Tuesday, 25 June 2013
Consideration of Legislation
That so much of the standing and sessional orders be suspended as would prevent private Members’ business notice No. 1 given for Tuesday, 25 June 2013, Telecommunications Amendment (Protecting Local Workers) Bill 2013 standing in the name of the Member for Melbourne, being called on immediately and being given precedence over all other business until all stages of the bill have been concluded.
There are about 390 jobs that are about to be lost, starting in the next few days, unless this parliament acts before it rises. Jobs associated with producing and printing the Yellow Pages and the White Pages are about to start going offshore to India and the Philippines in a few days time unless we act. There is a simple mechanism to stop this, and that is contained in the Telecommunications Amendment (Protecting Local Workers) Bill 2013. It is also one that I have raised with the government on a number of occasions over a number of months and, in the absence of a proper response to that and with only a few days left, the appropriate course is to suspend standing orders to deal with this urgent matter. Currently the jobs associated with the White Pages and the Yellow Pages, both in print and online, are all taking place here in Australia, primarily in Melbourne and Sydney. Now Telstra—and its subsidiary, Sensis—is currently under a legal obligation that flowed out of the privatisation of Telstra to produce the White Pages and make it available to anyone who wants it. That is an appropriate service that it provides to the Australian community and it is appropriate that this parliament continues to regulate that, because Telstra was a public company that was built up with public support, including government support and support from this parliament.
Mr Katter interjecting—
As the member for Kennedy says, it is the people of Australia who built up Telstra and its predecessors. The mechanism proposed in this bill is a very simple one. It says that for so long as Telstra, through its subsidiary, Sensis, produces the White Pages and the Yellow Pages in online form and print form they should be produced here in Australia.
It would come as a shock to many people, if you were to ask them, to learn that the White Pages and the Yellow Pages could potentially be produced overseas, but that is what is about to happen. We know that because Telstra and Sensis have announced that from 1 July they want to make 390 jobs redundant, sent offshore and outsourced. They will be sent to India and they will be sent to the Philippines, where the graphic design work and the call centre work will be done. Telstra is a company that last year made a record half-yearly profit in the order of $1.6 billion and its subsidiary, Sensis, made a profit of $650 million. Simply to make a bit of extra cash they are about to make 400 jobs disappear from this country.
When there is a threat to car manufacturing in this country—when there is the prospect of hundreds of people being made redundant—this parliament and the government rightly say that this is a matter of national importance and we should do what we need to do to focus on it, to see what we can do to stop the jobs from going offshore or to mitigate it. I say that a job in graphic design or in a call centre should be worth as much as a job making a car and those jobs should be performed here. It is perfectly legitimate to ask what was formerly a public company but remains a national carrier—and a highly regulated one at that—to keep those jobs onshore.
I mentioned the urgency of this. Over two months ago I wrote to the relevant minister and said, 'There is a problem coming, and we in this country are about to see almost 400 jobs added to the scrap heap and sent offshore simply to make some extra profit for a very large and very profitable company.' I have not had a response to that letter. When I called I was told that the government was considering its position. Here we are with 2½ days left before the end of this parliament, and from 1 July there are a number of people, many of whom are in Melbourne, who have the high-value, high-wage jobs that we hear Labor talk about a lot, and they are about to lose them because it is cheaper to go to India or the Philippines for this highly educated workforce. So it will be the case that, for the sake of making an extra few dollars for a company that is already bringing in massive, record half-yearly profits, when you go to organise your ad for the Yellow or White Pages, it will be done in India or the Philippines.
I suspect that, if you asked most people in this country what they would prefer—400 trained people staying in high-skill, high-wage jobs here or allowing Telstra to send those 400 jobs offshore just to make a bit of money—they would say, 'Let's keep that workforce here.' It is important to recognise that the question of globalisation and the challenges that this country is facing do not just exist in the manufacturing, tourism or education sectors; they exist in those sectors where highly educated and skilled workers are now competing with people overseas. This is the kind of step that we have to take if we want to turn the phrase 'high-value, high-skill, high-wage workforce' into a meaningful reality. If we do not, it really means nothing.
We have heard a lot about protecting local jobs over the last couple of months, and my criticism has been that it has been very high on rhetoric but low on action. Here is a chance to take some action. Here is a chance for a very simple measure. If we support this suspension, debate this very simple bill, pass it this afternoon—because it is a simple bill that can be easily understood—and get it to the Senate in the last couple of days of this parliament, we will have saved almost 400 jobs here in this country without parliament or the government having to spend one extra cent. All we will have done is said Telstra has an obligation to the Australian people. Telstra, as a successor to public companies built up by the Australian people, continues to have obligations to those Australian people. That is not just an obligation to make the White Pages available; it is an obligation to make sure it is produced locally. This will be a very simple bill to support, will come at no cost to the government and will make a massive difference to a lot of people. If we do not support this bill then, from 1 July, 390 jobs, including many in my electorate of Melbourne, are going to start going offshore and will have gone by the end of September. That is what Telstra and its subsidiary Sensis have said.
