House debates

Monday, 26 May 2014


Migration Amendment (Offshore Resources Activity) Repeal Bill 2014; Second Reading

4:11 pm

Photo of Richard MarlesRichard Marles (Corio, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Immigration and Border Protection) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to oppose the Migration Amendment (Offshore Resources Activity) Repeal Bill 2014. This bill seeks to repeal the Migration Amendment (Offshore Resources Activity) Act that was introduced by the Labor government only last year—2013.

The resources sector is an enormous part of Australia's prosperity. According to the Bureau of Resources and Energy Economics, at the end of October 2013 there were 63 projects at the committed stage, representing a combined value of $240 billion. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, there are 273,000 people employed in mining, oil and gas projects. So, given the size of this industry, it is essential that any move to regulate the environment that this industry operates within is done carefully. Firstly, regulation must take into account the safety and conditions of the persons working on these projects. Secondly, regulation must take into account the unique contribution that this industry makes to the Australian economy through the creation of jobs, trade and export value.

The Migration Amendment (Offshore Resources Activity) Act 2013, introduced by the then Labor government, sought to clarify the status of persons working in offshore marine zones, in response to the case Allseas Construction SA v Minister for Immigration and Citizenship [2012]. It is also known as the Allseas case. In Allseas, the Federal Court found that pipe-laying vessels and noncitizens working on those vessels were not within or working within the migration zone as defined under section 5 of the Migration Act 1958. This meant that workers on board those vessels did not require a visa.

The then Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Chris Bowen, announced that the government would legislate to amend the Migration Act 1958 and clarify the situation regarding workers in Australia's offshore maritime zones by expanding the scope of the migration zone. The department then commenced a review and established the Migration Maritime Taskforce to inform the best way to address the situation. The Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee also examined the bill then, noting that it complied with Australia's obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and recommended that it be passed

During each of these processes, extensive stakeholder engagement was conducted.

It is important to note that Labor's act is not due to commence until 30 June this year. This was to allow adequate time for further facilitation and stakeholder engagement regarding the specifically tailored visa pathway for offshore resource workers that was to be developed and was prescribed in the Migration Regulations 1994. Primarily, Labor's act sought to ensure that persons who participate in or support an 'offshore resources activity' are deemed to be in the migration zone, thereby requiring all noncitizens engaged in offshore resources activities to hold either a specific or permanent visa. At the time it was acknowledged that there was a need to strike a balance between encouraging investment in our offshore environments and the need to ensure that Australia's offshore jobs are regulated under Australian laws.

Labor's position on this has not changed. It is critical that Australia maintains a healthy investment environment in its offshore projects. This will not only make sure that the industry has ongoing viability, but also ensures that we maximise the capacity of these projects to employ the right people with the right skills. Winding back the Labor government's reforms will re-open a significant loop hole in Australia's ability to regulate the conditions of our offshore resources industry and to regulate the workers who are employed on these valuable national assets. This could lead to situations where those working on these projects are working under conditions that do not adhere to Australian standards. This in turn reduces work opportunities for Australian citizens and permanent residents and puts businesses that only engage workers who hold valid visas at a competitive disadvantage.

A return to the absence of a regulated visa scheme in offshore resources projects also poses potential security risks. In the absence of visa character tests, the government has no information on some of the workers engaged on these offshore projects. By repealing this legislation, this government is returning to a situation that undermines the integrity of Australia's migration framework. It is important that Australia maintains an approach to skilled migration that allows for flexibility to fill gaps in the labour market when there are no Australian workers to do the job.

However, the offshore resources sector is part of Australia's labour market. If there are Australians who are capable of doing the job, they should be employed to do it and under Australian safety standards, Australian wages and Australian conditions. This bill seeks to repeal the conditions and standards that Labor regards as vital to the ongoing success of our offshore resources industry, and it is for these reasons Labor is opposing this bill before the House.

4:18 pm

Photo of Don RandallDon Randall (Canning, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I spoke on a similar bill to this when it was brought through the House previously and I am pleased to do so again. In speaking to the Migration Amendment (Offshore Resources Activity) Repeal Bill 2014, I need to make a few preliminary observations and then speak to the core of the bill.

