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Monday, 11 February 2013
Page: 728


Mr STEPHEN JONES (Throsby) (20:45): I welcome the debate and am enjoying the debate. It is at times confused. We have spent as much time on coal-seam gas as we did on EMAs. But it is always entertaining. What I find interesting about the proposition is that it has been brought before the House by the member of Melbourne—in goodwill—to restrict migration into this country of skilled workers needed in areas of workforce shortage. It follows hot on the heels of attempts by the member for Melbourne and others in his party to have effectively an uncapped refugee program in this country. We have a confused migration debate surrounding this particular issue.

I want to say a couple of things about the issue. I come from the electorate of Throsby in Illawarra, New South Wales; in my electorate one in four workers comes from somewhere else. If you walk down the main street of any suburb in my electorate on any day, you could hear Macedonian, Italian, Greek, Scottish, Irish and English accents, and that is before you get to the corner. They have all come to Australia in search of work and a better life. We are not unfamiliar with people coming to Australia, bringing their skills, their hopes and their wishes to this country, looking for a better life and opportunities in our workforce. There is nothing new about us bringing new migrant workers into this country.

It is equally true that there is deep unease within the community surrounding 457 visas and enterprise migration agreements. If you drill into the heart of the concerns about these two issues, it gets down to one simple proposition, which is that if we have both unemployment and job opportunities in this country then the job opportunities should be going to the people who are unemployed ahead of us bringing people in from other places.

Mr Katter: There are 200,000 in Queensland and 80,000 in WA.

Mr STEPHEN JONES: You have had your opportunity, Bob, and it was very entertaining. It was not on point, but it was very entertaining. The objective is to give Australians the first crack at a job, whether it is in the resource sector or anywhere else. That is a proposition that I wholeheartedly support.

The problem with the proposition is that it is misconceived on one particular point, which I will go to. It says that EMAs should not be used unless a job is advertised. The problem with that is that in most instances the job will not exist at the time that the enterprise migration agreement is struck, because an enterprise migration agreement is an agreement which is struck before a project actually starts. It is struck because a lot of these resource projects are getting up and going in remote parts of Australia where there is not a labour force. The history with many of these companies is that they find it very difficult to attract workers to those places. However, they have to attract finance for the project and they have to get their bankers all lined up and their planning all lined up. The one variable that they cannot get lined up in advance is their labour force. So the enterprise migration agreement is the one piece of the puzzle that can enable the project to get up and running. It is not a blank piece of paper, because all the enterprise migration agreements will have a set of conditions that say you cannot bring somebody in on a 457 visa unless you have met those conditions. One of those conditions is that there is nobody available to employ within Australia. I know from my experience that there have been circumstances where local workers have been overlooked in favour of other people, because I have had these people come into my office and talk to me about it. The problem is not with the enterprise migration agreement; it is with the compliance and the policing of the conditions within that agreement.

I would say that this bill is misconceived. It has a noble purpose. The noble purpose is to ensure that Australian workers are at the front of the queue, but I suggest that there may be better ways of achieving that than the legislation that is currently before the House.