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Thursday, 20 June 2013
Page: 6448

Mr TEHAN (Wannon) (09:48): I think the member for Lyons has really put the argument very succinctly as to why the Migration Amendment (Temporary Sponsored Visas) Bill 2013 is not necessary. He has given us an example of where there has been a problem with the current system, and we are talking about the current system before this legislation had been put in place. So what has happened? The matter was looked at, it was addressed and it was dealt with. So it has been fixed without this bill, which is another clear example of why this bill is unnecessary and should not be here before us today.

Let us go back and see what has led to this bill being in parliament. I think that we should rename this bill, calling it the City West Water Bill. For those of us who cannot remember it, in February there was a dispute in Melbourne where the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union took offence at 457 visa holders, Filipinos, who were working in skilled positions constructing a water facility in Werribee. They put in place a community picket line—and we are about to see whether the AMWU were behind that community picket line or not. All of the evidence points out that the AMWU did instigate that picket line, but anyway the courts will decide whether it was a union picket line or a community picket line. In the end what happened to break that picket line was that the state government stood firm and it made sure that the water authorities, City West Water and Melbourne Water, acted. It took the water authorities a little bit of time to act. The union movement thought that they would not act and they thought the authorities would just cower and would not take unions on, but the Victorian state government—and, in particular, the then Premier, Ted Baillieu—stood very firm and insisted that the water authorities do the right thing, which they did. The workers were flown in by helicopter and ultimately the picket line was dismantled.

But the AMWU did not want to leave the matter there so they went to Victorian Trades Hall and said, 'We've got an issue with regards to 457 workers. We don't want them anymore doing these skilled jobs.' So Trades Hall then put out a pronouncement saying that if the union movement in Victoria were to get strongly behind this federal Labor government one of the conditions would be that something be done about 457 visas. So Trades Hall said, 'It's up to you, federal government. If you want additional support you do something in this area.' That is why we are here today debating this bill. It has nothing to do with evidence, it has nothing to do with facts and it has everything to do with this Labor government being dictated to by the union movement.

It is a sad state of affairs when you have a Prime Minister, desperately clinging to power, who is prepared to put the national interest over here and act in her own base political interest to try to hang on to her prime ministership. There are reports today that it is still not going to work for her, because the key ally of the union movement in this place, Bill Shorten, is meant to be off talking to the unions to see whether they should continue to support this Prime Minister or whether they should switch camps. We have a piece of legislation before us which will do nothing for this nation. As a matter of fact, it will set the cause of this nation back, all because we have a Prime Minister clinging desperately to power, hoping that the union movement will continue to back her. Now we hear on the news wires that the grip that the union movement have on her is slipping away, because they are once again looking at reinstalling Kevin Rudd.

Why is this a bad piece of legislation? It is a bad piece of legislation because, as I said before, there is no evidence whatsoever that the 457 visa system is being systematically rorted. As a matter of fact, as my good friend the member for Aston highlighted in his speech, there have been 24 complaints in the last 12 months about the 457 visa system and of those 24 complaints zero have been passed on to the immigration department. That is right: 24 complaints in 12 months and zero passed on to the immigration department. Those facts say it all. It shows what an absolute sham piece of legislation this is.

And it is worse than that, because it is adding a regulatory impact on those employers who are using this system to fill skills gaps, and there is a real need for us to continue to fill skills gaps in this country. One of the sad things about this bill is that until now there has been broad bipartisanship for the 457 visa system and for using skilled migration in this country. I take this opportunity to once again thank the former Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Chris Bowen, for the support he gave to one of my local communities in Warrnambool. Six families who had come in under 457 visas, because of some issues with regard to meeting English language proficiency, might have been sent back to where they came from—in this case, China—but the minister was prepared to intervene. The six workers had worked in the local abattoir for over five years and their families had been through the local schools. Minister Bowen, to his credit, intervened and made sure that those families could stay and continue to work in our community and participate in our community.

That is the type of bipartisan approach to 457 visas that we have seen historically. Yet, sadly, with this Prime Minister desperately clinging to power, at the behest of the union movement we see a bill like this come into this place. We on this side know that most of the good people on the other side do not support it. They have said that publicly. They do not think that this is a good piece of legislation. They know that this is a piece of legislation aimed at trying to address a problem which does not exist.

It is a great pity we are here today examining this bill, spending time on this bill, because it will add a regulatory burden on employers. We know that it will because the government refused to have a regulatory impact statement done on it. Why would they refuse to have a regulatory impact statement done on this bill? Because they know, and it is there for all to see, that it will add to the burden of employers trying to bring skilled workers into this country. And it is not as if this is a rare piece of legislation that will be adding a regulatory burden. We have seen over the course of the Rudd and Gillard Labor governments over 21,000 pieces of legislation which have added a regulatory burden for employers. This is just another one to add to this list.

The real shame is that there is a real need for the 457 visa system. Just this week I have had a group of my local councils up here—the Great South Coast Group of councils. One of the priority items on their list was to talk to ministers and shadow ministers about is how we can improve the 457 visa system to bring more skilled people into our community. They are up here on behalf of our local community asking how the system can be improved, how it can be streamlined, how it can work better to bring people in. That is what my community is seeking. Yet what do we have here? We have a government so out of touch that they are doing exactly the opposite. They are making it harder. When we are looking to get workers for our abattoirs, when we are looking to get workers for our dairy farms, when we are looking to get medical staff for our hospitals, what will we be faced with?

We will be faced with an additional regulatory burden, not a situation which makes it easier for us to cope with these skill shortages. And let us not forget that, if you do not have the nurses and you cannot get the doctors and support staff from overseas, it places great risks on our local health services.

I think this is a problem which is not understood by this Gillard Labor government. This is a real area of need. We have to continue to get the workforce so that we can keep our medical facilities operating, especially in regional and rural areas. We need to build our own Australian medical workforce, but while we are doing that we need to ensure that we can fill the gaps, because if you do not fill the gaps then you place undue pressure on these services, which can lead to parts of them closing.

So this is a bad bill. Once you start to join the dots, what has occurred here is incredibly transparent. It is like one of those children's colouring books where you are given the dots and you have to get your pencil and just follow the dots to draw the picture. Here it is very easy to join the dots. This bill has come about because of an industrial dispute that the unions were on the wrong side of in February in Melbourne. They tried to take on a contractor who was legally using 457 visas that had been approved by this government. The AMWU tried to take it on. They lost. They went to Trades Hall. Trades Hall then said: 'Okay, federal Gillard government. If you want our continued support, we want action.' And what do we have here today? We have a bill which adds a regulatory burden on the use of 457 visas, with no evidence to support the idea that there should be an additional regulatory burden added to this area. It breaks what has been a very good bipartisan approach to bringing skilled migration into this country—an approach that we are going to need in the future because, as we continue to grow and develop as a nation, we are going to have to continue to bring skilled migrants into this country.

So in many ways what we are here debating today is shameful, and I feel sorry for those on the other side who, in their heart of hearts, know that as well—who know that this is a bill masquerading as something else, trying to cover up a broader problem that this government has. That broader problem is that it does not know how to run a properly functioning immigration system. This bill should be strongly opposed. I hope that more people on the other side will have the courage also to call this bill for what it is.