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Tuesday, 27 February 2018
Page: 2111


Ms LAMB (Longman) (17:37): I rise today to speak on the Migration and Other Legislation Amendment (Enhanced Integrity) Bill 2017. I want to make it very clear from the beginning that I support any measure—any measure—that ensures vulnerable workers or vulnerable overseas workers are appropriately protected from dishonest or unfair employers.

It seems like it's every single week that we hear new stories of a fraudulent boss underpaying their workers, oftentimes exploiting workers and vulnerable working-visa holders. It seems like it's almost every that week we're reading about this. I don't think it would come as a huge shock to anybody who might be listening to know that there are employers out there who are deliberately and systematically denying visa holders what they are entitled to as workers in this country. This is truly unacceptable behaviour.

Our entire economy is built upon the principles of fair competition: everyone is entitled to the same basic minimum wages and conditions. Australia's trade unions have fought for decades and decades for these conditions for our entire country—for the benefit of both workers and employers. By blatantly undermining these conditions, unlawful businesses are throwing a huge slap in the face to all those hard workers who came before them, stood their ground and built the Australian industrial relations system that we have today.

I'm not talking about a business who just accidently pays someone a dollar or two less, realises, and then moves very quickly to fix it up when they find out what the error is. I'm not talking about those businesses. What I'm talking about are unfair and unlawful practices that exploit vulnerable workers and undercut the employers who want to do the right thing. We've seen deliberate practices, like the gross underpayment of wages and subsequent doctoring of records to hide the unlawful conduct, or the utilisation of physical violence. We've seen evidence of that and threats of deportation to coerce people into forfeiting the conditions that they're entitled to. There are unscrupulous employers. They aren't unheard of.

We know of an incident between 2006 and 2009 where a 457 visa worker who spoke very limited English was exploited by an Indian restaurant in Melbourne. Although some weeks he worked up to 71 hours a week, he received a weekly pay of just $752. The federal magistrate that presided over that case acknowledged that through their employment agreement the employer had demonstrated their knowledge of workplace laws, so this was very clearly exploitation of someone more vulnerable than just the average Australian worker.

That magistrate also noted that the provisions that were breached are notorious—that was his word—in Australian workplace culture. No breaches should ever become so common as to become notorious in an industry. What is quite clear is that there are Australian employers who are deliberately and systematically choosing to deny workers their rights, their freedoms and the remuneration that they are entitled to. But what is also very clear is that not enough is being done by this coalition government to prevent the denying of those rights and freedoms and remuneration that they are entitled to.

There are the recent changes that the government made to the skilled worker program. I have to be honest, I find them nothing short of sloppy. Not only have the changes brought in by the government failed to do enough to protect these migrant workers; they've also sent waves of uncertainty through the business, innovation and education sectors throughout Australia. Despite their rhetoric, they have failed to put Australians first. More than 140,000 workers on skilled visas have been flown in from overseas under the Liberal-National government. We know 85 per cent of 457 visa workers fly in. They're fly-in workers and they're in capital cities. They've been flown in to take jobs as nurses and carpenters, early childhood educators and electricians.

In my electorate of Longman we have some of the very best nurses you will ever find in this country. We have some of the very best tradies, carpenters. We have highly qualified and professional early childhood educators. Some of the very best electricians that you will ever see are working in my electorate. Yet these are the skilled visas that we're giving out. At a time when we've got 723,000 unemployed Australians, we really have to ask: are there really no local people who could take these jobs? Surely not. This is just another example of the skilled worker program failing under the coalition government. Too many local workers are being left at the back of the queue.

I want to be very clear: I'm not advocating for this program to be abolished, nor am I suggesting that there's no place for skilled workers in this country, because there absolutely is. There will always be a gap between what Australian workers can offer and what can be satisfied by migrant workers, but these gaps are not as big as those being filled by migrant workers. What should really be used as a bandaid solution to a temporary problem with the Australian labour market is essentially being used as a full body cast. While it might be helping to correct some of the problem areas, at the same time the current system is restricting access for Australian workers. Like I said, I know for a fact there are a number of people in my electorate who are fantastic tradespeople—nurses, early childhood educators, electricians. But there are other tradespeople who would love the opportunity to find work, who are looking for work, and yet what we're finding is that they're being overlooked in favour of overseas labour. It just isn't fair.

