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Wednesday, 30 May 2012
Page: 6432

Mr BOWEN (McMahonMinister for Immigration and Citizenship) (17:41): I thank the honourable member for Brisbane for her contribution, and the honourable member for Chifley for his contribution, over the last few minutes. The honourable member refers to the jobs board. The jobs board is an opportunity not only for people to express interest in positions that might be available in the resources sector generally but also for resources companies to use—it will obviously be an internet based mechanism—to undertake some recruitment. A jobs board will be referred to in Enterprise Migration Agreements, and there will be requirements for companies to show what use they have made of the jobs board as part of their ongoing compliance. The jobs board will be operated and conducted by the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, and I know they have made good progress. The Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations is very focused on ensuring that that jobs board will be up and running as soon as practical.

In relation to Sinosteel, yes, I am aware of those very serious allegations; I have been aware for some time. I would be misleading the House if I could say that I could recall the exact date it was brought to my attention, but it has been brought to my attention not only through my department but also through unions. I think I have answered media questions on it, particularly in a 7.30 interview about the Sinosteel allegations, in particular. They are serious allegations. They are being investigated not only by my department but also by other government departments that, I am sure, are involved. It is an ongoing investigation, a serious one, and it is not appropriate for me to comment on an ongoing investigation. My department will have more to say when it is in a position to do so, but serious allegations are taken seriously, of course. Not every allegation that is made turns out to be true, but some do. But every one of them should be investigated—as these allegations are being investigated very seriously by my department.

In relation to who conducts compliance, there is a substantial compliance unit in my department which looks at dedicated monitoring of employer sponsors of 457 visas in particular and of course there is Fair Work Australia. The Fair Work Ombudsman also has a role to play here. We work hand in glove in investigations and compliance and we would also work very closely in compliance on Enterprise Migration Agreements. If I could reflect, I must say that I agree with the contribution, which may or may not be recorded in Hansard, of the honourable member for Chifley in relation to the reforms this government has brought in for 457 visa holders. We have made using 457 visas not harder but fairer. We have ensured protections are in place. We have ensured, because of the reforms we have made, that some of the stories of exploitation that we saw in the latter years of the Howard government cannot be repeated. I think 457 visas are very important in making the Australian economy work, but nobody should see workers exploited, whether they be Australians or foreigners working in Australia. Our reforms make sure that that is the case. We ensure that there are protections in place for 457 workers, because some of the stories we saw and heard and that were proven in 2005, 2006 and 2007 were disgusting and should never be repeated in Australia. I am glad of the reforms that this government introduced.

I note that the Leader of the Opposition has said he would make it easier to use 457s. I want to know: does that mean reversing some of these reforms? There is not much else he could do. We already have very fast turnaround times in relation to applications for 457s. We have opened the Brisbane processing centre, which in March, for example, saw 457 visa applications being turned around in 10 days. I would like to see if the opposition could do better than that—10 days. The Leader of the Opposition, in a speech a couple of weeks ago, said he would reform the 457 system—but that is all he said. He cannot increase the numbers because it is an uncapped program, although he said he would increase the numbers. He did not seem to be aware that it is actually an uncapped program, so good luck with increasing the numbers in an uncapped program. I am not sure how you would do that. But I fear that he is referring to winding back or, dare I say it, clawing back some of the reforms and protections that this government has put in place in relation to 457 visas. If that is what he intends to do, he should have the guts to come out and say so.