Wednesday, 19 June 2013
Migration Amendment (Temporary Sponsored Visas) Bill 2013; Second Reading
I rise to speak on the Migration Amendment (Temporary Sponsored Visas) Bill 2013. Last Friday I attended the Campbelltown business awards, and the main winner there made the point that she had proudly decided to live in the Macarthur region, rather than the 'shire', and tried to try to utilise local suppliers for her business and support local charities. Ironically, that very same night, the shadow minister for immigration and my opponent made the long arduous trek from the Sutherland Shire out to Campbelltown. We had a very good indication of the strategy of the opposition in relation to that matter from an address he gave that night at the, appropriately called, Wizard of Oz. He made the point that a particular ethnic group's population had increased by 17 per cent due to utilisation of 457 visas. He tried to encourage envy and ethnic division by these comments. He told them that, if the government cracks down on abuses of 457s, their particular ethnic group would be victimised. I do not think the Australian people really care whether migration numbers to this country of a particular religious or ethnic group—Hindu or Muslim, or Indian, Bangladeshi or Pakistani—are reduced just because the government of this country sees a need to do something about the 457 shams. It is ironic also that this particular shadow minister tries to increase this division and resentment amongst an ethnic community when, weeks ago, he tried on the basis of one rape case to tell the Australian people to be wary of every person that enters this country as a refugee claimant and suggested that addresses should be registered and police notified.
Mr Deputy Speaker, on a point of order: the member for Werriwa is being unnecessarily inflammatory in what he is saying. It is not factual, and I think that for the order of the House it would be wise for him to withdraw.
I do not know what is not factual, but anyway. There is another slant in the opposition's position, of course—not only the issue that you build up resentment among ethnic groups at the fact that they might have fewer migrants because the government believes in protecting youth apprenticeship and traineeship rights, tries to protect Australian jobs and tries to defend people's conditions against the way in which 457 workers can be victimised and forced to have reduced conditions. We know that the opposition's position on this matter was articulated quite a while ago by the Leader of the Opposition when he said, 'Under a coalition government, 457 visas won't just be a component but a mainstay of our immigration policy.' So there is a clear strand of disinterest in the conditions of Australians in the opposition philosophy in this whole field.
We know that historically there has been the absolute shemozzle with international students. We saw a situation where it was no longer about education; it was about immigration. When the previous government decoupled the need to return to the homeland and come into Australia on the basis of Australian-gained credentials, they made it a policy that essentially people would stay here once they gained Australian credentials, and we know what that led to. We know that—on the basis of a man murdering his wife in Westmead; another person, a close family friend, kidnapping a child in Melbourne; and workers allegedly being murdered in the Riverina by their employer—it led to a very sensationalistic attack upon this government in the media overseas. We know that the current government had to clamp down with regard to international students to make sure that every college around this country was recertified because of the shams that were developing in the training sector, and everyone was required to be inspected in a year at their place of work. Once again, there is a studied disinterest in how those students—desperate and financially in a very bad situation—would work for anything in this country, undermining Australian conditions.
Finally, again this week, after the Federal Court's decision of May 2012 in the Allseas case—when there was clear lack of government power to protect workers in the offshore resources industry and there was a situation where people were not being protected—the opposition showed that their lowest priority is to protect the interests of Australian workers, to protect Australian training and to make sure that people have fair conditions. So once again they are running around and trying to find the most bizarre ways that they can allege that this is about racial attacks on people and that the Indian community is being persecuted. That is the kind of rhetoric over there.
The other thing they are relying on is whether there are 10,000, 8,000 or 6,000. The reality is—and the Australian people know this very clearly—that 457 visas are being utilised by employers to undermine conditions. Fairfax Media on 6 June, with very little work, came up with 200 examples of 457 and 187 regional visas being manipulated. That included 29 Filipino workers who had to repay loans at 45 per cent interest rates to recruitment and migration agencies; 80 Indian workers duped into paying $4,000 for a Melbourne cleaning course worth $1,300, which they believed would get them jobs and a working visa; and another 100 Indian workers who paid up to $40,000 for promised regional visas and jobs that never materialised. They are trying to say over there that this is not a problem. I say it is.
For my own part, in the last few weeks I have had to write to the minister about a bank in Sydney where people have had contrived job descriptions aimed to make sure that they could come into jobs where they had no qualifications whatsoever. The description of the job was meant to make sure that relatives within this bank could come into Australia and do totally different jobs. A member from Western Australia earlier today referred to an inquiry some years ago in regard to Australian skills. He talked broadly about my involvement in that inquiry. He forgot to mention the extensive evidence we had about exploitation of Filipino workers in the abattoirs et cetera in Queensland.
