Monday, 11 September 2023
Migration Amendment (Strengthening Employer Compliance) Bill 2023; Second Reading
I want to make a few brief remarks to put the Greens position on the record, especially given that the position we take today may not necessarily be the position that we'll take in the Senate, and I want to explain why. The Australian Greens welcome the important dialogue that the Migration Amendment (Strengthening Employer Compliance) Bill 2023 has given impetus to, as with the Migration Arrangement (Protecting Migrant Workers) Bill 2023 before it, which had similar provisions. But, just like with the 2021 bill, this bill will not fix the myriad and systemic problems that have been identified through these important dialogues.
The Australian Greens are also broadly supportive of the 2019 report of the Migrant Workers' Taskforce and the recommendations it made. The bill before us today is in response to recommendations 19 and 20. Recommendation 19 read:
It is recommended that the Government consider developing legislation so that a person who knowingly unduly influences, pressures or coerces a temporary migrant worker to breach a condition of their visa is guilty of an offence.
And recommendation 20 read:
It is recommended that the Government explore mechanisms to exclude employers who have been convicted by a court of underpaying temporary migrant workers from employing new temporary visa holders for a specific period.
But sanctions and compliance are only as good as their enforcement—and what is unknown can't be enforced—and this is where the bill fails to live up to the government's rhetoric. The bill relies on the meek and maligned existing assurance protocol, which is an arrangement between the Fair Work Ombudsman and the Department of Home Affairs that supports visa holders who've breached a condition due to workplace exploitation. Under the protocol, the department will not usually cancel a visa if the holder has breached a condition. However, this protocol has only been invoked 77 times from 2017 to 2021, because it can only be invoked at the discretion of the Fair Work Ombudsman. Many migrants and their lawyers understandably don't trust the process.
This is why any legislation seeking to encourage migrant workers to blow the whistle on exploitative employers needs to have guaranteed protections against visa cancellation. But all this bill provides are speculative and discretionary powers to exploited migrant workers who have been coerced into breaching their visa conditions by exploitative employers. Without guaranteed protection against visa cancellation, unions and legal advocates will have to continue to warn potential migrant worker whistleblowers that, by reporting their exploitation, their visa may be at risk of cancellation. And that's why this bill will fail to live up to the government's hype.
The Australian Greens are particularly disappointed that the majority report from the inquiry into this bill by the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee didn't make a recommendation to remove these speculative and discretionary powers, given that that was the recommendation of every academic, trade union and legal advocate that provided evidence. Accordingly, the Australian Greens will be supporting this bill's passage and its purported objectives throughout the House today; however, we reserve our position in the Senate.