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Tuesday, 27 November 2012
Page: 13596


Mr BOWEN (McMahonMinister for Immigration and Citizenship) (16:31): It is my pleasure to sum up this debate and to thank all honourable members for their contribution. However, I do have to correct a number of falsehoods and fallacies peddled by the honourable members who spoke opposite. Despite the contribution of several of their speakers, this bill does not, as those opposite would have you believe, create a new requirement on business, create any further obligations on business or create any red tape for business that does not currently already exist. What this bill does do is amend the Migration Act to create a graduated series of tiers for infringement notices, non-fault civil penalty provisions and non-aggravated and aggravated criminal offences—the employer sanctions provisions. This is all about providing the Department of Immigration and Citizenship with the necessary tools to make sure that people who are working illegally and employers who are hiring illegally can be dealt with under the law.

This set of measures was recommended to the Howard government many years ago, and it was rejected by the Howard government. This government commissioned Mr Stephen Howells to review the act, and he made a series of recommendations which this bill reflects. The Howells review is a very good one, and although the bill is about to pass I would nevertheless recommend it to those honourable members who have not read it—which I suspect is most honourable members opposite, because if they had read it then they would not have made the silly contributions that they made in this debate. The Howells review goes through the very serious issues of illegal work in Australia. It goes through some of the links to organised crime. It goes through some of the exploitation and underpayment of workers that occurs. Illegal work in Australia is a serious issue. It is very true that it is a very small minority of employees and employers who engage in this, but nevertheless it is serious.

This is an opposition which talks tough when it comes to so-called illegal immigration and which goes out there and beats its chest when it suits it about certain forms of migration, but where you have frankly much larger numbers of employees working illegally, whether they be visa overstayers or people working in breach of visa conditions, the opposition is struck dumb. More than being struck dumb, it wilfully opposes this legislation, trying to stop the government and the Department of Immigration and Citizenship having the ability to successfully prosecute employers who wilfully ignore their responsibilities. Checking to see if somebody is a legal worker in Australia is not an onerous responsibility. The Department of Immigration and Citizenship has the VEVO system, which works well and enables employers to check quite easily whether somebody is entitled to work in this country. Yet this opposition stands to oppose a bill which makes hiring illegal workers and exploiting illegal workers more difficult for employers by making it easier to prosecute.

I stress: there is not one extra requirement on employers, not one piece of red tape, not one process that employers have to go through. 'Just follow the law and don't hire people illegally.' That is what the law currently says. That is what the law said yesterday. It is what the law will say tomorrow. It is what the law will say after this bill passes the Senate. Yet, we see this opposition opposing this legislation which is hypocrisy at its worst. They are happy to issue press releases on a daily basis about illegal migration to Australia, but when it actually comes to an opportunity to do something about people working illegally in Australia—illegal migrants who are working in breach of their visa conditions or after their visa has expired—they choose to do nothing. And they choose to do worse than nothing: they choose to oppose the government's bill.

When I first announced this, the shadow immigration minister said, 'The government will have no problems with us on this bill.' Something changed on the way to Parliament House. I am not sure what changed, but what I am sure of is their position is illogical and hypocritical, and it underlines their cheap and opportunistic approach to all these matters and their complete refusal to engage in matters of substance.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

Ordered that this bill be reported to the House without amendment.

Sitting suspended from 16:37 to 16:57