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Thursday, 27 March 2014
Page: 3333

Mr MORRISON (CookMinister for Immigration and Border Protection) (09:39): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The purpose of this bill is to repeal the Migration Amendment (Offshore Resources Activity) Act 2013 (ORA Act).

The ORA Act seeks to regulate the employment of noncitizens working in the offshore resources industry by way of a visa arrangement, regardless of whether they are actually working on a resource installation or not. The amendments were introduced by the previous government in response to a Federal Court decision in May 2012 in a case that became known as the Allseas case.

The Allseas case involved two vessels attaching gas pipelines to the seabed within Australia's Exclusive Economic Zone and the waters of the continental shelf. In its judgement the Federal Court ruled that noncitizens aboard the two vessels were not within the migration zone, and therefore not required to hold work visas.

This was due to the fact that, as the offshore resources industry had maintained, both vessels fell within an exemption in the migration act that specifically provides that a vessel that is used or is to be used wholly or principally in manoeuvring a resources installation, or in operations relating to the attachment of a resources installation to the Australian seabed, is not a resources installation, and therefore not part of the migration zone.

The offshore resources industry is vital to the Australian economy. Australia is the world's ninth largest energy producer, and the oil and gas industry accounts for 21/2per cent of our GDP, generating $28 billion in revenue, and contributing $9 billion in direct tax payments. The development of Australia's offshore resources contributes significantly to the Australian economy and employs thousands of Australians. It is also critical for our future energy security, accounting for 58 per cent of Australia's primary energy needs.

The offshore resources industry is a global industry, and competes for a limited pool of skilled labour. It employs a highly mobile workforce, and relies on the capacity to be able to transfer workers with specialist skills from project to project, and from one country to another country.

If we are to continue to derive the substantial economic benefits that this industry provides, it must be allowed to remain internationally competitive and able to operate in line with international best practice. The industry should not be expected to operate under an increased regulatory burden, or additional cost pressures that would put the viability of current and future projects at risk. However, the ORA Act will do exactly that.

This means that our migration arrangements must be relatively flexible, and not impose an undue administrative burden on industry, or create unnecessary barriers for overseas workers when they are genuinely needed, especially when their skills are unavailable in Australia.

The issue of Australia's offshore maritime zones is highly complex. In addition to international conventions, the offshore resources industry is subject to complex and overlapping regulatory frameworks imposed by Commonwealth, state and territory legislation. We therefore need to consider any regulatory changes in this context very carefully, and to pursue considered and measured policies.

A leading offshore resource industry group has said that:

Australian jobs and our overall economic success relies on a confident, growing offshore oil and gas industry able to do business consistent with international laws and practices … With this much at stake, it is vital that sectional interests do not come before the national interest and that parliament delivers sustainable, proportionate and balanced regulation affecting offshore operations.

The government could not agree more.

Repealing this legislation does not mean that the industry is, or will be, in any way 'unregulated'. For example, noncitizens working on resource installations will still be required to hold valid visas. They will also still be required to hold the appropriate visa if they wish to come to the Australian mainland. Hence, if a particular employer wants to transfer their overseas workers to a project on the mainland, they must hold a visa with an appropriate work condition, such as the 457 visa.

The ORA Act also fails to take into account the fact that many persons engaged on resource installations and vessels use fly-in fly-out arrangements, and frequently transit through an Australian airport, which requires them to hold a valid visa to be immigration cleared. Hence many of those persons who are not currently required to hold visas for the work they are doing on a vessel are still subject to immigration controls when they enter or leave Australia.

To the extent that persons working in Australia's offshore maritime zones are subject to Australian domestic laws, these laws will still be policed and enforced by the appropriate authorities. Terms and conditions of employment, for example, will continue to be protected under domestic law, and where appropriate under international law through the Maritime Labour Convention. The National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority and the Australian Maritime Safety Authority will continue to ensure the safety of those persons working on board resource installations and vessels operating in Australia's Exclusive Economic Zone and the waters of the continental shelf.

It is also worth drawing attention to the actual number of workers who are the focus of the ORA Act. The previous government stated at the time the legislation was introduced that it had an 'incomplete picture' of the number of noncitizens working on board vessels who did not hold visas.

While it is true that determining a precise number is difficult, consultation with the industry, the migration advice profession, and across government indicates that the number is actually relatively small. One estimate has put the total at no more than 2,000 persons per year, while others have put the number at considerably fewer than this. Fly-in fly-out arrangements mean that workers generally remain in Australia for relatively short periods of time, meaning that only a proportion of this 2,000 or so will actually be in Australia at any given time.

When we compare this with the 68,000 overseas workers who were granted 457 visas during the last financial year, let alone with the number who are granted permanent visas each year under the Migration Programme, it becomes even clearer just how small the number really is.

The government is committed to promoting the development of Australia's offshore resources, to adhering to Australia's international obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, and to maintaining the integrity of Australia's borders. Repealing the ORA Act would remove an unnecessary and disproportionate legislative burden on an industry that is critical to Australia's future economic growth and the wellbeing of all Australians. I commend the bill to the chamber.

Debate adjourned.