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Wednesday, 28 November 2012
Page: 13820

Mr NEVILLE (HinklerThe Nationals Deputy Whip) (09:55): The Bundaberg-Childers district of my electorate of Hinkler is one of the leading horticultural areas of Australia. Not unexpectedly, transient and casual labour are important components of this industry. It has been brought to my attention that legitimate businesses and workers within the horticulture industry are suffering financial and competitive difficulties at the hands of illegal and disreputable harvesting contractors. While undoubtedly there are many legitimate and compliant harvesting contractors operating in this country, I am astounded that the relevant departments responsible for maintaining profitable small business and fair work practices have neglected their duties by not stamping out these illegal operators.

I am led to believe the Australian Taxation Office is well aware of the paperless society operating within the horticulture industry, yet to my knowledge no significant action has been taken to deter dubious operators from rorting the system. The amounts involved would be significant, to say nothing of the exploitation of workers. As a result of this inaction, workers are not being paid proper wages and superannuation entitlements, Australia is not collecting valuable taxation and legitimate growers and contractors are copping public rebuke and departmental flak. Of the three significant employers in my electorate that have entered into receivership over the past 18 months, all have suffered media attention because of unpaid wages and entitlements, yet the reality is that, in most of these cases, unpaid wages were in fact the responsibility of harvesting contractors. This form of behaviour is having a detrimental impact on regional tourism as it is creating a negative image of the district amongst international itinerant workers and backpackers.

Investigations in the past have been remiss in preventing unscrupulous operators from rorting the system, thus avoiding effective prosecution. This inaction is creating fertile ground for legal immigration. Sadly, this leads to the exploitation of foreign workers, who hide their identities behind the curtain of the paperless regime. I call for a doubling of government agency commitment. I believe there is a case for well-structured, cross-departmental agency taskforces and flying squads—and I mean flying squads. These groups should include the ATO, ASIC, Immigration and Fair Work, with appropriate police backup. We are dealing with sleazy people and crooks, and this practice needs to come to an end.