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Thursday, 20 June 2013
Page: 6485


Mr BRIGGS (Mayo) (12:40): I rise to speak on the Migration Amendment (Temporary Sponsored Visas) Bill 2013 following the terrific contribution from the member for Hughes, who summarised the coalition's position very clearly. I will seek to add, the best way I can, to his contribution and to those of the other coalition members who have spoken in this debate.

This is a horrific piece of legislation. It is being driven through in the second-last week of the parliament, which is scheduled to end this time next week. Of course there are all sorts of shenanigans going on around the offices at the moment. Who knows how it will play out this time next week? This is an attempt to divert the Australian people from the real challenges that we have in our economy, the real cost of doing business. They are challenges that are really starting to drive some major negatives in our economy.

In South Australia we are seeing investment that should be going ahead being withdrawn. The most obvious example is the Olympic Dam project, which did not go ahead last year, and which, sadly, has been put on the backburner by BHP because the cost of doing business in Australia is now too high. Daily we see events in the manufacturing industry and in the car industry affecting South Australia's Holden plant. We saw the managing director of Holden Australia out there yesterday explaining that the costs of doing business in Australia are too high. Yet you see this government at the end of this term of parliament—it may be re-elected in 86 days if it gets that far; the Australian people have a choice in that time—seeking to push through legislation which will have a terribly detrimental effect on our economy.

If you go back to the genesis of this, it was some time ago when we were under the stewardship in the immigration portfolio of the member for McMahon. The member for McMahon approved a migration agreement under the Immigration Act relating to a proposed mining development in Western Australia, which was a company owned by Gina Rinehart, who some, not all, of those on the other side seek to demonise most days in this place—only some seek to demonise people who create wealth and opportunity in our country. Ms Rinehart's company sought a migration agreement to develop a very significant project in Western Australia, which—I could be wrong here—I understand has in recent days been wound back in scale because of the cost of doing business in Australia. We will lose those opportunities there because of that.

At the time when the migration agreement was sought—I am not in the government but I understand the negotiations for this migration agreement went on for some time with the then minister for resources, the member for Batman; the minister for immigration, the now member for McMahon; and the companies involved. When this was announced—I think it was a Friday at the end of a sitting week—it just happened to be a day that the ACTU was in town meeting with the Prime Minister. There was faux outrage everywhere. Faux outrage was on the menu in the Prime Minister's office that day. There was a series of meetings and much hand-wringing. How could the ministers sign up to such a terrible agreement to develop this resource body and create all this opportunity and wealth for our country? It was a terrible thing for them to bring all these workers in who were not available in Australia after all the testing had been done, after all the negotiations with the minister. It was not even to bring foreign workers in but to give them the ability to bring foreign workers in if they needed to.

I could be wrong, and I am happy to be corrected by members of the other side, but I think that is when this issue started to become the political issue that has now landed some 86 days prior to an election. The member for McMahon, when he was the minister, was extremely positive about the impact of the skilled migration program; he was, it is fair to say, a proponent of it. It is very interesting that these changes have been ushered in since the member for McMahon left the immigration portfolio, and not long after that he was not sacked but I think it is fair to say that if he had not handed in his resignation he would have had his commission withdrawn, given the events around the leadership issue in March. The member for McMahon's record in the immigration portfolio I would not argue has been a strong one. I did not agree with the member for McMahon breaking the promise not to have onshore detention facilities, including one in my electorate, as you well know, Mr Deputy Speaker. I was, and still am, quite disappointed that the member for McMahon broke that election commitment and that a facility was established at Inverbrackie after the last election.

But I think the member for McMahon is bigger than the campaign that is now being waged on these workers. And it is interesting that a former immigration minister who had carriage of this issue for a large part of this Labor government, certainly for the Gillard government, is silent when this bill is presented. Again you have to ask: why would that be? When the member for McMahon was the immigration minister at a time when the vast bulk, presumably, of the 10,000 'problems' with this system have developed, why would he not feel compelled to make a contribution in this debate? He may have made a contribution elsewhere but I have not seen it. I suspect it is because he thinks it is exactly what the member for Canning said in his contribution yesterday: it is about trying to divide Australians. It is trying to target a group for political purposes. Since many of those on the other side have for many years claimed that such activities happened under the coalition, this sits high on the hypocrisy scale.

