poor old business. We know that, because of the language problems, there are a number of ethnic businesses, in particular, that employ people illegally. They say there could be 100,000 people here illegally who are being exploited by a restaurant or construction company that can get them cheaply because they do not have work rights. That is wrong and they should be prosecuted. But, on his own figures the numbers are so small. As a matter of principle, we in the coalition do not support government policy that shifts the administrative burden on to the employers. Where is the government's role in this? Where is the beefing up of the migration department?

Just to demonstrate how sad this is; Labor Party policy has increased red tape out of proportion since Labor has been in government. In fact, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry's national red-tape survey indicates that the extra compliance through red tape since the Labor Party has been in government is costing Australia an extra $1 billion a year. The ACCI survey states almost three quarters of businesses are spending more time on regulation than they were just two years ago. The financial costs of compliance are also rising. The survey of 870 businesses shows that 72 per cent spent more time on regulation, as I said, than they did two years ago, with 44 per cent spending between one to five hours a week, and 37 per cent spending more than five hours a week on this compliance activity.

The cost of compliance is also increasing, with 60 per cent of businesses saying they spend over $5,000 on compliance. According to parliamentary research, since late 2007—you know what happened after 2007, you got Kevin 07 and the fascinating election of Kevin Rudd and this Labor government—when Labor came to power, it has introduced more than 20,000 new items of regulation. This is the ACCI survey, not mine, not the Liberal Party's. Today, the survey no doubt reflects some of its impact. Just a month ago the World Economic Forum—to my learned friend across the chamber: if you do not like the ACCI, how about the World Economic Forum—revealed that Australia now ranked 96th in terms of burden of government regulation, compared with 68th when Labor came to power.

On independent figures, wherever you want to go, the multiplying factor of this compliance has affected productivity, which has fallen by 4.2 per cent since July 2007. Again, this coincides well with the election of a certain government. The government's so-called deregulation agenda is not addressing the underlying economic challenge of relative productivity. The government report not only failed to address the underlying economic challenges, but surprisingly indicated areas where they have introduced additional regulations. We know many of these recent regulatory examples such as the carbon tax and the mining tax. The mining tax has cost companies millions of dollars to regulate and implement and it did not raise one dollar for the government. It did not raise them any money but they are spending millions of dollars while mid-caps, juniors and everyone else are trying to comply. The government—

Honourable members interjecting

Mr RANDALL: This is certainly about the bill because it is about the compliance regime that this government has put on industry right across Australia. This is where we are going. As the learned member across the chamber asked about the bill, I will go further to the bill.

One of the compliance factors is the imposition of a mandatory training requirement for 457 visa holders. The government also introduced legislation which effectively meant that two per cent of an employer's payroll tax had to be spent on training if they had overseas or temporary overseas workers. This is a new thing. The 457 visas worked. We as the coalition do not say that everyone should have a 457 visa worker. I have been vocal in the party room—as my colleague from Brisbane will tell you—and I have got up there and said: Australian workers first—train our young kids. We should be training our young kids in Australia and upskilling them first. At the end of the day, every now and then you are going to find a situation where you need a specific set of skills, and these people are sourced quite often on temporary visas called 457s. Combined with the introduction of the temporary skills migration income threshold, the cost to Australian business of employing temporary overseas workers has become prohibitive.

I wish to bring to the attention of this House—and I alluded to this last year—one of the crazy things in my own electorate that this compliance did. Borrello Cheese in my electorate sought to bring in a specialised cheese maker. Borrello is very good at their specialty cheeses. It is a family-run and owned business by Vince and Teresa Borrello. They are a couple of people of Italian origin who came here and set up this marvellous boutique industry. They are famous for their bocconcini cheeses, which I am sure, you would know, Deputy Speaker Scott. They are beautiful with tomato and a bit of basil and a bit of drizzled balsamic vinegar. It is some of the nicest cheese you will come across. Because they have got the whole range of cheese there, they decided to mentor and upskill their workers. As none of them had been to any courses, they would get a specialist Italian cheese maker from Italy.

They had a lot of help in this because they were blocked all the way along. Even Nick Catania, former state Labor MP, was helping Vince and Teresa eventually find a Mr Pelati, an Italian cheese maker, whose qualifications were right. His English was correct, not to mention the fact that he was enthusiastic and keen to get on with the job to help the local people employed in that cheese factory grow the business.

Vince and Teresa did the right thing: complied with the visa, paid for his transport, medical costs, set-up costs et cetera. All of a sudden he got a letter from DIAC saying that he was going to have to leave the country. It was rather strange, because they could not understand why a junior officer from DIAC in Perth had said that Mr Pelati was going to have to leave the country.

It was not until I went to a senior case officer who was very good and explained the difficulties in this area. A Mr Robert Bailey explained what the difficulty was. We know that this is a roadblock that has been put in the way of people employing people, because of the infiltration and interference of unions who do not want to see any outside workers, particularly if they do not belong to one of their unions.

Mr Bailey from DIAC said, 'They've got to pay this levy.' He initially said it was a one per cent levy, which was going to cost $8,890—nearly $9,000—a year to have this cheese maker stay in Australia, but it had to go to a registered training organisation. There are no registered training organisations in Australia that have cheese makers—not one. So they had to find someone to give this money to. Lo and behold, they ran into another roadblock. It was not one per cent at all; it was two per cent of your payroll tax that had to be spent on training—not on the training of the workers in Mr Borrello's cheese factory; he had to find a registered training organisation in Australia that he could give this $18,000 to.

He eventually thought he had found somebody in Melbourne that might put his $18,000 towards training but, at the end of the day—

A government member: Couldn't they find anyone else?

Mr RANDALL: No, they could not find anyone suitable. Eventually, after the anger and the angst, Mr Pelati said, 'What's going on with this silly country of yours? I've come here to make cheese and you're in my way. You won't let me work.'

They eventually found a place at New Norcia near Gingin north of Perth and they got this windfall gain. When the training authority got the $18,000, they said, 'What's that for?' They said, 'We don't know. We just have to give it to someone, so we're going to give it to you.'

So they gave them $18,000. Mr Pelati got to stay, but here is the rub: Mr Pelati wanted to be paid well for his specific skills and he wanted a good salary, so they negotiated an above-award salary. Sorry, you cannot work unless you are on the industry award so he said, 'I'm not taking less. I'm leaving,' and he went back to Italy.

After all that, mess, thank you very much for your compliance and your interference, DIAC and everyone else, the Borrellos went back to making their own cheese and not having to pay more than the one-off $18,000. So the compliance and the interference that is involved in these sorts of regulations is unnecessary.

If you are chasing illegal workers, yes, fund DIAC to go and investigate and hunt them down properly but do not get in the way of business from doing a proper job of making a profit and employing people who want to grow the business and further culturally enhance something like the Borrellos were trying to do in this country. I rest my case.