What we have seen is a coalition resting on its laurels. What I'm constantly being asked is: what will the Labor Party do? What's their plan to stop this blatant abuse of the skilled worker program? We have a plan. That's what I can say. We have a plan. That plan is to put local workers first and to skill up Australia. That's our plan. Labor understand there is a skills shortage and 457s are only a temporary measure. Is it is quite clear that a longer term solution would be to address the root of the issue when we are talking about skilled labour in this country. That is done by encouraging, not restricting, skills training of all Australians. Anybody with some foresight could see this, but obviously the skill of looking forward is in very, very short supply within the ranks of this government. I suggest that members could do some skills training themselves because, if the government truly understood how to address a skills shortage, they would not have cut $637 million from VET funding in the 2017 budget. Instead we find them following Labor's lead and making TAFE the centrepiece of Australia's training system.

Under Labor that $637 million worth of cut funding would be restored. As we announced last week, we will reshape the way Australians think about TAFE, making sure it's on equal footing with universities. The revolutionary inquiry that Labor will start within its first 100 days of government will just begin fixing this mess that the Liberals have left of Australia's skills training sector. To ensure that the future skills needs are addressed, Labor will establish an independent authority to advise government on those skills shortages and how to alleviate them—because that just makes sense. A strong skills training sector means a skilled-up Australian workforce, and a skilled-up Australian workforce means more local workers in more local jobs and less reliance on overseas workers.

The coalition really have not taken their role seriously. There should be a strong focus from the government on creating and protecting decent and secure work for locals, but instead they have applied a truly haphazard approach. We don't have to look too far to see that. Just look at the previous iteration of the Trans-Pacific Partnership when the Liberals were happy to do a deal that didn't require true labour market testing. I'm really concerned that the new free trade agreement which the Prime Minister is concocting in the shadows won't—

Mrs Andrews: I raise a point of order on relevance. I would ask that the member be brought back to the legislation.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Irons ): The member is asked to be relevant to the legislation.

Ms LAMB: I would have thought skilled workers and training Australians to be those skilled workers is entirely relevant to legislation that ensures that we have the workers we need for the future. It has direct relevance to 457s. But I will continue talking about labour market testing. We need to talk about labour market testing if we're going to talk about 457 visas and fixing that gap while we are reskilling the Australians that have had their skills cut under this government.

I will go back very quickly to the TPP. I'm sure the email inboxes of the members who sit across from us would be full of people talking about the TPP and skilled workers in this country as well. I'm sure I'm not the only one receiving those emails calling for skilling Australian workers. Going back to the TPP, what we need to make sure is there is true genuine labour market testing when it comes to the TPP. We don't know for sure that that's going to exist in the current TPP. Under Labor we will ensure that true labour market testing exists. We will ensure that employers advertise any jobs for Australia for at least four weeks before looking overseas at 457 visa holders to give local workers the first opportunity to apply. We will make sure the ads don't set any sort of unrealistic expectations or skill requirements to make sure that local workers have first crack at getting these jobs. Labor will make sure that businesses will utilise a significant number of temporary workers and have a plan to train local workers. These are very simple fixes that will see more jobseekers in local positions.

As the assistant minister asked me to come back and be relevant—and I'm not sure where I deviated—I welcome her government finally bringing to the table a piece of legislation that will go some way towards enabling the recording, storing and usage of tax file numbers of applicants and holders of specified visas. I welcome the government finally bringing that to the table. It has taken far too long of course, but we've got here.

I'm happy to support the bill—I'm happy to support any bill that protects vulnerable overseas workers from exploitation at the hands of unscrupulous bosses—but what we really need is more reforms. We need to put an end to the exploitation of skilled workers, to provide them with proper and robust protections and to ensure that they get a fair day's pay for a fair day's work. It shouldn't matter where they're from. When they're working in Australia they should be entitled to the protections that our Australian unions have fought for.

In closing, it's clear that, in an environment where we have skill shortages, the best way forward is to ensure that we encourage skills training. It doesn't make sense that a job like bricklaying can languish on the list of jobs eligible for 457 visas longer than it takes to actually train someone to be a brickie. The government have been championing their $65 billion handout to big business. If they're serious about skilling up Australia and getting locals into work then they are more than welcome to follow Labor's lead on skilling up Australians. We need to ensure that the true integrity of this bill is upheld. We need to ensure that in this country no worker providing labour—labour that builds this country and contributes to company profits—is exploited. (Time expired)