Basically, the bill looks to simplify what was going to become under Labor an extremely complex set of arrangements for those international maritime workers and businesses who sought to help build our nation's capacity in the resources sector for the benefit of all Australians. It seems to have become commonplace for coalition members such as myself to stand here and speak on bills which seek to clean up the mess left by Labor when it relates to migration—and if I have time, I will go into that later.

But I say at the outset I have raised this in our own party room and I have raised this in this House before: there is no conflict in my mind as to who should have jobs priority in Australia. It should be Australians. There is no conflict whatsoever. It is nondebatable. But the problem is that every now and again we find a specialised sector of the workforce where Australians do not have the qualifications required. When I have raised the issue previously—and you may recall my raising this, Mr Deputy Speaker—we found there are anomalies. We get the anomaly in a special skills set where you could have a welder, for example, who is quite capable of doing everyday welding and even some specialty welding, but when he is required to do special alloy welding, such as welding under the ocean with special rods, not everybody has that skill set readily available. I am sure that there are Australians that do have that skill, but they are not readily available and on the spot. I have made the point previously that where these shortfalls are occurring, it is the onus of the businesses and, dare I say, the governments of Australia, to make sure that Australians are upskilled so that they can do these jobs. There is not enough compulsion on those wanting to be involved in these sectors to make sure that they are value-adding to their workers so that they can take on specific projects. I make that caveat before I continue and say anything else in relation to this bill.

What needs to be understood in relation to this bill—and the previous speaker, the member for Corio raised this—was that in May 2012 the Federal Court precipitated this bill because they found that Allseas pipelaying vessels and noncitizens working on these vessels were not within, or not working within, migration as defined by the Migration Act at the time when laying these pipes. That was an unusual set of circumstances and needed to be clarified and the court ruled that way.

The Labor Party decided on a legislative response. The decision was in response to the action taken by Allseas against the Labor government after assertions were made that Allseas should be employing deckhands and crews on 457 visas. Normally, the Labor Party is railing against 457 visas, and we have seen the union ads about how terrible 457 visas are. As I said, Australians first—but if you cannot get an Australian you have to get the job done

The complication with this particular bill is that many of these people never came to the Australian shore. They did not even get to step foot on mainland Australia. They were coming on boats—for example, on transport rigs or pipe-laying boats—that never actually entered the territorial zone of Australian waters. They were in the wider territorial zone, 200 kilometres out. And, dare I say, there is another technicality with people who flew into an international airport, like Broome. I understand that Karratha has the ability too. Technically, they never actually set foot on Australian soil and they never had to provide a visa. They were picked up from the airport and flown out to the rigs or the barges. So it was an interesting complication and, correctly, it had to be dealt with.

The original offshore resources activity migration bill to change this was rushed through the parliament in the dying days of the Gillard government. This bill was not introduced to meet an urgent and essential concern of the industry or government; it was introduced basically as a favour to their mates in the union, because they were anti anyone who was not a member of the union.

In his dying days as the Minister for Immigration, the member for Gorton put this bill forward to facilitate a further union power grab on the offshore resources industry. We know that offshore at the moment we have all these demarcation disputes. We have Martin Ferguson, the former resources minister, railing against this big time, that it is un-Australian and it is hurting Australia. And, of course, they have turned on him now. The demarcation dispute is between the AWU, the MUA and the CFMEU. You have all this argy-bargy and trying to muscle in on the territory to make sure that they are all members of their unions. This is what this is about. This is not trying to resolve it; this is about a power grab for their particular union.

Why was it introduced on the 30th by the then Minister O'Connor, the member for Gorton, and not the then soon-to-be Minister for Immigration, the member for—Chris—

Photo of Jamie BriggsJamie Briggs (Mayo, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development) Share this | | Hansard source

Bowen. McMahon.

Photo of Don RandallDon Randall (Canning, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for McMahon. Why was it not introduced by him? You have to understand the history of somebody who has come to this place with the agenda that the member for Gorton had. We know that when he came to Australia he and most of his family found a home in the union movement.

