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Wednesday, 5 December 2018
Page: 12761

Mr CHRISTENSEN (Dawson) (17:53): As the member for Gorton skulks out of the chamber, I would say I agree with a couple of things he said. One of them is that deeds speak more than words. If you have a look at the member for Gorton's record, he's someone who gets up here, puffs his chest out and says he's a champion of the worker. What a fraud and what a phoney. He's like the dog that bites the hand that feeds it. What did he do about the casualisation issue, which has been going on for years and years and years on end, while he was a minister in the Gillard and Rudd governments?

I'll tell you what he did for the workers as a minister in the Gillard and Rudd governments. He was actually the immigration minister who presided over a lot of the rorting of the foreign visa system, the 457 foreign worker visa—

Ms Chesters interjecting

Mr CHRISTENSEN: I hear 'changes'. These changes that apparently happened under his watch still allowed the rorts, because they still went on. We were the ones that actually ended the 457 visa system. So what a fraud; what a phoney! The only thing that that fraud and phoney said that was correct was that the report was a good report and did have good recommendations.

I'm proud to speak to that report, as a committee member of that inquiry. The report, Keep it in the regions: mining and resources industry support for businesses in regional economies, is a result of the outstanding work done by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Industry, Innovation, Science and Resources—an inquiry which I actually urged the committee chair, the member for New England, to undertake, and I urged the resources minister to provide the terms of reference for the inquiry. The mining and resource sector is a huge influence in the local economy of my North Queensland electorate, due to the proximity of the Bowen Basin and the soon-to-be-opened Galilee Basin. Again talking about frauds: these champions of the workers can't bring themselves to support the opening of a new coalmining basin; they want to dog the workers in Central and North Queensland again. These frauds come to the table and pretend that they're the workers' friends but they will never stand up for coalminers. Well, I will, all the time.

Thousands of residents in my electorate have raised concerns about a range of issues, calling my office, writing letters, sending emails and signing petitions. The biggest issues have been extended payment terms adopted by mining companies, the casualisation of the mining workforce, and the 100 per cent fly-in fly-out workforces at some of the mines. I'm pleased to say that these issues were well canvassed during the inquiry. Members gained a greater understanding of the impact that these issues have on local communities. As a result, this report now provides a number of recommendations to the government that fully address those issues, and I want to talk through some individually.

On payment terms, we had a situation where businesses—small businesses, mainly, but there were even medium-sized ones and some large local ones—were coming to me in my electorate saying that they had cases where they were waiting 90 days, 120 days and in excess of 120 days, which was clearly ridiculous. How long is a business supposed to wait to get paid by a multinational? How long would we let it go for—up to a year? That would be inconceivable. So we had to do something about this. The standard that the public expects and the standard that the suppliers of these mining companies expected was 30 days. They have to do it sometimes in less than that—in seven days, and sometimes payment on delivery—but the mining companies get payment as soon as supplies are loaded onto a boat or just beforehand. If it's good enough for the mining companies to have that arrangement, it is good enough to provide 30 days. I ran a campaign alongside this inquiry where I urged people to go onto and sign up to that. Recommendations 5 to 9 of the report effectively call for legislation to have minimum payment terms—the time in which you have to pay—of 30 days.

This committee has already paid huge dividends. As a result of the pressure that I've put on companies through that petition website and through the release of this report, companies have voluntarily brought their payment terms into line with what the community wants—30 days. Peabody is now doing 30 days, Anglo is now doing 30 days and BHP is now doing 30 days—and Glencore and Adani were doing 30 days all along. So that has been a win. Hopefully that's going to continue. If it doesn't, if we find that others don't adopt it, the government will have to act in line with the recommendations in our report to legislate those minimum payment terms.

On casualisation of the mining workforce, Labor like to puff out their chest on this issue—it is a big issue—but they didn't do anything about it when they were in government. So it's quite rich for them to come in here and say, 'You're not doing anything.' We're fighting for those people. When you were minister, Deputy Speaker Laundy, we joined you and you did some fine work in helping end a lockout of workers at Oaky Creek. That was your work, your negotiation, that helped with that. So we've done our part in helping on this issue, and we continue to put pressure on. It's not ethically right for people to work for years and years on end, stuck in a job as a casual, when they actually want to be a full-time worker.

Recommendation 19 of this report is to amend the Fair Work Act to prohibit the replacement of directly employed full-time workers with permanent casual employees. It goes on to say that casuals should now get the right, after six months, to convert to full-time work. I have to tell you: the pressure of this committee, the pressure of my individual action on this, has led WorkPac, the biggest employer of casuals in the mining industry, to come to me to say they're writing to every single one of their employees and offering them conversion to permanent work within six months. That wasn't the Labor Party; they never did anything about it when they were in government. It was the pressure that we've been applying that's led to that.

I have to say that, as a result of that pressure as well, today, a couple of days after this report was handed down, BHP made an announcement of 350 new full-time permanent local jobs. They're offering it to local workers in my region who were once employed as casuals and are now going to be permanent workers. This is as a result of the pressure that we've been putting on. It's a result of this committee's report. It is going to be in mines which previously were 100 per cent fly-in fly-out. It will be locals who are permanent workers at those mines in Daunia and Caval Ridge. Fly-in fly-out is also a problem. Section 18 of the report wants to remove incentives for mining companies to employ FIFO workers instead of locals. Again, those 100-per-cent-FIFO mines are now going to have hundreds of people working at them who are locals with permanent jobs.

Other key recommendations in this report will provide major benefits to regional communities, including returning a serious proportion of the royalties from mining operations to communities in mining regions and giving local businesses a fair opportunity to secure business with those major mining companies, because sometimes the rigmarole they have to go through is so complex. It will ensure localism where there are mines. Where the hole is dug in the ground, we want to see opportunity and wealth created.

The chair of this committee, the member for New England, has said a few times: 'Where is the Dallas of North Queensland? Where is the Dallas of Central Queensland?' We don't have towns that have huge wealth like that, even though, over in Texas, Dallas was built off the back of oil. We need cities like that and we need wealth returned to regional centres like that from mining companies. State governments also have to take note of that because they rip out the royalties of mining operations and they don't return all of it to that area. They don't even return a serious proportion of it. It needs to change.

I thank the member for New England for taking it up. I thank the Minister for Resources and Northern Australia for giving us this report. I thank all of the Labor members who were on this committee. I think we worked very well together. We certainly got to grill a lot of the mining companies very well together. I think we can all be very proud to say that our report, even before the government has responded, has led to some serious action. It has led to an improvement in payment terms by big mining companies to small and medium business. It has led to decisions like BHP made today, where they're offering permanent jobs for locals, not casual jobs. It has led to, for instance, WorkPac saying that there can be a conversion after six months from casual to permanent work. It's led to some good outcomes which are going to improve regional areas. That's what mining should do.