I want to cite today a lawyer who has persistently been writing to this government—to this minister and the current minister—about what he sees as a very experienced immigration practitioner, in the field and on the streets, with regard to what is happening in this country every day of the week with the abuses of 457 temporary entry visas for foreign workers. His latest bit of correspondence today says: 'The various schemes which I referred to in my previous communications remain, and I can say without exaggeration that daily new clients attend to my office who are either victims of scams or who ask if I am prepared to assist them with a sham 457 visa transaction. Almost uniformly, amounts ranging from $40,000 to $50,000 are quoted as fees being charged by unscrupulous employers and agents to facilitate these visa transactions, with higher fees charged by Chinese entrepreneurs. One problem that I as a lawyer have is, of course, that information is given to me under legal professional privilege and this prevents me from passing information given confidentially unless the client has formally authorised it. Usually persons involved in these transactions are intimidated for a variety of reasons and are therefore reluctant to pass on the information to the authorities.' He had written previously: 'As a practitioner, I report that on an almost daily basis I interview potential applicants for 457 or RSMS visas, many of whom indicate that they have been introduced by an agent or through a friend to a potential employer sponsor who indicates a preparedness to act as a sponsor provided a substantial sum of money is paid as an "inducement". The practice appears to have grown exponentially as people realise that other options for residents have diminished. Sums of money ranging from $20,000 to $50,000 are regularly mentioned.' Those figures, of course, went up recently with regard to what is reported in the last correspondence today.
Another correspondent said, 'I now summarise some of the ongoing abuse schemes which I witness almost daily: persons setting up through intermediaries businesses which then act as employer sponsors—many of these businesses have spurious backgrounds but have been cleverly structured to appear quite legitimate; persons legitimately brought down on 457 visas to work for unscrupulous employers, who fail to meet their obligations under Fair Work Australian legislation. I am aware of the increased operations of the Fair Work Ombudsman but nevertheless in the absence of mandatory monitoring scams frequently go undetected.
Further to point 2, it appears, regrettably, to be common for employees to self-fund their 457 sponsorships, even though this is contrary to the regulatory provisions for the 457 scheme. Again, such payments are usually carefully hidden by unscrupulous employers and agents.'
What we have there is evidence before a committee, an investigation by the Heraldand union exposes. We have lawyers who are in the first line of this activity, renowned migration agents in Sydney and lawyers saying it is necessary. We note that the growth of these visas is extensive. Over the last year there was a 20 per cent growth to 100,000. If we look at a different period from June 2010 to May 2013, there was a 56 per cent rise. What do we note? We note the concentration of these visas in very unskilled sectors such as accommodation and food service and retail, places where there is falling employment.
We have a situation where much has been quoted about the work of the Migration Council and their survey. I would particularly stress some aspects of that analysis. Fifteen per cent of employers said that they have no difficulty finding suitable labour locally in Australia and yet they sponsor employees from overseas under the scheme. They say they can get somebody in Macquarie Fields or Liverpool or Glenfield but for reasons that we can only guess at they prefer to import labour for those very same jobs. That is why I had a complaint from a woman last week that, despite Australia's low unemployment rate of 5½ per cent compared to the US 7.8 per cent or the European wide average of 12 per cent, in Liverpool she sees young people idle and alienated, with no work and nothing to do. I wonder why.
When I see new building sector training opportunities in my electorate at Ingleburn TAFE, a new section opened at Macquarie Fields TAFE with regard to the fitness sector—an industry some of us might not be interested in but which has jobs—and Eagle Vale High School bringing in a number of training options for students, I know things are being done by this government to recover the training deficit under the Howard government. The reasons that we are importing so much later labour relate to a total failure by the previous government to train people as well as in the mining sector.
What are those opposite opposed to? What is so dreadful that this government is undertaking action with regard to the situation with the 457 visas? They are upset that we are increasing the number of inspectors to 300 to go out there for Fair Work Australia to look at what is happening in the real world. They are attacking the fact that the government wants to reinforce conditions in the industry. They are also opposed to labour market testing. It is dreadful apparently that employers perhaps should look around and see if they can find suitable Australians for a job. They are very upset about that proposition.
They are also very upset and emotionally disturbed by the fact that the government is trying to enshrine the required content of existing sponsorship obligations and to create new obligations relating to meeting training requirements, the term of the sponsorship approval, preventing the transfer of people, the charge or recovery of certain costs from sponsored visa holders and restriction of on-hiring arrangements, where people come here with one employer and five minutes later they are down the road with somebody else. They are seemingly concerned that the migration regulations would be extended from 28 to 90 days to allow people to find a second employer where they legitimately lose their job and need another employer.