I do not have any problem with the unions. I think that quite often they are a good idea for collective bargaining and as a way to get better terms and conditions for their workers. But when they become a political force, basically for and on behalf of the Labor Party, then they have to be looked at. I was a union representative myself as a schoolteacher. I was happy to try and get better terms and conditions for my colleagues in the teaching profession. But when that same union started collecting money from both me and my wife, who is a schoolteacher, and decided that they were going to use that money in campaigns against us, I drew the line. Why would we be paying union dues when that money was being used in a campaign waged against us?

This is not what the bill is about; this is about a power grab by the unions to control the offshore resources industry, as I have already said. Obviously, it is about shoring up the member for Gorton's base and those who got him here. We know that his brother, Michael O'Connor, is one of the head CFMEU bosses. He has a lot of influence. That is how you get in here; if you have influence through the unions you get preselected. So it is about paying back debts. This is about throwing international agreements to the four wins around the Arafura and Timor seas, and imposing unnecessary and harsh regulations on the offshore industries that serve us. It is not completely in the best interests of Australia.

In relation to the comments made by the member for Corio, I find it very interesting that he said this visa would not pass the character test. Well, goodness me! Please, Labor Party, do not talk about visas and character tests! We can hark back to those entering who burnt the boat and five people were seriously hurt. Five people were taken to court and convicted, and they still got visas from those opposite! So much for a character test! I will not go into the contentious activity of today too much, other than to say that somebody who is a drug dealer and wants a visa in Australia might not pass the character test either. So they should not lecture us about character tests and visas. There is a whole range of people who should not be allowed to stay in Australia who have been caught in pretty nefarious and illegal activities, and under this lot opposite they are still in Australia. We are going to apply the character test as it should be applied.

The member for Corio also said that this is about safety. Well, good—I am all for safety. But I know, as somebody who has been inducted onto these rigs in the resource areas, that you have to go through a massive induction program before you get on there. This is another thing—and this is one of the reasons why it is difficult for the resources industry to comply with a whole lot of the ambit claims given by these unions—they have to fly the union rep out by helicopter and house him out there. It has been reported that some offshore employees have had to charter special service flights as seats were not available on normal flights because the workers were actually using them. It has resulted in critical expenses that saw an operator have to outlay something like an extra $80,000 to placate the unions and their mates and just get them out on the barge or the platform.

The irony of all this is that when we talk about visas like this, the member for Brand was roundly criticised because he tried to organise 457 visas especially in our resources industry in Western Australia and—who was it?—Paddy Crumlin and the MUA wanted to threaten his preselection. And then there was the former member for Batman, Martin Ferguson, who said that the MUA was threatening all these jobs and that it was going to hurt our resources sector. At the moment we are seeing the MUA threatening to take all the tugboat guys out on strike. They get paid $135,000 just for six months work and the unions want to see them get paid 40 per cent more—

Photo of Alannah MactiernanAlannah Mactiernan (Perth, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Absolute rubbish—you're making that up!

Photo of Don RandallDon Randall (Canning, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

40 per cent more—and reduce their on-time to 4½ months. That sort of workplace is not sustainable. The reality of what this ambit claim is in relation to this visa is that if somebody wants to come to this country and operate without coming into our migration zone they should be allowed to be employed by that company. Just put the reverse: if we go and do a fair bit of work in the Middle East in both the oil and gas sectors off Saudi or off the Emirates and we do not go ashore in one of those countries, they do not have unions up there but do we have to belong to their regime. Do we have to get a visa to enter? We do not. You go straight to the job site. This is what we are talking about, so this is sensible legislation.

The Labor Party will oppose it all the way. I point out again, and confirm, that this is no more than a power grab by the unions and the Labor Party in this place looking after their union mates. The Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten, went to Western Australia before the last federal election. He said one thing in Western Australia and something else over here. What he said in Western Australia was: 'I want to see unions more like the MUA, because they are more militant. I want to see them raise their head and take on people in an aggressive way.' I will bring the cuttings in next time I speak on one of these bills and table them because I think they are very interesting reading. Yet when he comes back over this side of the country he says, 'No, no, we don't want that sort of militant action from unions,' but he has got the CFMEU, a militant union, and the MUA, a militant union, trying to impose themselves.

