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Wednesday, 27 February 2013
Page: 1162


Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (17:39): Before the break at lunchtime we were discussing the Migration Amendment (Reform of Employer Sanctions) Bill 2012. In making my contribution I want to congratulate Senator Michaelia Cash, who led for our side and who delivered a very erudite and persuasive argument on why this bill should be opposed. For the reasons raised by Senator Cash, I will certainly be opposing the bill. I hope that, in this instance, the crossbench senators, including the Greens political party, agree with us that this bill is not worthy of support.

Before I speak further, I will make a comment on the general issue of immigration. Immigration, these days, is almost a swear word. The current government has completely lost control of immigration into this country and has completely lost control of our borders. Ms Gillard once famously said that every new boat represented another policy failure. Of course she said that during the Howard government when there were only a couple of boats coming in. Since that time, the boats just come nonstop. Ms Gillard was right in one respect—every boat is another policy failure of the Gillard government. It is difficult to enumerate all the policy failures of the Gillard government. It would take more than the 20 minutes I am allocated just to list them. On the issues of border security and illegal entry into our country, the Gillard government takes the cake.

Senator Sterle: This was a minister who got taken out by Howard because he was so incompetent.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: I hear a babble from Senator Sterle and I look forward to his contribution to this debate later on. I hope it is a little better than the contribution by the previous speaker, Senator Bilyk. My hearing is not all that good, but I kept hearing her talk about 'the Howes report' or the 'Howes inquiry'. I think she was referring—and perhaps she was saying this and I just did not hear it properly—to the Howells review. But she could have been talking about the Paul Howes review, because this is another instance where policy—a whole lot of new regulation—is being thrust upon the Australian public at the behest of the union movement, in which Mr Howes is a very important and significant person. When Mr Howes and Mr Bill Ludwig, from my state of Queensland, say something, the Labor Party and the government jump. If those union leaders want to make it hard for employers to employ foreign labour, the Gillard government will do exactly as they are told. This is a government run by faceless men, most of whom are outside parliament.

I wanted to make a contribution on this bill firstly because I have an aversion to needless regulation and secondly because it is desperately difficult—particularly in Northern Australia, where I come from and which I have coalition responsibility for—for employers to get labour at appropriate times to do appropriate work. I also have some issues to raise which relate to my role as chairman of the Senate Scrutiny of Bills Committee. While listening to Senator Bilyk speak, I was thinking that her speech had probably been written by Mr McTernan, Ms Gillard's new imported worker from Scotland. I wondered, whilst I was thinking about that, whether Mr McTernan is here under some sort of work visa. I can understand why that might be the case—clearly Ms Gillard cannot find anyone in Australia to give her decent advice on how to increase her popularity. I know the provisions for importing workers into Australia require you to try to get local experts first, and clearly Ms Gillard has tried and tried and tried—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Cameron ): Senator Macdonald, you should refer to the Prime Minister by her proper title?

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Ms Gillard?

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: The Prime Minister.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: I will call her the Prime Minister; I thought 'Ms Gillard' was acceptable. It is a strange ruling, Mr Acting Deputy President. I hear people here referring to Mr Tony Abbott and not to the Leader of the Opposition. I did not realise it was part of standing orders that we had to refer to Ms Gillard as the Prime Minister. I refer to her more often than not as the Labor leader because that is in fact what she is—the leader of a political party, masquerading as the leader of our nation. I am curious why this matter would be raised when I am talking about Mr McTernan, a man of Scottish descent—like you and I are, Mr Acting Deputy President; we are of slightly different generations but we both trace our forebears back to good old Bonnie Scotland. I wonder what sort of visa Mr McTernan is here on. It is something I must make some further inquiries into and try to work out why it is that the Labor leader could not find someone to advise her rather than having to import this so-called expertise from Scotland. It was good to see Mr McTernan building on his expertise of Western Sydney by slipping out there a couple of days ago to have a bit of a look around. This is just the sort of advice Ms Gillard needs, from some Scotsman who has to come in for the first time and have a look around Western Sydney so Ms Gillard can go there and conduct her political campaign this week.

Mr Acting Deputy President, you have directed me away from the topic of the debate. This bill just adds more regulation to Australian business. It is quite clear that since the Rudd-Gillard government—or should I say the Rudd-Prime Minister Gillard government; I will colloquially refer to the governments of both of them as the Rudd-Gillard government—took office in 2007 there have been 20,900 new regulations. You might recall that Mr Rudd—perhaps I should call him Mr Former Prime Minister Rudd; I will just call him Mr Rudd—made a pre-2007 election promise of capping the growth in regulations with a one in, one out policy. We have had 20,900 regulations introduced by the Labor government and how many have we had taken out? Do you think there would be 20,900, or perhaps 21,900, or perhaps 19,900? You would be wrong if you thought it might be any of those. A mere 104 regulations have gone out in spite of that promise—yet another Labor broken promise—to cap the growth of regulations with that one in, one out policy. Typical of Labor, it sounds brilliant—it talks the talk but, as with anything Labor ever promises, does it actually walk the walk?

