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Monday, 18 March 2013
Page: 2300

Ms OWENS (Parramatta) (11:45): The Protecting Local Jobs (Regulating Enterprise Migration Agreements) Bill 2012 has been proposed by the member for Melbourne. I would say upfront that there are many things that the government and the proposer of the bill agree on, to such an extent that a number of the things that he is asking for are already in the existing legislation—such as the level of agreement. We would agree, for example, that local workers and Australian workers must come first in any enterprise migration agreement. We would agree that there should be training for Australians, for local workers. We would agree, in general, that skilled migration has contributed significantly to this country—that permanent skilled migration has been wonderful for Australia—but that we also, from time to time, need shorter-term contracts to fill peaks in demand for skills.

Enterprise migration agreements are really about the latter need. They are about times in our history where there is a need for a large increase in workers for relatively short periods of time—as you find, for example, in the construction phase of a large mining project. Those elements are already in the existing legislation. The member for Melbourne has asked that there be a requirement for employers to train and prioritise employment of locals, recently retrenched workers and other groups with high unemployment rates. That, of course, is already in the legislation. There is already a requirement that an EMA should be tabled in parliament, although I would say that currently only limited information is published relating to each EMA. This is because tabling the full agreement in parliament may actively discourage companies from seeking an EMA on the basis that commercially sensitive information would become publicly available.

We do have a number of disagreements with the member for Melbourne on the other elements of the bill, about how one might achieve the objectives of ensuring that Australian workers get the first go, and that local workers—Australian workers—be trained. That disagreement really relates to the kinds of circumstances in which enterprise migration agreements are entered into. We already have in Australia a form of agreement called a labour agreement, which relates to projects that are already underway and jobs that already exist. In cases like that, things like advertising jobs locally before you can go overseas make a great deal of sense because the jobs already actually exist.

In the case of enterprise migration agreements, we are talking about a particular kind of project—very large projects that are still in planning. In order to be eligible to request an EMA-resourced project, the company must be an Australian legal entity and have a capital expenditure of more than $2 billion and a peak workforce of more than 1,500 workers. These enterprise migration agreements are developed and entered into well before the large-scale project takes place. With these large projects, with enormous amounts of capital involved, the planning process is long and rigorous in order to reduce the period between the time the money first starts flowing out and the time the money first starts flowing back in again.

Central to the EMA program is that it mandates the recruitment and training of Australian workers. Companies wishing to request an EMA must include detailed requirements to satisfy their claimed need, in relation to labour market analysis, skills assessment, training expenditure and stakeholder consultation. An incredible amount of work and planning goes initially into determining what the skills available in Australia are, what training would be required, the number of workers that can be trained and the number of workers that will be brought in from overseas. That is all done well in advance, long before it would be possible to advertise those jobs. At the time of applying for an EMA, the jobs do not exist—they are in the future.

The enterprise migration agreements process is a rigorous one which balances the need for long-term projects to be able to proceed with the need to train Australian workers. It is already quite a balanced approach. I understand the reasons the member for Melbourne would want these changes to require the advertising of jobs, for example, but I say again: because the enterprise migration agreements are prospective and are entered into so far in advance, it would simply make the process unworkable. The bill should be opposed for those reasons. The enterprise migration agreement is already quite a balanced approach to a difficult problem. (Time expired)

Debate adjourned.