This legislation clearly fixes up the mess that the Labor Party would have taken us into—and thank goodness that was rushed through and not proclaimed properly. As a result we are going to make sure that by 1 July this year this sort of legislation is improved so that it does not hurt the Australian resources sector and that it is actually in the best interests of our productivity and the workers in the north-west, not the union bosses in the north-west and their beneficiaries here in Canberra, the members of the Labor Party.

4:32 pm

Photo of Matt ThistlethwaiteMatt Thistlethwaite (Kingsford Smith, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

I oppose the passage of the Migration Amendment (Offshore Resources Activity) Repeal Bill 2014. Currently in Australia noncitizens working on offshore resources and installations such as offshore or exploration platforms are required to have a visa that entitles them to work on those platforms and that entitles them to work rights and to be subject to Australian laws. That is the law of Australia: anyone working on an offshore oil platform must have a visa. But noncitizens who are working nearby, in some cases closer to the Australian shore, on vessels that may be laying pipes and are not stationary but moving around from day to day are not required to have a visa and therefore are not subject to Australian laws and work rights. In anyone's book this is completely illogical and inconsistent. That is why the previous Labor government introduced the Migration Amendment (Offshore Resources Activity) Bill last year to clear up the confusion that currently exists between two groups of workers who, for all intents and purposes, are doing similar work in similar zones but with different outcomes.

On 15 October 2012 the former Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Chris Bowen, announced that the government would legislate to clarify the situation around workers in Australia's offshore maritime zones. That clarification was brought about because of confusion that arose because of a Federal Court case, Allseas Construction v the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, in 2012. In that case the court found that vessels that were laying pipes offshore in Australia's migration zone and had noncitizens working on them were not within or working within the migration zone as defined by the act. This meant that workers on board those vessels did not require a visa. So you had people who were working within the zone that would ordinarily be accepted as Australia's migration zone, but because the vessels they were working on were not stationary they were not in the migration zone as defined in that decision and therefore Australian laws did not apply.

In the wake of this the Labor government did not act in a knee-jerk manner. We did not rush legislation into the parliament. What did we do? The Labor government undertook a process. The Migration Maritime Task Force, comprising various Department of Immigration and Citizenship experts, was developed to explore options to determine the most appropriate way to ensure that foreign workers in Australia's offshore maritime zones came within the ambit of the act. It was this independent task force that found that any question as to whether a person was in the migration zone or not should not be solely dependent on where the person was physically located but should also be dependent on the sorts of activities the person was conducting. It was acknowledged that there was a need to strike a balance between encouraging investment in Australia's offshore environments and ensuring that Australia's offshore jobs were regulated under Australian laws. This finding was also in line with a longstanding practice of the Labor Party of ensuring that all Australian employment and industries are regulated under Australian law, including those located on the landward side of the outer limits of Australia's territorial sea, in the exclusive economic zone, or in the waters above the continental shelf, which is where this work was being conducted in the Allseas case. As a result of this research and the extensive consultation with stakeholders, the Migration Amendment (Offshore Resources Activity) Bill was introduced to provide that a person is taken to be in the migration zone while he or she is in an area to participate in, or support, an offshore resources activity in relation to that area. The bill defines offshore resources activity as activity administered under the Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage Act 2006 and the Offshore Minerals Act or under the law of the Commonwealth, a state or a territory, as determined by a minister in writing. The bill sought to bring offshore persons into the migration zone and thereby require them to hold a visa under Australian law. This new, comprehensive framework was designed to ensure that workers in Australia's offshore resources industry are regulated under the act and required to hold specific visas.

Overwhelmingly, I believe that this is a view that is supported by Australians. Individuals who engage in offshore resources activities in Australia's offshore maritime zones should be subject to existing compliance measures in the act that address breaches of work and visa conditions. A specifically tailored visa pathway for offshore resources workers was to be developed, in conjunction with stakeholders, to meet the needs of industry groups. The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea gives Australia the jurisdiction to do this, as it provides sovereign rights with respect to the exploration and exploitation of the natural resources of Australia's exclusive economic zone and the continental shelf.