Given that parliament is rising and given that there is currently no intention to reconvene before September, this is our last chance. If the government has another plan to save these jobs, I would love to hear it, but we are at five minutes to midnight for these workers and their families; and, for the cost of absolutely zero, a public company the government heavily advertises in, has a commercial relationship with and we regulate in respect of other things could make some contribution to the Australian people and Australian society. So I hope that this suspension and the bill itself gains support. It would put some meat on the bones of all the talk we have heard about protecting local workers. We would be sending a very clear signal that a job in these white-collar industries is just as important as a job in blue-collar industries.
I second the motion. I think everybody here knows the issues. I outlined in question time yesterday, 4,000 jobs have gone in the last seven weeks. For anyone who has even the most cursory interest in public affairs, it must be obvious that manufacturing and food processing in this country are simply closing down and that agriculture is in the most desperate straits. Holden has put off 500 people in Adelaide in the last seven weeks. Ford has announced 1,200 jobs to go there. Thanks to the policies of successive governments—ALP, LNP, ALP—where once 74 per cent of motor vehicles in Australia were Australian made, the year before last 12.7 per cent were Australian made. I presume that, when the next figures come out, it will be less than 10 per cent. Soon we will live in a country that cannot produce a motor vehicle. We already live in a country that cannot produce an electric motor or a tyre. And you people sitting here understand that your decisions, your ideologies and your policies have destroyed manufacturing in this country.
I went down to a cafe this morning and met a person who was a textile manufacturer. He told me we do not manufacture textiles in this country. We had the ignominious situation on Anzac Day where throughout Queensland catafalque parties marched in socks because the soles had fallen off their boots, which were made in China. As for the food industry, 5,000 people in Victoria have now attended dairying crisis meetings. I addressed one meeting in Western Australia where 1,063 people attended. I can assure you, Madam Speaker, they did not attend to listen to me; they attended because they are desperate. In a little country town, 1,063 came to the meeting. In my own area, the cattle industry is on its knees. The LNP government in Queensland has not given a single dollar to the cattle industry.
We have here a proposal before the House that you will cold-bloodedly vote against and condemn another 400 jobs to go overseas. I would like to know what jobs we will have in Australia. Your concept and your vision for your country is to have an iron ore quarry over there and a coal quarry over here. We are not a mining country anymore. One of the greatest copper mines in the world, Mt Isa Mines, will be closing for the first time in 75 years. We do not mine anymore; we quarry. When you mine, you dig it out of the ground and you sell metal. When you dig it out of the ground and sell the ground, that is called 'to quarry'. I speak with great authority because all of my life I have been a miner or in the mining industry. I am a mining man; I am not a cattleman. It is no joy to see mining leave the shores of Australia.
Just remember, when you leave this place, as some of you will at the election, you will have presided over the destruction of manufacturing and agriculture in this country. Do not think the history books will miss you. I have written a history book, Madam Acting Speaker. History books tell a tale and it will be upon your grandchildren when they read those history books to pass judgement upon what you did in this place.
I just remind the member that the word 'you' is inappropriate. As I come from a manufacturing electorate, I am actually getting a little tetchy at a personal level. The member for Kennedy has the call. The use of the word 'you' is inappropriate. And I am not acting as Speaker; I am the Speaker.
I am always very sympathetic with the position that Australian jobs are the first responsibility of this parliament to advance. The government is always concerned at the loss of any Australian job. Australian companies should certainly be encouraged to employ local workers and to undertake their work here in Australia; therefore, maximising the economic benefit to the nation of economic activity.
As the member for Melbourne knows though, the Senate committee that looked into the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Consumer Protection) Bill considered the particular issue that has been raised. The committee did not receive evidence about the potential impact of the proposed amendment. Therefore, this issue needs to be further examined and appropriate review and scrutiny processes should be followed. I contacted the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy prior to question time to ask what his response was to the issues that the member for Melbourne raises because I was not completely across the detail. He informed me that he will refer the issues which are canvassed in the bill to the Senate for further evaluation.
I certainly respect the motivation here from the member for Melbourne and certainly the member for Kennedy, who consistently stands up for his views about Australian jobs. However, to support this suspension to allow, essentially, a private member's bill to be moved in this place without notice being given is something that I cannot support. I point out to the member for Melbourne that he has had five bills and 10 motions voted on during private members' business in this place.
