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Wednesday, 16 August 2006
Page: 91

Senator BOSWELL (Leader of The Nationals in the Senate) (4:12 PM) —I listened very closely to Senator Ludwig and I did not think he made much sense at all. One of the reasons—and I think it is the basic reason—that we have to rely on 457 visas is that the economy of this nation has taken off. On top of that, the mining and minerals boom in Queensland and Western Australia has expanded to the point where you can walk in as a labourer and demand $100,000. Yes, you have to work maybe 10 or 15 days in a row, but then you might get 10 or 15 days off. This has sucked in all the skilled workers, and nowhere more than in North Queensland, where a person who drives a truck or is a skilled welder or carpenter can go and demand a job—not in a demanding way: people are begging them to take the jobs. We are seeing a migration of labour from the coastal towns like Mackay, Townsville and Cairns into the mines. When you walk around the engineering workshops in Townsville and see the people who make the mining gear and cars, you will find a number of them are on 457 visas.

Generally speaking, when you ask the employers what would happen without them, there is one answer: ‘We’d close down. Without these 457 workers we could not keep our business together.’ I can quote examples, name and verse, time and again, but it is more pronounced when you get to North Queensland. The reason we have had to fall back on 457 visas is that there is just no-one there to fill the jobs. We have an unemployment figure that is now under five per cent. Many of those who are under the five per cent do not want to work or are incapacitated. The economy has just sucked up so many skilled workers that there is a huge shortage. I would have thought, Senator Ludwig, that you would have got up and congratulated the government on their economic management and for sopping up all the unemployment, which was around 11 per cent when you left office. If you had been a bit fair you would have congratulated the government on the wonderful job they are doing in providing jobs for everyone in Australia. Let me tell you a little story from last week. Senator Ludwig, I am not sure whether you come from Charleville or Roma.

Senator Ludwig —I lived in Cunnamulla.

Senator BOSWELL —Cunnamulla; I was not far off. You will recall, because you are a western Queenslander, the town of Charleville. It relied heavily on wool. When the wool crash came in the early nineties, the whole town went into a tailspin. There were vacant shops, vacant houses and there was unemployment. It was terrible. The town was just holding on by its fingernails. Because necessity is the mother of invention and there were a number of feral goats around, the graziers decided that that was their last hope—they would have to farm the goats. From that developed an abattoir that employs 140 people.

Senator Ludwig, if you can give me the name of a meatworker who wants a job at award wages, he can be on the chain tomorrow. If he can get out to Charleville, he will be employed. The owner-manager of that abattoir has spent $14,000 in the last month trying to attract meatworkers, and he cannot. I declare my interest: I have a shareholding in an abattoir at Kilcoy. Kilcoy are employing 457 visa holders, as I believe everyone else is in the meatworks industry. Whether it is the banana industry or the meatworks, people are just flocking to the big money in the mining industry—and why shouldn’t they? Good luck to them. They are leaving vacancies behind and those vacancies are being filled by 457 people.

If those 457 visa holders were not allowed in Charleville, that meatworks could not operate. They would not be able to put 140 people on the floor. That meatworks in Charleville has twenty 457 visa holders. They have come from Vietnam, and they have been accepted by the town as part of the town. Their kids go to the Charleville high school and their wives are part of the community. The community has welcomed them because they know without them they would not have an abattoir that pulls I forget how many millions of dollars into the town of Charleville and it would be back to being broken down, the way it was immediately after the wool crash.

If those 457 visa holders think they are being exploited, they can go and get a job somewhere else. If they think that they are not being paid properly, they can go and get a job somewhere else. But they are paid the award wage and they are paid overtime and holiday pay. Anyone, including you, Senator Ludwig, who wants to go there would be welcomed. I am sure that they would be prepared to show you the books. That is just one example of how these 457 visas are helping rural and regional Australia. I believe you could almost do that sum over in Western Australia—and certainly around Queensland.

So, Senator Ludwig, what you are saying about the government is completely untrue. The government have done everything in their power to encourage people to get into trades. They have opened trades schools. But I am not going to blame the Labor government and the 13 years they were in office. People wanted their little darlings to have a university degree. They all thought everyone could go to university. Consequently, no-one took up trades. You were a second-class citizen if you were a tradie. Now you are one of the elite. Tradesmen have come into their own. They are sort of the new elite. They are the big money earners. You only have to stand by the boat ramp at Redland or Cleveland to see a boat worth $80,000 or $90,000 on a trailer pulled by a big four-wheel drive with ‘Fred Bloggs, Plumber’ painted on the side. Because he has the skills, he is earning big money. It is a question of supply and demand.

The 457 visas are terrific. Rural Australia wants them. When you get out into the smaller towns, the Vietnamese—or wherever else people come from—are accepted. They fit into the community. The community welcomes them. It is the only way we can sustain our productive industries, our meatworks or our haul-outs for cane. If you take those visas away, you will stall rural and regional Australia.

Therefore, I ask you to not simply get your riding instructions from the unions on AWAs and 457 visas. You come in here dutifully repeating the message that the union organisations give to you. But if you care to make yourself available for a week, Senator Ludwig, I would be more than happy to take you around and show you some factories so that you can see some of the benefits that 457 visas are giving to rural and regional Australia.