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Thursday, 20 June 2013
Page: 6466

Ms O'DWYER (Higgins) (11:10): While the member for Lyne is in the chamber, I want to say that I do not often compliment him; I do not often do that in this place. Let me say that that is the finest speech I have heard him deliver in this chamber, and I would say to him that others should review and listen to his very eloquent speech delivered on this bill.

The Prime Minister, in her Press Club address earlier in the year, said that there would be days for governing. If that is what this is, I think the legitimate question can be asked: governing for whom? This bill should give some very strong clues. This bill, and other bills, that the government is trying to ram through the parliament in the dying days of this government follows on from previous bills that were rammed through last week that give additional union powers for right of entry to ensure that union members can come into workplaces, speak to employees in their lunch rooms to try and join them up to the union. Not only that, we saw last week that there was a bill that allowed for union members to be flown around the country to remote locations and to have that paid for by the employer—their flights, accommodation and all the rest—so that they could join up union members in workplaces. This legislation is also driven by the union movement's demands. Let me quote from the ACTU Secretary, Dave Oliver, who said of these 457 visas:

This is nothing short of a racket involving migration agents, involving loan sharks, involving shonky employers that are exploiting workers on our shores, which is just totally unacceptable.

He went on to talk about the fact that 457 workers face losing their jobs for being off work, being ill or engaging with unions, and then he said:

They are threatened that if they speak out at any stage well they'll be sacked, and under the current scheme in 30 days they're deported.

The vice president of the ALP and the secretary of the Transport Union Workers, Tony Sheldon, talked about these 457 visas and said that it is essentially engaging in human trafficking and a form of slavery. He says that if you are trafficking people into this country to exploit them against the standards and ethics and legal requirements of this country, the appropriate title is human trafficking. These are quite strange statements when you examine them, and when you examine that there are, as the member for Lyne has rightly pointed out, already obligations on employers with sanctions and penalties that can be enforced against any exploitation. Certainly, on this side of chamber we do not support that.

This focus on foreign workers, on foreign workers somehow taking Australian jobs, is curious when you consider that Tony Sheldon, one of the main architects of the bill that is before the parliament right now, has three people in his union who are on 457 visas. So it is a bit of a case of 'do not what I do but just simply do as I say'. His chief of staff, his media officer and his senior organiser are all on 457 visas because apparently he could not find anybody suitably qualified in Australia to do those jobs. This is at a time when he says 457 visas are 'harming the community'. It is also curious that the Prime Minister would bring forward this bill when in her office she has her senior communications adviser here—you guessed it—on a 457 visa.

One can only ask the question: why is it then that the government is bringing forward this bill? It is a union demand, and that is very clear. Is it because the union movement gives such significant donations to the Labor side of politics? Is it because the union leadership helped the architects of the removal of the former Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, with one of them, Paul Howse, actually going on television saying that he had in fact been part of that decision to install Julia Gillard as Prime Minister? Is it because we have paid union organisers, paid for by the union membership of the Australian workers, working for the Labor Party during election campaigns? Is it for these reasons that we see this bill before the parliament? Well, one can only ask the questions.

The government say that there is a significant problem with 457 visas. They claim, and the minister has claimed this on a number of occasions, that there have been 10,000 cases of abuse. When he was asked to justify this quiet extraordinary claim and when he was asked for the evidence, he had to walk away from that claim. He said actually it was just a forecast, not based on any evidence but simply a forecast. I suppose he was really taking a leaf out of Treasurer Wayne Swan's book here as he likes to pronounce forecasts and his forecasts are never usually terribly accurate. When the minister was asked if there had been any reports done on this and if there was any evidence from the Department of Immigration and Citizenship of widespread abuse and rorting, the clear answer to that question was no.

When you turn to groups and ask the Australian Industry Group or the Migration Council Australia if there is any evidence to suggest that there has been widespread abuse and rorting, the answer again is no. When you ask a member of the government's own Ministerial Advisory Council on Skilled Migration, Professor Peter McDonald, whether or not there has been any widespread abuse and rorting, again clearly the answer is no. So where there is no evidence to support the claim that has been made by the minister and by the government to bring forward this legislation before the parliament, one can only really be reminded of that great Australian film, The Castle, where Dennis Denuto was before the judge and was asked, 'Well, where is the evidence for this?' and he shrugged and said, 'Well, look, it is simply the vibe.' So one can only think that the minister has channelled the vibe and because of this we are seeing very damaging legislation being brought before us here today.