In his second reading speech on this particular Migration Amendment (Offshore Resources Activity) Repeal Bill that is before the House today the Minister for Immigration, Scott Morrison, spoke of the importance of the offshore resources industry to the Australian economy. He pointed out that it generates $28 billion in revenue and contributes $9 billion in direct taxes to our country. The continued success of the oil and gas industries is indeed vital to the energy needs and economic prosperity of our nation. But this industry is also a great generator of jobs—jobs for Australians—and it is on this issue that Labor differs from a coalition government. It has become painfully obvious that when it comes to jobs this government does not have Australia's best interests at heart. The minister in his speech also alluded to the difficulty of determining with any level of accuracy who is working in the offshore resources industry from overseas, what they are doing and how much they are paid—precisely the requirement for this type of visa category to be introduced in Australia.

We believe there is a principle at stake here. These are jobs which Australians can perform within our territorial waters which should be subject to Australian law, and winding back the Labor government's reforms will reopen a significant gap in Australia's ability to apply decent Australian working conditions to our offshore resources industry and regulate how foreign workers are employed on these valuable national assets.

The absence of a regulated visa scheme in offshore resources projects also poses a security risk. In the absence of a visa character test, the government has no information at all on some of the workers who are performing work on these projects. There is also a safety issue at stake here. The member for Canning pointed out that if you go onto an offshore oil platform you will go through one of the most stringent induction processes and occupational health and safety tests. There is a good reason for that, and it is that Australian occupational health and safety laws apply on those offshore oil resources. Australian workplace laws apply because those resources are subject to Australian law and within our migration zone, and that is the same approach that should be taken to projects such as the laying of pipes in similar circumstances. The inability of the government to regulate foreign workers in Australia's offshore resources industries undermines the integrity of Australia's migration program and visa regime in regulating work entitlements. This can obviously lead to scenarios where this important work is being carried out under conditions and standards that are not up to scratch in comparison with Australian laws and standards.

Just as concerning is the inability to effectively regulate these workers. Opportunities for Australians to gain access to this highly skilled work may be reduced or removed, while putting workers who hold a valid visa at a competitive disadvantage. Labor acknowledges that there is a requirement for 457 visas in certain industries under certain circumstances, but only where it is clearly demonstrated by an employer that Australians do not have the necessary skills or capabilities or are not readily available to perform that work. Only under those circumstances should 457 visas be allowed. The 457 visa program has a valid role to play not just in the migration program but also in the overarching economic framework of labour mobility generally.

Labor accepts the need to strike a balance with the legislation introduced when we were in government in 2013. We believe that strikes the right balance between encouraging investment in Australia's offshore environment and ensuring that Australia's offshore jobs are regulated under Australian laws. That is why workers who are working in these resources projects should be subject to Australia's migration laws. They should hold valid Australian visas and, importantly, they should work under conditions and safety rules which apply to the rest of the Australian workforce. That is why this bill must be voted down.

4:44 pm

Photo of Melissa PriceMelissa Price (Durack, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise today to speak on one of this government's key repeal bills which, if left in its current form and not revoked, has the ability to significantly hinder Australia's future economic viability, and trade and employment relations, both domestically and on an international scale.

The purpose of the Migration Amendment (Offshore Resources Activity) Repeal Bill 2014 is to repeal the Migration Amendment (Offshore Resources Activity) Act 2013, or ORA act as it is more commonly known. The ORA act sought to regulate the employment of noncitizens working in the offshore resources industry by way of a visa arrangement. This is regardless of whether they are actually working on a resources installation or not.

For those in this House who are not aware, the former government introduced these legislative changes in response to a Federal Court decision in May 2012, known as the Allseas case. In this judgment, the Federal Court ruled that noncitizens who work aboard vessels not within the migration zone are not required to hold work visas. This was part of an exemption in the Migration Act where vessels that are not being used for a resources installation are viewed in the act as being outside of the migration zone.

The intention of the ORA act was to remove this exemption with the overall aim to regulate the employment of overseas workers in the offshore resources industry and to impose Australian terms and conditions of employment, or rates of pay, to all noncitizens working in the industry. Noncitizen employees working on installations would therefore be required to hold and comply with a valid visa.