We have had many speakers refer to what is occurring in Canada. Those opposite say that this is only happening in Australia and that it is due to this dreadful Labor government that is trying to crack down on foreign temporary workers; it is not happening anywhere else, it is just a political attempt by the union movement and it is all directed by the ACTU. When we look around the world, unfortunately, this does not hold true. There have been previous quotes of what is happening in Canada, one of the most conservative governments in the western world. The Harper government, on all practical standards, is among the most reactionary.
If we look at the United Kingdom, there is a bipartisan attitude. When Prime Minister David Cameron announced the need to do something about the undermining of skilled migration by the large numbers coming in and the lack of controls, did Ed Miliband, unlike these people—(Time expired)
I rise to speak on the Migration Amendment (Temporary Sponsored Visas) Bill 2013, a bill which will see Fair Work inspectors into every workplace where there are people with 457s and a bill which will see an increase in the regulation that employers will have to comply with if they want to bring people to this country on a 457. I stand up before you both in sorrow and in anger. I stand before you in sorrow about a once-great Labor Party. I must say that the member for Werriwa and his brother, the member for Batman—both of whom are in the chamber today— and the member for Hotham were proud of the great Labor tradition that had produced great Labor leaders. But to stoop this low, to do the barracking of the union movement, to put handcuffs on employers around this country is a low point for your side of politics.
I rise in anger because Australian businesses big and small do not need another kick in the guts, as this bill contemplates. Why are we here? Why are we debating this bill today? We are debating this bill because the union movement has once again taken control of the Labor Party. The union movement represents only 13 per cent of the private sector workforce around Australia. If you take into account public sector employees, it rises to 20 per cent. If you go to any Labor federal or state conference, the votes on the floor are 50 per cent. If you go to the Labor caucus, it is 100 per cent. If you go to the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, he is the former secretary of the Australian Workers Union who Kathy Jackson, the former head of the HSU, has described as being 'Dracula in charge of the blood bank'. What we have before this House tonight is just another bill in a litany of legislation which we have been asked to comment about and which is all about increasing the patronage and power of the Australian union movement.
Unions have an important role to play in society—I would be the first to say that—but when they have too much control and raise false arguments about the 457 debate, for example, they are doing more harm than good to the Australian economy. In this place just the other day we debated a bill about foreign workers on offshore resource activities like offshore oil rigs that they wanted to make subject again to the Migration Act and to receive visas. We have been debating in this place greater right-of-entry provisions which will ensure that no employee in Australia can eat their lunch in peace and quiet. No longer can they have a coke and a fish and chips or burger in peace and quiet. We have seen greenfields sites being subject to increased power from the union movement. We have seen the abolition of the Australian Building and Construction Commission. The Building and Construction Commission was a cop on the beat designed to stop lawlessness in the construction and building sector, and helped produce billions of dollars of increased productivity gains for the Australian economy. It came out of the Cole royal commission, which the Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott, was instrumental in setting up. But all those elements of the workplace environment have been subject to a grab for power and patronage by the Australian union movement. Tonight's 457 bill is just the latest instalment in that.
Let me tell you about 457s. 457s are a very important element in the Australian economy. There are more than 108,000 people as of April this year who are here on a 457. That is less than one per cent of the Australian economy. Those people are filling voids in the workforce in areas like information technology, health, resources, doctors and nurses and engineers. These are people who are not seeking welfare from the Australian taxpayer. These are people who are not having the Australian taxpayer pay for their health or for their education. These are people who are coming to Australia to bring their skills to fill a void in the workforce They come here for up to four years and are allowed to go to and from Australia as they see fit. They are able to bring their families here.
These 457s are in heavy use in Australia because there have been gaps in our labour force. It is as simple as that. In fact, 70 per cent of people who are in Australia on a 457 are in a professional or managerial role. They are not all in the labourer type of role. They are so important to the Australian economy that the Prime Minister's own Scottish Svengali, John McTernan, is here in Australia on a 457.
The member for Hughes says no. I can tell you, Member for Hughes, it is right. He is here on a 457, and that is laughable. What is more, half of the members of the Transport Workers Union are here on a 457. They are here on 457s working in the press office of the TWU's Tony Sheldon. The hypocrisy, the irony, the silliness of this debate is astounding.
The Labor Party will be damned by their own words when it comes to 457s. I want to share with the member for Hotham and the member for Werriwa some key words. This is what the Prime Minister has said about 457s:
… we will need skilled migration. I believe we've got the visa settings right particularly with short term 457 visas.
