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Thursday, 20 June 2013
Page: 6462


Mr OAKESHOTT (Lyne) (10:52): I will not be supporting the Migration Amendment (Temporary Sponsored Visas) Bill 2013. Both the Prime Minister and the minister have been informed of this, both informally over the past week at least and formally in writing. I have looked closely at the forms that a business sponsor fills in when applying for a subclass 457 visa for an employee and the forms clearly show obligations for the business sponsors to follow as well as showing sanctions and penalties that are available to the minister and the department where these standards and obligations are not met. These include financial penalties, the removal of any rights to participate in the future in visa programs—the 457 program and others—and other quite onerous penalties. Form 1196N, the business sponsor application form, states:

To ensure the integrity of the subclass 457 visa program, the department has a thorough monitoring process to assist in ensuring compliance with all program requirements and all relevant Australian laws.

That is in the actual form itself that business sponsors use to apply to the Australian government Department of Immigration and Citizenship when nominating overseas employees to work temporarily in Australia.

When you look at the form, you see that the sponsorship obligations are very clear. There is a sponsorship obligation to cooperate with inspectors. The form states that the standard business sponsor must cooperate with inspectors appointed under the Migration Act in all aspects of the application process. There is an obligation to ensure equivalent terms and conditions of employment. The form states:

The standard business sponsor must ensure that the terms and conditions of employment provided to a primary sponsored person are no less favourable than the terms and conditions the person provides, or would provide, to an Australian citizen or Australian permanent resident to perform equivalent work in the person's workplace at the same location.

So, in relation to the issue of Aussie jobs versus foreign workers, the obligation on the business sponsor is already there to make sure that that is not an either/or choice.

There are obligations to pay travel costs to enable sponsored persons to leave Australia. There are obligations to pay costs incurred by the Commonwealth to locate or remove unlawful noncitizens. There may be people concerned that there are people running around the countryside at taxpayers' expense, but the obligation is on the business sponsor to meet costs incurred in that case.

There is an obligation to keep records. There have been concerns expressed that people may be running some sort of racket in some businesses—'abusing' and 'rorting' is some of the language that has been used. There are obligations in the application process to keep all records, and sanctions and penalties can be applied if there has been any abuse of that. There is an obligation to provide records and to provide information to the minister. When you fill in your very first form you are aware of those obligations. There is an obligation to provide information to the department when certain events occur.

There are obligations to ensure the primary sponsored person works or participates in the nominated occupation, program or activity. That seems to be at the heart of what we are debating today. There seems to be some argument presented that people are not working in the nominated occupation, program or activity. Yet when you fill in form 1196N you are signing your business, your sponsorship and your reputation to an obligation that ensures that primary sponsored persons work or participate in the nominated occupation, program or activity.

There are obligations not to recover certain costs from a primary sponsored person or a secondary sponsored person. There are sanctions for failing to satisfy sponsorship obligations. The penalties exist under current law. The form states:

If the standard business sponsor fails to satisfy a sponsorship obligation, the Minister may take one or more of the following actions:

bar the sponsor … from sponsoring more people under the terms of one or more existing approvals as a sponsor for different kinds of visas—

not just 457s; you can take businesses out from applying for any foreign worker in any form—

bar the sponsor, for a specified period, from making future applications …

cancelling one or all of the sponsor's existing approvals as a sponsor;

require and take a security …

You can take money from these businesses if they do not meet the recognised obligations. The minister can:

enforce a security already taken;

issue an infringement notice of up to AUD10,200 for a body corporate and AUD2,040 for an individual for each failure; or

apply to a Court for a civil penalty order of up to AUD51,000 for a corporation and AUD10,200 for an individual for each failure.

Then the form goes into a whole range of other circumstances in which the minister may take administrative action, including the provision of false or misleading information to the Department of Immigration and Citizenship or the Migration Review Tribunal. So if anyone is bowling up with false information and then employing someone in a different job, the power is here in very clear terms, in the initial form that is filled in in the application process, for the minister to do something about it. And there is a whole range of other circumstances in which the minister can act.