From a South Australian perspective, the 457 program is very important, including for businesses in my electorate. For instance, there are meatworks in my electorate at Lobethal who use 457 workers and they are an extremely important part of that business. For that industry, which has struggled to attract skilled people within the country to operate abattoirs, it is a very important program indeed. I know those employers are very concerned about this attack on the 457 program. I have seen them in recent days and they are extremely concerned about what the government is doing.

But it is not just private sector employers who are big users of this program. It might shock you to know, Mr Deputy Speaker, who is the biggest user of 457 visas in South Australia. According to a story on the front page of The Australian on 5 April this year by Sarah Martin, a diligent reporter in Adelaide, the biggest user of 457s in South Australia is the South Australian Labor government. It is a bit odd, you would have thought, given this program is such a bad program and has been rorted so excessively, that a state government is the biggest user in South Australia and, for that matter, in Tasmania too. Interestingly, Tasmania also has a Labor government—in fact, a Labor-Green government. So the 457 program has obviously been rorted so badly the South Australian government thinks it is a good idea to get in on the act. Obviously that is what it is; maybe they are part of the rorting. The hypocrisy has been pointed out by numerous members in this debate and in question time in recent days. It is not enough for the Prime Minister herself to have a 457 visa worker as her so-called political adviser, if that is what you could call him; it is also state Labor governments who think using this program is a good idea.

It is a good idea in certain circumstances, because the protections around the system which have been in place for some time now—for many years, in fact—do work. They mean that if a worker cannot be found for a certain job after a company has gone through the required amount of diligence to find an available Australian worker then they can seek a relevant skilled person from elsewhere. If it is such an easy thing for companies to do, then why, after all the effort and the requirements and the costs associated with bringing people from overseas and having to pay them the same wages, the market rates, would it be in the employers' interests to rort the system? There is no justifiable or simple explanation for why all of a sudden, in the last few months leading up to an election, this has become a major challenge in the Australian employment market—except for one thing.

There is one group in the Australian economy who has consistently disliked the use of 457 visa workers. When I had some involvement with this in the former government, as an employed staff member in a Prime Minister's office, I found there was one group who was always opposed to the use of 457 workers. It has been mentioned in this place and it is the trade union movement. The trade union movement has been opposed to the use of 457 visas for a very long time. The CFMEU, the most militant of the unions, has been leading the campaign to demonise these workers for a very long time. They have been opposed to 457s for a very long time because the unions do not argue for economic growth anymore. There was a time in the past, when people like the member for Batman and the member for Hotham were involved in the trade union movement, when they did. But they do not argue for economic growth anymore; they argue for their internal interests. They argue for their members' interests, not for the broader economic interests of our country. They are for the insiders. They are not for growing our economy. They are for protecting what is there. That is their modus operandi. That is what this is all about.

Paul Howes, the not-so-faceless man, has just been on national television reassuring the world that he still has support for the Prime Minister. He has just put his head up—as if the Prime Minister's day could not get any worse; Paul Howes has found a way—and been on television telling the world that he still supports the Prime Minister. This is what it is all about. The minister for immigration was put in the portfolio because he has a very close relationship with the CFMEU, who the Prime Minister is extraordinarily reliant on for the continuation of her prime ministership.

That is exactly what this bill is about. This bill is not about economic reform. It is not about reducing the costs of doing business in our country. This bill is about the politics of the Labor leadership. This bill is about ensuring that the Prime Minister continues to have the support of the big union bosses who can influence those who have a vote in the Labor caucus. It will be very interesting to see whether that influence lasts for seven days because it might be one thing to have your preselection threatened when you are going to win your seat but it is another thing to have your preselection threatened when you might not have a seat at all.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr S Georganas ): Can I ask the member for Mayo to come back to debating the bill.

Mr BRIGGS: That is exactly what I am doing. I am debating: what is the intention of this bill? What is the reason for this bill and all? With all the 40-odd pieces of legislation still to pass this House of Representatives, why is this the No. 1 priority? It is not because of good economic reform. It is not because there is some startling problem in the employment market relating to 457 visa workers. The only problem in the employment market is the security that the Prime Minister has for her own job. She needs every protection that is in Bill Shorten's fair dismissal code in the next seven days, because this is a crude attempt to hold onto the prime ministership of Australia, which will do damage to our country, damage to our economy, is unnecessary and should be withdrawn before it passes the parliament. We do not support this. It is a bad piece of legislation.