I point out to him that time spent on private members' business each week has nearly quadrupled if you compare what we are doing now with what was done in 2006. We have eight hours 30 minutes; the previous was two hours 15 minutes. Time available for private members' business to move bills and motions has been nearly quadrupled. In this parliament, we have spent 666 hours—and I do not draw any reference to the meaning of that number—of parliamentary time, or 23 per cent. One in every four hours that we have been in this chamber has been about private members' business.
There has to be, though, a proper process. I said this in response to another suspension last week regarding our opposition to that. I think it is legitimate to argue that private members' business needs space to be created by the parliament for determination. What is not legitimate is to say that it should gain precedence over all other business that is before the House, and that is really what is being proposed here with this suspension.
During this parliament five private members' bills have passed the House. That is the first time for a long while that that has occurred. They include a bill that was strongly supported by me, moved by the member for Melbourne, on fair protection for firefighters. In 2005 there was not a single private member's motion or anything else voted upon—not a thing. So we have given time up for private members' motions and bills but, as the government, we cannot support the situation whereby you have precedence given to bills in a way in which members are not able to put forward proper debate, when members are not able to consider what the legislation is. With respect to the member for Melbourne, I have not seen a copy of this bill. It is, one would assume, a bill in which I, as the minister representing the minister for communications, would have to represent the government's view on. But to ask that the parliament suspend standing orders in order to do that is something that I am not in a position to support.
I would certainly be prepared, as always, as a member of the House of Representatives—this is not my portfolio—to at any time discuss with any member, any trade union or any community organisation how to maximise Australian jobs. That is something that I am always prepared to engage in, but I say, with respect to the member who has moved this suspension of standing orders today, this is not an appropriate way in which to change the order of business that is before the parliament. We do have important business to get through for which proper notice has been given and proper consideration has been given to.
I know that last Thursday the opposition chose to be opportunistic and vote for a suspension of standing orders. We could do the same thing today and deny the member for Wide Bay what I believe will be, in his own thoughts, a very eloquent and important speech that he will put forward as a matter of public importance.
Mr Tehan interjecting—
Certainly, concern about lost manufacturing jobs in Australia is a just cause. It is a matter of concern to all Australians. However, the opposition will not be supporting the suspension of standing orders. The Leader of the House has given a list of sound reasons why that should not happen, however that does not indicate any lack of concern about what has been happening in Australia, particularly over the last few years, about the loss of manufacturing jobs in this country. In fact, since Labor has been in office, one job has been lost in manufacturing every 20 minutes. That is a pretty appalling record for a government that prides itself on representing the workers.
There are some things that I think can be done to help keep more jobs in Australia: get rid of the carbon tax; certainly, get rid of a lot of the red tape that is tying up Australian business at the present time; do something about uncompetitiveness and our industrial relations situation. People are going from Australia to New Zealand because our minimum wage is $23 and theirs is $13—in the US it is $8—so it is not surprising that there are issues with uncompetitiveness. We want to have high wages in this country and we want to have a high standard of living, but for us to be able to do that and pay those wages we must have a very competitive economy, and that has not been apparent over recent times.
You cannot pass bills in this House, as proposed by the honourable member, to stop jobs moving overseas. You cannot pass a law to prevent that from happening. In reality a company is just as likely to axe a job altogether and you have gained nothing whatsoever. The reality is that business has to be competitive. Workers, management and government need to work together to help create that kind of environment. If I could pass a law to prevent jobs from going overseas, I would pass a law to prevent SPC and Simplot jobs from going overseas—they are going to matter a very great deal to regional communities—and to stop Ford or Holden jobs going overseas. As a member who represents heavy engineering and train manufacture, I would pass a law to prevent the manufacture of trains going overseas. But if I were to do that, and if I had enough support in the parliament to do it, it would be ineffective because by simply passing a law you cannot make something happen. You have actually got to undertake positive actions to create the kind of environment that enables manufacturing to prosper.
Whilst I have no doubt that the member's intention to try to save jobs in Australia is supported by every member in the House, I do not believe his bill will be effective. To spend time debating that at this stage of the day would not be productive or helpful to those workers.
The question is that the motion be agreed to.
A division having been called and the bells having been rung—
As there are fewer than five members on the side for the ayes, I declare the question resolved in the negative in accordance with standing order 127. The names of those members who are in the minority will be recorded in the Votes and Proceedings.
Question negatived, Mr Bandt, Mr Wilkie and Mr Katter voting aye.