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Wednesday, 14 November 2018
Page: 8167


Senator BROCKMAN (Western Australia) (16:35): I rise to speak on the second MPI in two days. Yesterday I started my MPI contribution by pointing out that, even though the MPI came from those opposite, it reflected a number of ticks for this government on a whole range of issues where this government continues to get on with the job and to deliver for the Australian people. As we look at this MPI, we're in the same place. We're talking about Australian workers. We're talking about cracking down on 457 visa holders. We're talking about the use of Australian steel and protecting local manufacturers.

I will start with the last one first—protecting local manufacturers. 'Protection' is a very dangerous word, but the best way of protecting local manufacturers is actually giving them the chance to thrive and to grow in a growing economy and in growing export markets. What have we seen in the ABS statistics in recent times for manufacturing jobs in Australia? After a long period of structural decline, we've actually seen, according to the ABS, employment in manufacturing on the increase over the last 12 months. In the year to August, we've seen some 306,000 new jobs in the manufacturing sector, in fact, representing an increase of 2½ per cent. Manufacturing jobs surged by 86,000-odd in the last 12 months alone. One in five positions created since 2007 have actually been in manufacturing. So the policies of this government in our management of the domestic economy but also in boosting international trade through a series of free trade agreements has given Australian manufacturers the chance to succeed.

I'll just go through the recent agreement that's currently before this place, one that Labor seems to be walking away from. That is the Peru-Australia Free Trade Agreement. PAFTA does a number of things of advantage. I'm very keen on some of the agricultural changes, but that's not what I'm going to focus on here today. I'm going to look at the changes to machinery imports. Peru is an economy which is seeking to increasingly utilise its natural resources, be they agricultural or mineral. It wants access to high-quality agricultural and mining equipment, and that is an area where Australia has some specific international advantages. So, under the Peru free trade agreement, which is still before this place, some 95 per cent of tariffs—tariffs of up to 17 per cent—would be eliminated on it entering into force and all remaining tariffs would be eliminated within five years. There are agricultural machinery manufacturers and mining machinery manufacturers in Australia that would benefit extraordinarily from that. Through that, we would see the manufacturing sector in Australia continuing to grow and continuing to provide those long-term, high-quality jobs that all those on this side of the chamber want to see.

Steel is vitally important to the Australian economy. It's a very important part of our manufacturing industry. It's very important for the construction sector, for engineering, for agriculture and for the mining sector. It contributes, in fact, around $11 billion to Australia's GDP every year. The steel industry is, in every sense of the words, a nation builder and is a massive contributor to our economy. More than 90,000 Australians are employed in the steel industry and related industries, and many more are employed indirectly in downstream industries that utilise steel. So this government certainly wants to see the steel industry continue in Australia and continue to supply both Australia and the world with a high-quality product.

Now we'll move on to the management of the 457 visa program. The government has abolished the 457 visa program because it isn't meeting our economic needs at this time. This was done to put Australian jobs first. There is a new visa category, the temporary skill shortage visa, which was implemented on 18 March 2018. Labor and the unions destroyed the integrity of Australia's skilled migration program when they were last in power. We are cleaning up Labor's mess with the changes that we have made to the 457 program. Workers from overseas with particular skills are required in the Australian economy. Coming from Western Australia, I very well remember the pressures in the Western Australian economy from a lack of skilled workers during the mining construction boom. It was essential for Western Australia to take advantage of the opportunities that then existed. We had a pathway to bring in skilled workers from elsewhere, and in some parts of the economy those pathways are still required where there are genuine skill shortages, and that is what the new temporary skills shortage visa will fill.

As part of the reform in this area, the coalition government tore up Labor's expansive skill list of 651 occupations and, in its place, this government is putting in place an evidence based list of occupations that reflect the genuine skills needed in our economy. This list is updated every six months. The six-monthly updates are based on research from the Department of Jobs and Small Business. In accordance with their advice, occupations are added or removed to ensure that it is responsive to the needs of the Australian labour market. In that way, it protects Australian workers.

Under Labor, the 457 program actually expanded with the addition of 40,000 foreign workers. So their rhetoric in this area, the rhetoric we just heard a few minutes ago from Senator Cameron, is a complete nonsense and a complete rewriting of history. This is a government that is getting on with the job. It is delivering for Australians by boosting the economy and by creating pathways for the high-quality produce of Australia to get to the rest of the world so our high-quality Australian manufacturers can export their products to the rest of the world. That is why this government is so committed to continuing to finding new pathways to markets—things like the Indonesia trade agreement that's currently under discussion, the Peru free trade agreement that's currently before this place and the TPP-11 which has recently been passed by this place. In this way, we see that those manufacturing jobs will continue to grow and continue to be a very important—in fact, an increasingly important—part of our economy.

As economies transition, as older jobs disappear and newer jobs flow into the market, there is the potential for dislocation. It is a legitimate role of government to help with that dislocation, but we must not try to pander to the protectionist policies of the past that have failed over and over and over again. This is, sadly, as I have stated in this place before, the path that those opposite seem to be going down. There was a consensus that trade was of benefit to the economy and of benefit to all economies—of benefit to the world. It increases our government-to-government links, it increases our business-to-business links and it increases our individual-to-individual links. It allows people to move more easily across borders to take advantage of opportunities and it allows for the free flow of goods and services, as much as practicable in a world where the idea of trade has become somewhat problematic.

We have seen an antagonism towards trade across the political spectrum, and I think this is something that is very dangerous for the planet. When we start getting into trade wars, I think it offers very real risks that can lead elsewhere. The best way of keeping the peace globally is to make sure we have a highly integrated economy where everybody trades with as many people as possible. I think it is vitally important that we continue to grow the Australian economy and that we continue to grow our manufacturing export sector. In doing so we link our economy to the rest of the world in as many ways as possible. That is the path to the jobs of the future and to getting as many Australians into work as possible—providing the high-quality jobs of the future—and that is the path this government continues to proceed down.