The ORA act was implemented by the former government and received royal assent on 29 June 2013. The operative provisions of this act, however, have not yet commenced—something I am sure industry and my colleagues who understand the former government's true intent for introducing this legislation can all be thankful for.

But let's not beat around the bush: the reality is that the ORA act was nothing more than an attempted power grab by the Labor party on behalf of their union brothers. It was an attempt to tie our resource projects up in union red tape. We can all sit in this place and tell ourselves that it must be because the former government wanted to increase the number of Australians who work on these offshore resource projects—something I must say I, of course, fully support. Who doesn't?

But when you get to the heart of the act, the truth is much simpler. The truth is exactly what we would expect from the former government—the introduction of legislation to this House to give more power to the unions who fund their political party.

While making this power play, those opposite of course did not think about the regulatory impact and additional implementation costs it would have on Australia's offshore resources industry or the significant impact it could potentially have on Australia's international investment and commercial viability. After all, those opposite introduced a mining tax which created these same uncertainties, so we cannot expect much more from the Labor Party.

Labor's only thought is to pander to their union mates, rather than thinking about Australia's economy, the viability of one of our key export industries or our international standing. If this act is not repealed, it will simply lead to duplication in regulation for the offshore resources industry and will hinder Australia's commercial viability for future investments. If the red tape surrounding our industries is considered too much work by international standards, then these investments will simply be made elsewhere. Australia is not the only country with offshore resource activity or minerals.

A key concern of industry groups is that offshore resource companies require highly skilled workers who are often sought globally. This is not because these companies do not want to hire Australian workers but because Australia simply does not have tradesmen and women with these skills, or enough of them. To keep the ORA act in place, we would therefore be forcing industry to adhere to additional visa enforcements for no other benefit than being able to confirm the status of a foreign national in the migration zone.

What needs to be understood is the fact that noncitizens who work on resource installations or who come to the Australian mainland to work are already required to hold visas. Noncitizens must also hold a valid visa to be immigration cleared when they transit through an Australian airport on their way to and from resource installations and vessels. Simply put, all workers entering Australia are still subject to stringent immigration controls—we aren't just letting people waltz into our country without knowing who they are, where they are from and their reason for entering Australia. All the ORA act does is duplicate this process.

It is also important to note that the ORA act would introduce a significant regulatory burden on the offshore resources industry in terms of the cost to comply with the ORA act and the associated visa arrangements. This is despite all indications being that the number of noncitizens working in the industry, who are not currently required to hold visas, is relatively small. One estimate has in fact put the total at approximately 2,000 people per year, with only a proportion of these people being in Australia at any given time, given the prevalence of fly-in fly-out workers in the resources industry.

According to Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration, known as APPEA, the peak national body representing Australia's upstream oil and gas exploration and production industry 'The oil and gas industry is a major driver of Australia's prosperity. In 2011-12 Australian LNG cargoes earned almost $12 billion in export revenue and put $29.4 billion dollars into the Australian economy.' They also said, 'In the same year, the oil and gas industry also paid more than $8 billion in taxation to governments across Australia.' 'With $200 billion worth of new projects now under construction, the industry's contribution is set to grow substantially, having generated more than 100,000 direct and indirect jobs across the Australian economy in 2013.'

Any legislation that has the potential to stymie investment in Australia's resources industry should therefore be of great concern to all who sit in this chamber, to industry, and to Australian taxpayers. It is of particular concern to me, given that my electorate of Durack accounts for some 85 per cent of Western Australia's resources sector. As many of my colleagues would be aware, Western Australia's resources sector generated the largest contribution to GDP of any state resources sector, at 53 per cent of the national resources industry value added or $89 billion, in 2011-12.

What my colleagues on both sides of this house may not be aware of is that the majority of these resource projects are in my electorate of Durack and, in particular, the Pilbara region, which contributed over $22 billion annually or some 75 per cent of total output in 2010-11.

