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Thursday, 2 June 1994
Page: 1263


Senator MURPHY (6.43 p.m.) —Because of my previous experience in the shearing industry, I want to say a few words on the report of the Standing Committee on Rural and Regional Affairs on this topic. When the committee conducted its inquiry into such a difficult area it found it very difficult to find the sort of evidence necessary to prove the claims of the union, the workers involved, and certainly of Australian shearers. I know from experience that the claims of the union and the shearers are very true.

   There has been a consistent problem over many years with New Zealand shearers, who primarily operate in the south-east of Western Australia. In many instances people were able to work under bogus names and probably be paid cash.


Senator Panizza —How is the farmer to claim his deductions?


Senator MURPHY —I would have thought that Senator Panizza would have a reasonable idea about that.


Senator Panizza —No, I don't.


Senator MURPHY —If Senator Panizza does not know, then I will not tell him.


Senator Panizza —If you are making imputations, I repeat that I don't know.


Senator MURPHY —I did not make any imputation. I said that I thought Senator Panizza would probably know about that. I know that before the tax file number was introduced shearers could go and work for an employer, and because of the itinerant nature of the work be taxed at a much lower rate because they were not in employment for a long period. That also was due to the seasonal nature of shearing. It was quite easy for New Zealand shearers, and even some Australian shearers, if shearing in a block of two or three months to earn substantial amounts of money and then be taxed at a lower rate because they were then out of work for two or three months.


Senator Panizza —It is a 15 per cent flat rate.


Senator MURPHY —That is right. It is still very easy for shearers to come in under bogus names and not necessarily pay the right amount of tax. In this industry there are very many ways in which tax can be avoided. I suggest that the people directly involved in the industry, particularly the shearers, are aware of some of the opportunities to avoid tax and as a result they have been exploited by shearers from outside this country, particularly New Zealand shearers.

  Unfortunately, we are not going to get people to come forward to give evidence to a committee seeking to identify that sort of problem because such witnesses could implicate themselves. Nor are graziers willing to come forward. I think the government's effort to ensure that the NFF enters into discussions with the AWU with regard to award matters is a worthwhile step. Whether or not it will work will remain to be seen. I think the government must continue to monitor the situation. If we are looking at protecting the employment of Australians in general, then monitoring is essential.

  I think Senator Panizza and Senator Crane might be interested to know that on four or five occasions in the past 10 years the NFF has sought to deny shearers national wage increases. The federation has an application before the IRC to reduce shearing rates and to take away the 2 1/2 per cent national wage increase. I fear that the cooperation between the NFF and the shearers and unions will not necessarily do anything to solve this problem. It is no good saying one thing and meaning another. It is unfortunate that the committee could not get the evidence to support the claims made. I know from personal experience that the problem exists.

  I hope the government will continue to monitor the situation so that the problem does not get worse. One of the problems is that there is no recognition of shearing as a trade. People do not get a certificate or accredited when they become shearers even though it is a very skilful line of work. Whether or not the shearer performs correctly can determine the worth of a woolgrower's clip. As a result of this report, I hope that the government will continues to monitor progress in the industry and keep an eye on what is happening.

  The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Childs)—Order! The time for the debate has expired.