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Wednesday, 15 February 2017
Page: 987

Workplace Relations


Senator FARRELL (South AustraliaDeputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (14:46): My question is to the Minister for Employment, Senator Cash. I refer to recent reports revealing that Domino's franchisees have engaged in widespread underpayment of workers and, in some cases, visa fraud. Why in the eight months and the eight parliamentary sitting weeks since the 2 July election has the government failed to introduce legislation to protect workers across Australia from systematic exploitation such as that seen in Domino's and 7-Eleven?


Senator CASH (Western AustraliaMinister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service, Minister for Employment and Minister for Women) (14:47): Thank you, Senator Farrell, for the question. Let me make it very, very clear—and, I have to say, I would expect that there would be consensus on this within this chamber—employers who exploit workers should be under absolutely no illusion: this government will not tolerate the exploitation of workers. In relation to your specific question, you will be aware that the government intends to introduce its robust legislation in relation to stopping the exploitation of workers very shortly. I look forward to the support of those opposite in relation to this legislation.

In terms of the action the government has taken since first being elected to office—not recently, but in 2013—we have done several things to ensure that we tackle the issue of exploitation. In six years those on the other side failed to take one step or introduce a policy that would tackle exploitation. In fact, when the current Leader of the Opposition, Mr Shorten, was the relevant minister, do you know what he did, Mr President? He slashed the funding of the Fair Work Ombudsman by 17 per cent, from $150 million to $124 million. But he actually went further than that: he cut their staff by 20 per cent, from 900 to 723. This government on the other hand has taken several positive policy steps to ensure that the exploitation of vulnerable workers is addressed. But I look forward to, in a weeks time, getting the agreement of those opposite to support our strong, robust policy. (Time expired)

The PRESIDENT: Senator Farrell, a supplementary question.



Senator FARRELL (South AustraliaDeputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (14:49): Given the minister has just confirmed that the ministerial working group was established some 489 days ago, why has the government delayed taking any meaningful action to prevent exploitation of these workers in Australia?


Senator CASH (Western AustraliaMinister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service, Minister for Employment and Minister for Women) (14:49): I completely reject the premise of your question, Senator Farrell. As I stated in answer to your primary question, this government has taken a number of steps to address the exploitation of migrant workers. In particular, I look forward to the strident support of those opposite when, very shortly, we introduce into the parliament our robust policy to ensure that employers who exploit workers are properly punished. In relation to what we have done, as you would be aware, Mr President, this government established Taskforce Cadena in June 2015. This is a joint task force looking across portfolios, targeting and disrupting criminals organising visa fraud, illegal work and the exploitation of foreign workers. We also took the important policy step of requiring a valid pay slip as proof that work had been paid before you can get your second working holiday visa. (Time expired)

The PRESIDENT: Senator Farrell, a final supplementary question.



Senator FARRELL (South AustraliaDeputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (14:50): Isn't it clear that the Turnbull government is more focused on its own internal division than on protecting vulnerable workers from exploitation?


Senator CASH (Western AustraliaMinister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service, Minister for Employment and Minister for Women) (14:51): The answer to your question, Senator Farrell, is no, but I will just remind you of the steps that your government took in relation to protecting foreign workers. It was your government that slashed the budget of the Fair Work Ombudsman; we have recently given the Fair Work Ombudsman an additional $20 million to make up for your shortfall. It was your government that slashed the staff of the Fair Work Ombudsman. It was your government that failed to introduce any policies to deal with the exploitation of foreign workers; we on this side have consistently introduced policies. But, as I said, the good news is this, Senator Farrell: you and I can sit down next week, we can work through our policy and, if you like, when we return in the week of 20 March, we can put it through, hopefully with the support of others, on Thursday as a noncontroversial bill.