The point about why I have gone through that is this: when this rhetoric began two months ago—that there was broadscale rorting of the 457 visas—I asked for evidence from the ministers and the various supporters involved in this push to demonstrate that the rhetoric was real, that there was widescale rorting. The best evidence that the ministers and certain unions have been able to put forward—this is not to comment or reflect on other work that they do—is some sort of argument that in the construction industry there has been 1.1 per cent growth generally, but there has been a 20 per cent growth in 457 visas. My response is, that is not evidence of widescale rorting. That is evidence of obligations and sanctions under current law being met.

DIAC and the minister are either using the powers they have got or they are not. What is going on within the minister's office and within the minister's discretion as a decision maker to use the very clear obligations and sanctions under the existing process? Why aren't they being used if there is this widescale rorting? When you look at the forms filled in, it is very clear, and the powers are very clear—and the powers are actually pretty good and pretty strong—so what is the problem in using them? All I can find is what seems to be a concern about resourcing—that is, the inspectors involved seem to be overworked or undervalued or have some sort of problem in their ability to do the job that existing law is asking them to do and that I think all Australians are asking them to do. Australians are asking them to promote Aussie jobs. That is what is really at the heart of what we are debating today.

To clarify that point: if what we are really debating has nothing to do with 457 visas, if we really are debating or setting up a debate over the next three months around Aussie jobs, I have to put on the record that it is a bit of a no-brainer. I think every single person in this chamber supports Aussie jobs. I am going to a jobs expo tomorrow in my electorate. I have worked tirelessly with a range of stakeholders locally on the mid-North Coast of New South Wales to promote not only a reduction in unemployment, which is now down to record low levels on the mid-North Coast of New South Wales, but also strategies to deal with some of the more problematic issues around participation rates and those broader long-term unemployment issues in our local communities. So there is no question that I or any other member in this chamber values and supports Australian jobs first.

As many here also know, I am a 100 per cent supporter of the Australian education system and the skills and training that is needed to address our skills shortage in Australia. That is a no-brainer, and I am pleased the minister in the chair smiles at that comment because we have had many conversations—in fact we were just having a conversation about this very issue—about the importance of delivering equity in education at a secondary level, a vocational level and a tertiary level. I think the government has done some fantastic work in that area. In fact if we are talking of legacies, that has the great potential to be the legacy of the 43rd Parliament. Out of all the reforms that have been done, it is the delivery of the principle and value of equity in our education system to engage all Australians, no matter the colour of their skin, no matter the money in the pocket, no matter the location they live, that I think has seen some tremendous work. That is not in doubt here either.

What is in doubt is this: if we make a change to 457 visas, does that fix anything? Does it fix our skills shortage? Does it actually deal with the problems that have been raised via emails, where certain people seem to be saying, 'I don't have a job and I know anecdotally of someone in business who was saying they just got a foreign worker in from overseas, so please support this legislation'? Come on. Our process needs to have a bit more integrity than that if we are going to really delve down into what exactly is the problem that we are trying to fix.

My reason for voting against this is not necessarily that there are not business sponsors who may be taking advantage of this application form process. My reason for voting against this is this application form process is fine when you read the obligations and the sanctions and the penalties that are available to the minister and the department. My reason for voting against this is we do not need new law; we need existing law to be acted upon. We need, frankly, the harden-up message of delivering on the existing sanctions and the existing penalties that are in the existing form and the existing process if government truly is aware of problems in our business community and in the Australian employment market.

This is not about legislation; this is about existing laws. This is about resourcing a department. This is about the department having the backbone to follow up on the issues involved if they do exist. And this is about them doing the job on behalf of the Australian people and Australian taxpayers: chasing down the business sponsors who may be doing the wrong thing; using the laws and powers they have to place the sanctions and penalties on them, to send the message out that that is not the point of this exercise, that Aussie jobs do matter, if we are serious about that; and getting on with fixing the skills shortage that this country has got but that it should not have, and which is a lag on productivity in this country.

I do not support this legislation for those reasons. I invite everyone to have a look at the forms that we are talking about and to ask themselves whether the obligations and the sanctions and the penalties need to be somehow strengthened and, if so, outline what that strengthening is. At this stage it looks pretty clear to me, and I encourage the government to use the powers they have.