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Tuesday, 11 September 2018
Page: 6101

Senator SINGH (Tasmania) (19:35): I rise tonight to raise some very concerning issues for all Tasmanians, whom I continue to represent, and proudly so.

I want to make it crystal clear that any decision by the Bureau of Meteorology to cut jobs in Tasmania and across Australia will have terrible and long-lasting consequences. Removing local weather forecasters and centralising forecasting services on the mainland will mean that the nuance of expert local knowledge will be lost. These cuts are designed to refocus bureau staff's attention on major commercial airplane routes at the expense of providing local weather forecasts to regional flights. Yet it is these regional flights that are most at risk of catastrophe if an accurate local weather prediction cannot be provided. We're talking about helicopters and small planes that rely on the Bureau of Meteorology to give them that accurate local weather prediction.

There are also well-founded fears of a lack of local expertise that will put people and firefighters at high risk during the bushfire season. Tasmania, like many other regional parts of Australia, has a terrible history of bushfires and we know that precise forecasting is crucial to ensuring that people can make informed decisions in an emergency.

Many Tasmanian bureau staff members have expressed their concern to me that at the heart of this change is an attempt to commercialise the Bureau of Meteorology. They believe that, rather than providing a critical service to all Australians, this move enables the bureau to take a step towards providing private consultation to companies and government departments for profit. Of course, this is because their budget has been cut by this coalition government. This Morrison government now needs to stop these atrocious cuts and to take steps to protect the jobs of meteorological staff in Tasmania and in regional Australia for the safety of all Australians.

Secondly, I want to raise the issue that the government needs to act immediately to introduce a strong and effective Australian modern slavery act. The fact that an estimated 4,300 people in Australia are currently trapped in slavery or slavery-like conditions is horrifying. The clandestine nature of modern slavery makes it very difficult for authorities to detect, investigate and prosecute incidents when they do occur. Victims of modern slavery are often incredibly vulnerable and face cultural, social, economic and language barriers.

There are also significant gaps in the available support services funded by government for victims of modern slavery. Just last week in my home town of Hobart, more than 100 mostly Chinese migrants—Chinese plasterers contracted by a Victorian labour hire company and flown in from Melbourne—stopped work at the Royal Hobart Hospital redevelopment. They stopped work because they were being exploited. If they were getting paid at all, they were getting paid in cash or as an independent subcontractor. Some had waited over six or, indeed, eight weeks before they received any pay at all. Some were being paid half the minimum wage and are owed up to $10,000 each. Up to 60 of them were living in just four homes in Hobart. This all adds up to migrant workers living under slavery-like practices. Compare that with the 40 Tasmanian plasterers who remained working onsite because they had been engaged by Accuracy International under a union enterprise agreement and were being paid correctly.

Our humanity, our belief in equality, means that a worker from China or a local worker from Tasmania should be treated the same and given the same working conditions and the same rate of pay, but that is not what is going on in this country. Last year I participated in the parliamentary inquiry to bring on a modern slavery act, and it is time the government made that happen.