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Wednesday, 15 February 2017
Page: 1092

Senator CASH (Western AustraliaMinister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service, Minister for Employment and Minister for Women) (21:24): Thank you, Senator Cameron, for moving those amendments. The government will not be supporting either of the amendments. In relation to the amendment on sheet 8057, and clause (2G)(a) in relation to the engagement of apprentices, we have already discussed that on numerous occasions tonight but I would like to reaffirm for the record that the code does not prevent or restrict the employment of apprentices or trainees—in fact, it does the opposite. Thanks to the crossbench, who asked us to insert this, which we did, the code encourages the employment of apprentices and trainees. The note to clause 11 (3)(a) states:

this does not prevent the inclusion of clauses in an enterprise agreement that encourage the employment of apprentices.

Further, as a result of other amendments proposed by the crossbench last year in the original debate, the code at clause 24(2)(d) and (e) also requires companies when tendering:

(d) to demonstrate a positive commitment to the provision of appropriate training and skill development for their workforce. Such commitment may be evidenced by compliance with any state or territory government building training policies and supporting the delivery of nationally endorsed building and construction competencies; and

(e) include details of the number of current apprentice and trainee employees and the number and classes of persons that hold visas under the Migration Act 1958 that are engaged by the respondent, and that are intended to be engaged by the respondent to undertake the Commonwealth funded building work;

As, again, we have already canvassed in detail throughout the committee stage tonight, the code simply prevents a rigid ratio of apprentices or trainees being imposed on every building contractor regardless of their size or ability to accommodate them.

In relation to the amendment proposed by clause (2G)(b)(i) and (ii), engagement of workers lawfully entitled to work in Australia, again amendments in relation to this particular provision were passed by the Senate last year. I would hasten to add, though, it is already a requirement under the Migration Act 1958 that employers ensure that they only engage workers who are lawfully permitted to work in Australia. That is the law in Australia—people have to be lawfully permitted to work here. That requirement is reinforced by the code, which at clause 9(4) requires an employer to comply with its obligations under the Migration Act. The breach of an obligation under the Building Code—this is very, very serious—could lead to an employer being banned from undertaking Commonwealth funded building work. Further, the Building Code contains provisions requiring an employer, before engaging a person who is not an Australian citizen or permanent resident, to demonstrate that no Australian citizen or Australian permanent resident is suitable for the job.

In relation to the amendment proposed at (2G)(b)(iii), foreign workers to be made redundant before Australian workers—talk about legislation on the rush—if people agree to this clause tonight—and my advice to the committee would be not to—on a reading of it, it would fail to distinguish between involuntary and voluntary redundancies. Most companies offer voluntary redundancies before they go down the path of involuntary redundancies. This clause would have the perverse effect of allowing foreign workers access to lucrative voluntary redundancy provisions over any Australian worker. In relation to clause (2G)(d), I am going to get a little political. The clause itself is unnecessary. There is nothing in the Building Code 2016 that would prevent the inclusion of a clause in an enterprise agreement that permits the employer to use Australian made protective clothing.

I just want to highlight—because we are on broadcast tonight—the absolute hypocrisy of the Labor Party in moving this amendment and the CFMEU in demanding it. We have debated this previously in the chamber. The CFMEU's cap—where do we all think this little baby is made? Let us have a look at the label: made in China. What an absolute disgrace that you can come into this place and demand something of others which, quite frankly, is allowed—

The CHAIR: Order! Minister, you understand the standing orders around props. Please continue.

Senator CASH: I think the point is made. In relation to the amendment proposed by clause 2G(e), asbestos safety training, again, this clause is unnecessary. There is nothing in the 2016 Building Code that would prevent the inclusion of a clause in an enterprise agreement that commits the employer to arranging for asbestos training awareness for its workers. In fact, as a result of the fantastic work members of the crossbench did last year, clause 9(3) of the code actually specifically requires companies to comply with work, health and safety laws, and specifically safety training requirements and asbestos safety training.

A further amendment has been moved and that is on sheet 8058. In relation to this particular amendment, again, we will be opposing it because it is unnecessary. Clause 6A of the Building Code clearly already provides for exemptions for essential service providers. Clause 6A, 'Exemption for essential service providers'—such exemptions can therefore already be granted. But this is the interesting aspect of this particular amendment because it very much does booby trap what we are trying to do tonight.

Under this amendment, the exclusion would actually apply to an entire company. So you could have a situation where a multibillion dollar conglomerate could be contracted to do one job on a power station but the majority of the company actually undertakes construction work. Under this amendment, the entire company is exempt from the Building Code. If this is passed, it is yet again just another way to undermine the Building Code by creating a backdoor avoidance measure. But in any event, clause 6A of the Building Code itself actually has a clause which provides exemptions for essential service providers.