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Tuesday, 27 February 2018
Page: 2118

Mr PERRETT (MoretonOpposition Whip) (18:07): I rise to speak on the Migration and Other Legislation Amendment (Enhanced Integrity) Bill 2017. This bill seeks to make amendments to the Migration Act with changes that are mostly quite technical. I commend the contribution by the member for Parramatta prior to me. The Assistant Minister for Immigration and Border Protection in his second reading speech said the purpose of this bill is to protect Australian and overseas workers by strengthening the integrity of Australia's temporary and permanent sponsored skilled work visas. It is a commendable goal and something that obviously Labor supports, because we'll always support measures that will support vulnerable overseas workers from unscrupulous employers.

As anyone knows who knows their labour history or Australian political history, the Labor Party was born out of the labour movement and from that became a political party devoted to looking after employees as much as possible. That is our record. That is something that we're particularly proud of. I have seen this in my electorate. I have gone on trips up to Bundaberg and to the Lockyer Valley with Ken Lai, one of the representatives from the Taiwanese economic and cultural office, where we looked at the way Taiwanese backpackers were being treated. I'll come to the Taiwanese community a little later. I know that it's important we get this right because it sends a bad message to potential travellers, potential Australians perhaps even, if we don't look after them when they're working in Australia.

As deputy chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, I'm familiar with the committee's examination of this bill. I point out that the human rights committee identified several issues of concern with this bill. The amendments contained in this bill, which, as I said, are mainly technical, seek to require the minister to publish information prescribed by the regulations, including the personal information of sponsors who have been sanctioned for failing to satisfy the obligations of sponsorship. The committee was concerned that this amendment may infringe the right to privacy of those individuals, as the publishing requirements in the bill appeared to be broader than what was outlined in the bill's statement of compatibility.

The committee asked the advice of the minister as to whether the limitation on the right to privacy is proportionate to the achievement of the stated objective, including whether there are adequate and effective safeguards with respect to the right to privacy. The minister's response confirmed that the information to be published will be narrowly confined but that such information will be prescribed by regulation. After the human rights committee considered the minister's response, it was of the view that, on balance, the measure is likely to be compatible with the right to privacy but that the committee would consider the human rights compatibility of the regulations that prescribe the information to be disclosed once they have been received. All are part of open and accountable government.

The human rights committee was also concerned about the amendment in the bill that permits the tax file numbers of applicants and holders of specified visas to be requested, provided, used, recorded and disclosed. The digital age is a wonderful thing. It brings many innovations. It means we have technology in our pockets, in our phones, that people could only dream of 10 years ago. But with that comes the possibility of hacking, of information being disclosed and all the fraud that can flow from such thefts. So hacking is something we need to be aware of.

The right to privacy does extend to informational privacy. The human rights committee was concerned that the provision was overly broad by allowing a tax file number to be collected from any class of visa applicant holder or former visa holder. Again, the human rights committee sought the advice of the minister, who stated:

The collection, use, recording and disclosure of tax file numbers will be prescribed in the Regulations. It is intended that the regulations will allow tax file number sharing in relation to a narrow list of subclasses, that is limited to temporary and permanent skilled visas, for research and compliance purposes. This includes identifying and preventing exploitation.

The committee considered that the limitation indicated by the minister and the safeguards to be put in place by way of a communications package provided to affected persons would protect that individual's rights. This bill has also been considered by the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee and the Senate Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Bills. Those committees also expressed concern about some provisions of the bill.

As an aside, I'd like to point out the great work that is done by committees in scrutinising legislation both in this House and in the other place. I mention that in passing to the minister at the table because we've been on a committee together. I commend him for not only his promotion but also the good work he's done behind the scenes on parliamentary committees in looking at legislation and making sure that we get the best results for the Australian people. It has nothing to do with political parties. I congratulate the member for Murray on his promotion and the work he did in the trade subcommittee with me.

This bill has been well and truly scrutinised. On balance the bill will help protect vulnerable overseas workers, allow the department to check that bosses are paying their workers correctly and allow the department to publicly name businesses who breach their sponsorship obligations. It's essential that we protect overseas workers who come to Australia in good faith to work in Australian conditions. There's the old saying: it's not the good bosses that are the concern; it's the bad bosses who exploit people. It's the bad bosses who, by undercutting the efforts of good bosses, drive good bosses out of business. That is not the sort of Australia that we want.

Migrant workers are vital to the health of the Australian economy. They have an important role to play. Migrant workers are improving Australia's labour productivity and helping Australian businesses to source labour that might otherwise be hard to find. That is the whole focus obviously. Importantly, migrant workers are also helping Australia to offset the effects of an ageing population. We have seen these effects in countries around the world—for example, our big trading partner Japan. They are selling more adult nappies than children's nappies because of an ageing population. So we need to get it right. Importantly, as such, migrant workers will be critical in giving Australian businesses a competitive edge in an increasingly globalised world. Migrant workers are an indispensable part of the economy in my own electorate of Moreton, on the south side of Brisbane, a flourishing multicultural community with over 40 per cent of residents born overseas. I particularly mention the large Taiwanese community, not only because I've been celebrating Lunar New Year with them but because I've done some work on Taiwanese backpackers and how they've been treated by some farming companies. Taiwan is one of the top five sources for working holiday visas.

