House debates

Monday, 18 June 2012


Protecting Local Jobs (Regulating Enterprise Migration Agreements) Bill 2012; First Reading

10:57 am

Photo of Adam BandtAdam Bandt (Melbourne, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

It is with great pleasure that I introduce the Protecting Local Jobs (Regulating Enterprise Migration Agreements) Bill 2012. We hear a lot about how the mining boom is creating wealth and jobs, but we need to talk more and do more about distributing these benefits in an equitable and sustainable way. There are some large numbers associated with the mining boom. The Governor of the RBA, Glenn Stevens, in his recent speech 'The glass half full', alluded to the following dramatic statistics:

… mining investment has recently been rising at an extraordinary pace. In 2005, mining investment was near its long-run average of around 2 per cent of GDP. By mid 2014 we expect it to reach at least 9 per cent of GDP. If that occurs, mining investment will be about as large as business investment in the rest of the private economy combined.

But the rise of the mining industry is neither inexorable nor universally beneficial. Australia export large quantities of iron ore and coal, but we also export a lot of dividend payments. In 2009-10 mining profits were $51 billion, of which 83 per cent, or $42 billion, accrued to foreign investors. Over the next 10 years, pre-tax profits for mining will probably be around $600 billion. At present levels of foreign ownership, around $500 billion of these profits will end up in the hands of overseas owners.

ABS figures show that in February 2012 total mining employment was 250,000, in a workforce of over 11 million. In other words, mining employs just around two per cent of the Australian workforce. Mining is, in fact, one of the smallest sectoral employers in the country. The Greens believe it is important to ensure that local workers are given the first opportunity to benefit from these jobs and that if overseas workers are used we make sure that those workers get their full wages and entitlements. This bill is one of several measures that the Greens have proposed to ensure that, as far as possible, all Australians share in the benefits of the boom.

In accordance with the original Treasury recommendations, the Greens would have improved, and will continue to seek to improve, the MRRT to ensure that by 2020 about $100 billion additional revenue will be collected, making it available for measures such as health, education, dental care and the infrastructure that the country will need for the future, when the rest of the world tells us to stop digging. The Greens proposed a sovereign wealth fund to help save for the future, but when it came to a vote the government and the coalition were not even prepared to have the Productivity Commission look at the feasibility of establishing such a fund.

This bill will help to ensure that large resource projects can only use skilled migration when all other avenues have been exhausted. Where EMAs are used, the bill will require high levels of compliance with workplace laws to ensure that all workers are protected. Disadvantaged groups will also be given priority for training and employment opportunities, and employers who use EMAs may be required to contribute to training for workers in the wider community.

As we saw recently, the current arrangements for EMAs do not meet community expectations. I agree with the Australian Council of Trade Unions that the current guidelines for EMAs fall short in a number of important respects, including, firstly, there being no guarantee that local workers have enforceable first rights to all jobs on EMA and projects and, secondly, that there is a lack of transparency regarding the contents of EMAs. This bill addresses those concerns. It improves the regulation of EMAs by putting them into legislation that sets out better processes for their establishment and ensures greater transparency for their operation. The bill will create a framework for enterprise migration agreements to ensure such agreements are used only where genuinely necessary and do not adversely affect local job opportunities. The bill will require employers to advertise jobs to locals before they can get an EMA. It will also require a local jobs board listing of those jobs in the resources sector to be maintained by the workplace relations minister. I acknowledge that after quite a long time in gestation such a board has been recently established by the government, but this bill will ensure that it stays in operation and will give it some legislative clout.

The current and future skills needs for Australia should be met through a considered approach that includes support for training and retraining of existing workers, labour market planning and forecasting linked to industry planning, and the use of skilled migration where appropriate. But skilled migration should never be a substitute for properly investing in and training the local workforce. It should be supplementary to locals skilled through domestic education and training. We should also aim to increase participation of those who continue to be under-represented in the workforce. This bill will help increase that participation.

The Greens support the making of EMAs only where every effort has been made to recruit locally. Where an EMA is established it should include a local jobs plan for the future, with a particular focus on training to be provided by EMA proponents. The plan should demonstrate how the project will reduce reliance on overseas labour by targeting training at those occupations in short supply. Unlike the current situation, responsibility for making an EMA will now legislatively rest with the immigration minister and the workplace relations minister to ensure coordination between these important portfolios.

The bill also sets out various conditions that can be included when an EMA is made. The workplace relations minister can require that the EMA participant concerned employs a specified number of Australian residents on the resource project concerned, including persons from one or more of the following groups: people living near the project, people who have been recently retrenched, people from culturally and linguistically diverse communities with high rates of unemployment, people from Indigenous groups and people from regions with high rates of unemployment. The workplace relations minister can also require that the EMA participant concerned provides specified training to persons employed on the project. In addition it can also be a requirement that the EMA participant concerned provides, or contributes to, training for Australian residents other than those employed under the EMA.

The workplace relations minister must also be satisfied that the EMA participant concerned has complied, and will continue to comply, with workplace laws. This is to ensure that all workers employed under EMAs are employed under the same wages, conditions and OHS standards as other workers. We have laws to protect everybody who works in Australia and we must ensure that these laws are enforced regardless of where people come from. This is an important point. Currently there is an economic incentive to employ people from overseas because the likelihood of someone from overseas knowing their full rights and then knowing how to insist on them is less than in an Australian workforce, especially an Australian unionised workforce. To that end, I am pleased to note that my colleague Senator Richard Di Natale will be moving in the Senate to have Australia ratify the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.

This debate about EMAs does not need to be an either/or debate that pits various groups of workers against one another. What we do need to do is take greater steps to ensure that when people are working on remote projects and come to this country without an understanding of the minimum rights they are entitled to under the legal system the government takes extra steps to ensure that those people have full rights and know how to enforce them.

Lastly, this bill will require a copy of an EMA to be tabled in each House of the parliament as soon as practicable after it has been made. Transparency is not, and should never be, just be an esoteric principle—it should be practiced wherever possible. More information leads to better debate, which leads to better outcomes. As we have seen in the context of the recent Roy Hill EMA, a number of claims have been made about what is in that EMA and its benefits for the local population. Until copies of the EMA are made public and available to be tested, we will never know whether or not these agreements are delivering the benefits that they are said to. It should be very clear to an EMA seeker or participant that, if they want to get one of these EMAs, part of the condition for that is that the EMA will be made public and will need to be defended publicly.

The measures set out in this bill will ensure more job opportunities for locals and disadvantaged groups, more training for the future and more protection for those workers who bring their skills to Australia. Where EMAs are used, they will be based on genuine need and established through transparent processes. This bill is another step towards sharing the benefits of the boom, and I commend it to the House.

11:07 am

Photo of Sharon GriersonSharon Grierson (Newcastle, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

In accordance with standing order 41(d), the second reading will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.