We on this side of the chamber are equally concerned about workers, whether they are Australian or they are foreign, being abused and being ripped off. Nobody would sanction that, which is why we have laws in place already to deal with that. But I suppose if the members opposite are concerned about rip-offs and abuses—abuses of power, abuses of funds, abuses of workers—perhaps they ought to look a little bit closer to home and I suggest they start with the Health Services Union, which have now had a number of reports into them whereby even members of this place have been accused of abusing union funds for their own gain. So if they are concerned about rackets and if they are concerned about abuse, I suspect and think that they should look a little bit closer to home. What we have seen from the government is a very irresponsible campaign to demonise foreign workers and they have done that through statements made by the minister and by the Prime Minister and members of this government. It is grossly irresponsible and, dare I say it, it has been verging at times on being racist.

The government wants to make significant changes in this bill to bring forward market testing. To explain this to those who are in the chamber today, currently there is no market testing needed when somebody is brought in on a 457 visa. You simply have to check whether or not the occupation has been listed on the consolidated skills occupation list, and this gets changed from time to time. It is updated by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, based on advice from Skills Australia, to make sure that we are responding in the most responsible way to the needs of the Australian community and the needs of the workforce. This bill will bring forward new market testing, with new onerous obligations that will be imposed on businesses when they bring in somebody on a 457 visa. These are new compliance obligations and new imposts on business. So, given that these are significant new obligations and new imposts and they will have significant costs, one would expect that there would be a regulatory impact statement, a RIS. This is something that is required of every piece of legislation brought into the parliament, but not in this case with a union piece of legislation—no, there are exceptions for such pieces. In fact, the Prime Minister has waived the need for a regulation impact statement. She has said instead that it is not necessary to have a RIS. Why would that be? I think that that would be perhaps because it would not withstand scrutiny to have a RIS.

This government has been quite extraordinary in bringing new obligations to business. As deputy chair of the coalition's Deregulation Taskforce I have travelled the country, I have spoken with businesses, and I have seen with my own eyes the amount of regulation and red tape that they have had to cope with, largely as a result of new regulations and bills brought forward by this government. There have been more than 23,000 new regulations imposed by this government since 2007. Is it any wonder that our businesses are suffering and that, as a result, jobs suffer? With these extra costs and obligations it will, of course, cost businesses in terms of time. The whole point of skilled migration is to be able to have a flexible market—to ensure that we are able to respond in a timely fashion to the needs of business so that we can continue to grow our economy and continue to more broadly grow jobs and opportunities for all.

Our skilled migration process has been essential throughout our history to our economic success and to our economy. You only need to look back at the Snowy Mountains scheme to know that this scheme was largely delivered by migrant workers. Today we know that there are so many people who come here on 457 visas for a period of time to help contribute to our economy. I think of Victoria in the great success that we have had both as a state and as a nation in breakthroughs—in cutting-edge research—with our scientists and medical researchers. We have a number of people here on 457 visas doing this important work that puts Australia at the forefront. Yet this government would jeopardise that with this bill. This government would put a stop to that with this bill.

The 457 visas have been a major component of the skilled migration program. This program is temporary. That is quite an important point to note. We bring workers in when they are needed and when they are not needed, we don't. This program needs to have that flexibility. And let us not demonise the people who choose to come here and work in Australia, because these people pay taxes. They bring their families, they pay for their own welfare, their health needs, their education needs. They do all of that. They make a contribution to our economy.

In the time remaining let me say that it is important that we have a skilled migration program that has integrity. We do not want to see abuses or exploitation occur, but as the member for Lyne so rightly pointed out, we have these protections in place under the current laws that are available right now. It is the government that actually cut the compliance—not the opposition, but the government. So if there is a problem, and of course there has been no evidence presented that there is, then it is a problem of the government's own creation and they ought to take responsibility for that. (Time expired)

Debate adjourned.