Migrant workers are some of the most exploited workers in Australia, with many being systematically denied their basic rights and freedoms by bad employers. This includes gross underpayment, verbal and physical intimidation by their supervisors, many workers being subject to dangerous working conditions, threats of deportation, and even sexual harassment and worse. Migrant workers often speak little English and have limited knowledge of their rights at work, and obviously bad bosses don't make them aware of their rights, or the middle people who rip them off. Migrant workers who wish to continue working in Australia may have their visas leveraged against them by unscrupulous businesses. All of this means migrant workers often feel they have no option but to tolerate unlawful and unacceptable conditions that could even be dangerous.

A national survey by the ACTU which was released in November 2017 of approximately 4,000 temporary migrants from 107 countries found that a quarter of all international students and a third of backpackers earnt only half the wage they are entitled to. That is a depressing statistic. Approximately 15 per cent of migrant workers in the agricultural industry were paid as little as $5 per hour, while another 31 per cent received $10 an hour. If you are familiar with some of those farming conditions, you'd know that you'd certainly earn your money. Two out of five workers surveyed had the lowest paid jobs in the hospitality industry. A quarter of all international students earnt $12 per hour or less. Almost half of all backpackers earnt $15 per hour or less. The then president of the ACTU, Ged Kearney, now our fantastic candidate for the Victorian seat of Batman—go, Ged!— said at the release of the survey:

Our broken laws not only facilitate the theft of wages, they have facilitated big businesses importing what amounts to a slave labour class of workers on temporary visas.

Employers are flaunting our laws with alarming regularity and exploiting migrant workers.

A Four Corners episode which aired in 2015 also helped to shine a light on the grim reality of migrant workers in Australia. It revealed that thousands of young workers had been grossly mistreated in the food industry under the working holiday visa program. These workers were taken advantage of by unscrupulous labour hire firms who onsell migrant labour to Australian factories and farms, where many have endured terrible working conditions. In some cases migrant workers were found to be working 22-hour days seven days a week and earning as little as $395. Some migrant workers were refused things like toilet breaks, were charged excessive rent on substandard accommodation and were even asked to give sexual favours to supervisors in return for signing visa applications.

Sadly, this is not an isolated problem. Even in my own electorate of Moreton, there have been terrible reports of migrant worker exploitation. Three food outlets in Sunnybank, the same suburb I have my office in, were found to be paying workers flat rates of no more than $10 per hour. These workers, who were actually entitled to a minimum of $17.70 per hour, were underpaid between $13,880 and $45,000. These were serious breaches and resulted in the court imposing more than $200,000 in penalties on these businesses. People should always ask their chefs, if they're in Sunnybank or wherever they are, to make sure their workers are being looked after.

Labor support this bill because we know how important it is to protect vulnerable overseas workers from unscrupulous and greedy employers, from employers who are systematically and deliberately denying Australian migrant workers their rights and freedoms. The visas that apply to collection of tax file numbers will be prescribed by regulation. But the minister has said they will only apply to temporary and permanent sponsored skilled work visas. That means that they will not apply to those overseas workers on working-holiday visas, the subclass 417. So the exploitation of vulnerable workers that I've mentioned, particularly those Taiwanese backpackers picking tomatoes around Bundaberg or other food crops in the Lockyer Valley, could still continue—and I note there are also many Korean workers there as well.

Protecting workers is in Labor's DNA. It is, obviously, the raison d'etre of the labour movement by wholesale. Whether workers are born here in Australia or overseas, Labor will ensure that all workers' rights are protected and all workers get a fair day's pay for a fair day's work, as prescribed in the Bible. It is obviously important for the worker, but it's also important for all employers. Employers who are doing the wrong thing are undercutting employers who are doing the right thing. They put at risk the integrity of the entire workplace relations system. They risk distorting the labour market and undermining the principles of fair competition.

Sadly, we have a government, the Turnbull government, that is inept and out of touch. Only the Labor Party has a plan to put local workers first. Labor will ensure that temporary work visas are actually filling genuine skill shortages. Labor will establish an independent authority to advise governments on current skill shortages and future skill needs. Obviously, we would hate for any enterprise to fall over because the skills of certain workers aren't available in Australia, but we've got to get the balance right. Labor will strengthen penalties for employers who abuse the system and exploit workers. Labor will not waive labour market testing requirements in new free trade agreements. Labor will introduce a new science, high-tech and research visa, allowing continued access by the best specialists to collaborate with their Australian counterparts. That's what a globally interconnected, competitive country like Australia needs to do.

So Labor supports this bill because it will help protect Australian workers. But, sadly, I see a government that has failed to ensure that locals get the local jobs first. The Turnbull government needs to go back to the drawing board.