How about that? Chris Bowen, who was then the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, said:
… migration is shaped by Australia's economic needs, and the Temporary Business 457 visa is a key pillar in this approach.
So you have the Prime Minister and the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship; and, what is more, the Prime Minister had the gall to say on the 457s:
We inherited from the previous government a 457 temporary foreign worker visa program that was totally out of control …
If it was so totally out of control, why has the government seen more than a 20 per cent increase in 457s over the last year? That is the obvious question. If there were so many problems with the 457 system, why has the Prime Minister and the minister for immigration gone on the record glorifying the 457 system, failing to do anything about the rorts that they said existed and actually overseeing a massive increase in the number of people coming to Australia on a 457? That is the alarming irony in this debate. This government sat on its hands while the 457s were increasing in number. Now, because the union movement have asked them to, they are making a political point. The new minister for immigration has said that there have been 10,000 abuses of 457s.
Mr Tudge interjecting—
He got that out of thin air, I say to my friend and colleague the member for Aston. Why do I say he got it out of thin air? Because he produced no evidence to substantiate his claim. In fact he was contradicted by his own immigration officers. Dr Wendy Southern, a senior official at the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, said the following when asked at a Senate inquiry about the number of 10,000:
We certainly did not provide advice around a number of 10,000.
Then the First Assistant Secretary of the Migration and Visa Policy Division of DIAC, the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, said:
I am not in a position to provide advice in terms of what guided the minister to talk about that number.
Then Stephen Bolton, Senior Adviser, Employment, Education and Training, at the Australian Chamber of Commerce, said:
Never, to my knowledge, has a figure so high being raised.'
This is the problem here: the government has concocted an argument for political purposes and to increase the patronage of the unions. Innes Willox, who is the head of the Australian Industry Group, says:
The claims of out-of-control 457 numbers are little more than union-inspired scare-mongering.
There is no other reason why the Labor Party is prepared to face this series of contradictions by their own senior officials, by industry groups and by the Prime Minister's and the minister's own words unless, of course, this is about payback to the unions at a time when the Prime Minister is at her weakest political point. The only thing standing between the Prime Minister and Kevin Rudd is the union leadership, and this is one of the demands of the union leadership.
We do not want employers right around this country to be faced with the extra paperwork that will flow from the provisions of this bill. One of the provisions requires that employers do 'labour market testing' before they go and hire someone on a 457. Labour market testing was already in for the years after 1996, it was deemed to be ineffective and so the caravan moved on. But the Labor Party is now saying to employers, 'You can't get someone here on a 457 unless you've got support from Commonwealth or state authorities, unless you have shown you have done all this work to try to find somebody who does not need to come here on a 457 and unless you have information showing that you have made a real effort in this regard.' This will only increase the costs to the employers who are looking for people to come on 457s.
The second element of this bill which we dislike intensely is that you are going to send Fair Work inspectors into every workplace to police these 457s. This element of intrusion will be an extra burden to business when we have seen that you cannot substantiate your false claims about 10,000 abuses. The fact is that you are spending more of taxpayers' money to create more Fair Work inspectors—
The Labor Party is spending more of taxpayers' money to pay for more of these Fair Work inspectors to intrude into these employers' venues in order to hit them with a civil penalty. Well, that is just not good enough. And, Madam Speaker, you would think if the government were going to introduce such controversial and detrimental legislative provisions into this place that it would have the courtesy to conduct a regulatory impact statement, but it has not. You have waived a regulatory impact statement from being conducted here, you have not allowed proper scrutiny by the relevant committees and, once again, you are bulldozing this parliament into approving your union friendly legislation.
I finish where I started, which is that we cannot support this legislation when it increases the burden on employers, when it will have detrimental impacts on our economy, when the level of compliance is coming at a time when business owners and employers just do not need more compliance and when it is a payback to the masters of the Labor Party in the union movement. (Time expired)
I would also like to speak strongly against the Migration Amendment (Temporary Sponsored Visas) Bill 2013 that is in front of us this evening. This is a disgraceful bill that true Labor members on the other side of this chamber—the true ones, the good ones, and even the Simon Creans who are over there listened to this debate—should be ashamed about. I do not believe that if Simon Crean were leader of the Labor Party, or if he was the immigration minister at this time, he would put through a bill such as this one, which is all about protecting union mates and flies in the face of everything that we have done in this country for the last few decades on a bipartisan basis to try to attract skilled migrants. I do not believe a Simon Crean would do this and I think that, deep down, he is embarrassed about this bill in front of us.
