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Monday, 23 November 2015
Page: 8706

Senator HANSON-YOUNG (South Australia) (21:39): The Australian Greens broadly support the Migration Amendment (Charging for a Migration Outcome) Bill 2015 as outlined: making it unlawful for unscrupulous employers and sponsors to solicit vulnerable workers in exchange for visas and associated payments and take advantage of them in their applications for skilled or permanent visas. I concur with a number of the comments made by Senator Carr.

However, the bill does go far beyond the recommendations of the recent independent review, which the bill, through the explanatory memorandum and the government's response through the inquiry into this bill, claims to be based on. It goes beyond those recommendations in penalising visa applicants and the visa holders rather than just the employers and the sponsors as the original independent report suggested needed to be done. It is all very well and good, and I think it is important for us as a parliament to do what we can to ensure that people who are taking advantage of the situation are given the full brunt of the law and are not able to exploit the situation, but the visa holders who are caught up in this circumstance are the ones we need to be thinking a little more carefully about.

Visa applicants should not be penalised. I am concerned about a situation where visa applicants have participated in all the things that they should and been unknowingly exploited by this process. Under this legislation there is really no catch-all to ensure that applicants are not going to be unfairly penalised when in fact they have done nothing wrong.

Many visa applicants and holders, particularly those in the areas of migrant work, are vulnerable. They may very well not even know that they have engaged in conduct that is unlawful. It is therefore essential that a mental element be included in any offence seeking to penalise visa applicants and holders. There must be some element of proof of intent to ensure that we are not unfairly catching people who by no fault of their own have found themselves in this circumstance.

The bill may also extend to particular vulnerable workers coerced into a scheme against their knowledge. In this sense we need a little bit of grace for these people. Yes, by all means go after those who have created a business model for themselves based on the abuse of vulnerable people, particularly those on student visas, skilled migrant visas or working holiday visas. Go after the people who have knowingly created a business model for themselves by exploiting others, but let's have a little bit of a fair go for the individual visa holders caught up in the middle of this.

Of course, I am particularly concerned with the impact that this heavy-handed approach as outlined currently under this legislation will mean particularly for people who have been trafficked to Australia as workers. We know that the issue of people trafficking, particularly for domestic and other work based professions, is on the rise. It is on the rise across the world, including in Australia. All you need to do is listen to the rising statistics from the Australian Federal Police to know that there has been a rise in people being trafficked as workers, particularly domestic workers. I would hate to see a bill like this used to exploit the vulnerable, first by those who have contracted in a way to set up this visa scheme to exploit these people and then through the double-whammy for the visa holders themselves of being caught in the middle of a heavy-handed change to the law.

Finally, the bill affords the minister broad discretionary power to cancel a visa, regardless of whether or not the sponsorship event in question actually took place. I am sorry, but I find that a little difficult to stomach. I am not a big fan of giving this minister any more powers than he already has, particularly in relation to broadening his powers to take action when there is no proof as to whether a sponsorship event took place. I am not going to be taking the minister's word for it. There needs to be a little more evidence than that. Of course, when we are talking about the vulnerable people—migrant workers, people who perhaps do not speak English as their first language, those who are unaware of Australia's workplace laws in terms of conditions and those who have unwittingly found themselves in a situation where they have been trafficked—overwhelmingly those people are young people and women. That puts them in an even higher risk category of vulnerability. I am concerned that this bill, without amendment, will make it more difficult for those people to get the support and assistance that they need.

We know that there are some people who obviously are taking advantage of the situation. We do need to tackle that, which is why, broadly speaking, we support the legislation. But we want to see some changes in relation to ensuring that workers—visa holders—are not caught in the middle of this.

As I said, the independent review which made the recommendation that these legislative amendments occur was very clear that it too was concerned, particularly, that people who had been trafficked or those who have limited or no English language skills would cop the brunt of these changes if they were not handled sensitively. To that point, the Greens will be supporting the amendments put forward by the opposition. We think they go some way to dealing with these concerns and we look forward to having that debate in the committee stage.