It is a bad time for Australian governance because the people of Australia have been lied to so often by the current government that no longer do members of the general public take any notice or have any interest in any promises made by the Prime Minister, Ms Gillard, or any Labor politician. This promise about regulations is one such promise. This bill simply exacerbates the number of regulations in Australia.

As Senator Cash mentioned, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry National Red Tape Survey found that 73 per cent of businesses spend longer in complying with regulations than they did just two years ago, with one in 10 spending more than 20 hours per week dealing with red tape. How can Australia ever be competitive internationally when, first of all, we have the world's largest carbon tax, which nobody else pays, and we have 73 per cent of businesses spending more time on regulations than they did two years ago and one in 10 spending more than 20 hours per week in dealing with red tape? We compete against Asia and Europe. In Asia, they have no carbon tax at all—sorry, I think some provinces of China have a carbon tax of about 0.1 per cent. Australia has a $23 a tonne carbon tax, rising to $39 a tonne and eventually to $300 a tonne. We compete with Europe, which has a carbon price of whatever it is this week—take your pick between $5 and $10, but nowhere near $23 a tonne. In Australia as well we have this enormous regulatory burden which the bill before us today exacerbates.

The Productivity Commission has estimated that, should we be able to reduce unnecessary red tape, we could generate in additional GDP for Australia as much as $12 billion each year. In the World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness Report 2012-2013, in relation to the burden of government regulation, Australia ranked 96th—that is, down from 60th. So we have dropped 36 places out of the 144 countries surveyed. Clearly, Australia's ranking is well below the OECD average.

I now turn to the strict liability question, which interests me as a member and as chair of the Senate Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Bills Committee. The bill before us proposes a number of what are called strict liability offences. The particular issue does, in fact, change the onus of proof for many offences that are alleged in this particular area of legislation. The Scrutiny of Bills Committee has long taken the view that any use of strict or absolute liability should be properly justified. We in the committee say that this is because the use of strict liability provisions is generally neither fair nor useful—to subject people to criminal punishment for unintended actions or unforeseen consequences unless they have resulted from an unjustified risk.

It is pretty clear in this case that the decision of the government to make a number of offences strict liability offences is designed to enable the government to follow the dictates of its union masters and get more convictions. But if you look at the actual statistics on migration, you will see that the incidence of improper conduct is very small.

I referred earlier to Mr Howell's review, as did both Senator Cash and Senator Bilyk.

He said that there was a problem with a 'small number of employees and labour suppliers who persist in employing or referring non-citizens'. I make the point that he was talking about non-citizens and there is some difference between that description and the conclusions that Mr Howells made in part of his review.

Mr Howells indicated a small number of employees were involved. In any group of people you get a bad egg—you only have to look at the Labor Party and see my namesake in New South Wales, a Labor politician in New South Wales by the name Ian Macdonald—he is a bad egg and Mr Eddie Obeid is a bad egg. But you do not abolish the Labor Party just because there are three, four, five or six of them in jail for improper conduct or conduct that is not very honest. You do not abolish the Australian Labor Party if there is something that needs to be done, like looking at the union movement. You do not abolish the union movement simply because Mr Craig Thomson is proven by Fair Work Australia to have rorted his low-paid members' fees. You do not abolish the whole union movement for that; you do something that will make the union movement more accountable.

Similarly, in this particular bill before the chamber, there are a small number of bad eggs. What does the Labor government do at the behest, I suspect, of Mr Paul Howes, the AWU and the union movement generally? They bring out a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Senator Bilyk in her contribution said that it was difficult for the government to get the evidence because workers under the provision of the Migration Act did not want to give evidence. They did not want to be seen as complicit, though they were not too worried about the matters being investigated because, according to Senator Bilyk, they did not want to give evidence to the authorities.

But clearly, going back to Mr Howells's review, he said that they were a small number. Do you then impose upon every prospective employer in Australia these enormous new regulations and this aspect of strict liability? This is something that regrettably I see in the Scrutiny of Bills Committee is becoming all the more prevalent these days, when normal rights and obligations available to Australians are being curtailed by legislation such as this. This legislation involves strict liability, reversing the onus of proof and making it easier for big governments to get convictions when, in the normal course of English law, the law that has served Australia and indeed the Commonwealth so well over many years, you are altering that basic entitlement of freedom under the law.

For all of those reasons, particularly for the reason that Senator Cash so well enumerated at the beginning of this debate, I will be opposing this bill. I would encourage other senators to do the same.