I would commend the fine words of the member for Kooyong in the speech immediately before me. He outlined the case incredibly well as to why this bill is the wrong bill to be introducing into this parliament. He outlined the two reasons it is being introduced. Firstly, it is to be a distraction from the disgraceful, chaotic and wasteful border protection regime that they have in place, which is seeing thousands of boats coming to this place on a regular basis now. They want a distraction from this and this bill is designed to provide that.
The second reason they introduced this bill is because the unions have demanded it. They have demanded it of this Prime Minister and of this new immigration minister, and therefore the Prime Minister and the immigration minister are rushing it into this parliament. When the unions demand something of this government, it cannot be done quickly enough for them. It is funny, because with the border protection regime we had, the Houston inquiry made a series of recommendations—one of which was to excise the mainland—and that recommendation was made many, many months ago.
What did the minister do in relation to that recommendation? He just sat on it. He did not rush to go ahead with it to deal with the matter at hand as recommended by their own expert panel. He sat on it for absolutely months. But what do they do when the unions demand that we crack down on the 457 visas? Straightaway we had better get on with the job and fix it up because the unions have demanded that we crack down on 457 visas. If the unions demand that this Labor government does something, they will immediately rush into this parliament and legislate to fix up those things which the unions say need fixing. Imagine if the unions said that we really need to stop the boats. Perhaps they would introduce some serious measures to stop the boats. Imagine if the unions said that we need to get control of the borders. Imagine if the unions said, yes, we actually need to bring the surplus into the budget—
perhaps we would actually have a balanced budget for the first time, Madam Speaker. Perhaps for the first time in 23 years under a Labor government we would have a balanced budget if the unions demanded it. That is why we are dealing with this bill now.
The reasons that they put forward for introducing this bill are, frankly, farcical. They have given two reasons why we need to be cracking down on 457 visas. The first is that the system has been rorted. There are 108,000 people on 457 visas, and the minister said about a month ago that this is being seriously rorted by employers to the extent that almost 10 per cent of those visas have been falsely given—they have been rorted by employers. He gave the figure of 10,000 people who should not be in this country because they have falsely been given a 457 visa—10,000 people.
But as the member for Kooyong said, where did this number come from? Apparently it is a very good figure according to the member for Werriwa—or was it the member for Holt who pointed this out?—he just dreamt this figure up. There is no evidence that there have been 10,000 rorts, none whatsoever. He dreamt this figure up. It was disgraceful to reduce the legitimacy of the 457 visa system, a system that has worked incredibly well to date, even according to the Prime Minister's own words. Even according to the Prime Minister's own words, the system has been working incredibly well. But he dreams of this figure of 10,000 rorts one day and then cannot substantiate it. But it is on the basis of this figure that we are actually introducing this bill today to add all sorts of red tape and all sorts of obligations upon employers to exercise their right to issue 457 visas for a highly skilled worker to come into this country.
The other reason they gave for needing to introduce this bill to crack down upon 457 visas is because they said, 'Well, look at the excessive growth of the 457 visa regime.' Okay, let us have a look at it. Let us have a look at the evidence. The evidence is that there has only been 1.7 per cent growth this year in 457 visas issued. Do you know how many visas that translates to? It is 940. Do you know how many people come in on a boat each day—about 100 or 150, 200? This would be less than a week's worth of boat people, but that is the growth that we have had in the 457 visa category this year and that is the figure which they are saying is so outrageous that we need to be introducing this bill this evening as an emergency measure to be passed before this parliament rises because, apparently, there has been a 1.7 per cent growth. It is a disgrace, and some of the sensible members sitting over there—Mr Fitzgibbon and, as I said, the member for Holt—are ashamed of this bill that has been put before us.
Only 940 visas have been introduced above and beyond last year's measures, and last year of course was when the Prime Minister herself famously said that she believed they had 'these settings right, particularly with short-term 457 visas'. That was last year. That was 12 months ago that the Prime Minister herself, Julia Gillard said—and I notice that the Labor members have gone quiet when I quote Julia Gillard from 12 months ago—'I believe we have got the visa settings right, particularly with short-term 457 visas.' So we have had a 1.7 per cent growth since that time and that apparently has caused a catastrophe. Those additional 940 people we have had through the 457 visa process, those skilled workers working in our hospitals, in government departments and sometimes in the unions, and indeed in the Prime Minister's office, are apparently causing this catastrophe so that we have to rush this bill through and strangle the 457 visa process.
The other issue of course is that there has been no consultation in relation to this bill. In some respects we should not be surprised because they are almost not consulting at all on any measure that they are introducing into this parliament at the moment. But this measure however has such a significant impact—