Adjacent to the Durack electorate, we also have a number of offshore resource projects with the companies office headquarters predominantly based in the Pilbara region or in Perth. This includes but is not limited to Chevron's Barrow Island project; Woodside's North West Shelf; Pluto LNG projects; and Apache and BHP projects. Needless to say, these are major resource projects that require highly skilled and competent workers. In turn, it will not—or at least it should not—come as a shock to those in the chamber, that Australia substantially relies on the wealth that is, or will be, generated from these projects. However, it seems that, by implementing this act, those opposite managed to forget these important facts and were instead too focused on the narrow-mindedness of their union mates, who failed to see the big picture. They failed to see how an act such as this can hinder an entire country, all for the small benefit of being able to confirm the status of a foreign national in the migration zone.

On the scale of things, I think Australia's international competitiveness and ensuring that companies with offshore resource projects are able to continue hiring the skilled workers they need to get the job done safely and productively far outweighs the former government's unionist focus on industrial relations laws. Industry has consistently opposed the ORA act, with APPEA in particular highlighting significant economic and safety concerns as a result of the act's implementation by the former government. In their submission to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee inquiry into the act's repeal, APPEA in fact stated that:

In APPEA’s view, ORA 2013 has been formulated to service an industrial relations agenda rather than a skills or health, safety or environmental agenda. …

Extending Australia’s migration zone through ORA 2013 in order to extend industrial relations laws to vessels and workers undertaking highly specialised work for a short time only adds to the regulatory burden applying to offshore construction and operations with no palpable benefit.

It goes on to say:

The industry is truly global in nature and must compete for a limited pool of international investment capital. Investment lost from the Australian oil and gas industry will be redirected to overseas competitors. …

Even small delays can add significant costs to industry and, in turn, the Australian economy.

This sentiment was reiterated in submissions by the Australian Mines and Metals Association and, of particular note, in submissions by the Business Council of Australia, the Department of Industry, and in a joint submission by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection and the Border Protection Service. In fact, I think the Department of Industry summed up the former government's overall policy strategy—or lack thereof—for the full six years they were in government, in their review of the ORA act:

The ORA Act has created an unnecessary regulatory burden for the offshore resources sector that is significantly disproportionate to the original policy intent. Its application is unclear and confusing for industry.

Repeal of the ORA Act would support Australia's international competitiveness and encourage investment to maintain the economic benefits of a strong offshore resources sector.

I could not have said it better. The department also felt the need to re-emphasise 'the importance of appropriate consultation with industry on legislative changes that will have implications for them'. Apparently having a chat with the industry this act was not too high on Labor's agenda. But as we have already established, those opposite were only concerned with how the act could benefit their own coffers and that of the unions they represent, rather than the regulatory burden it would place on such an important industry for Australia's economic prosperity.

When we take a look at the former government's overall strategy throughout the six years they were in government, I think we can safely say that little thought was given to many of their policies. Let us look at the big picture. If those opposite cared about our taxpayers, as they claim, they would not have introduced the carbon tax. If they cared about our resources industry, they would not have introduced a fiscally unstable mining tax that generated little revenue. The fact that they spent predicted revenue from the mining tax before it was generated, let alone in the coffers, apparently was not an issue either.

The only thing that was generated under the former government was more red tape. That is why, on 26 March, the Abbott government marked a historic occasion when we held our first ever red tape repeal day. This effectively removed over 10,000 pieces and 50,000 pages of legislation and regulation, saving over $700 million in compliance costs. This repeal day was part of the government's overall strategy to cut $1 billion in red and green tape each year to improve productivity, investment and employment opportunities for all Australians.

You see, the comparison is clear—while the former government was focused on creating additional administrative and regulatory costs for pretty much every Australian business or industry across all portfolios, this government is focused on helping industry to grow and ensuring that Australia is best placed to take advantage of international investment opportunities as they arise and without delay. This will create growth and prosperity for our nation, something that Australians regrettably have not seen for the past six years.

By repealing the ORA act, this government will give the greatest certainty to business and individuals engaged in offshore resources activities. It would ensure that no changes are made to existing arrangements and would provide certainty regarding the relationship between the migration zone and the offshore resources industry, consistent with the Allseas Federal Court ruling. This is critical in a sector that is already facing growing global competition for future investment.

Reducing regulatory burdens and scrapping legislation that makes Australia and our key industries internationally uncompetitive, such as the ORA act and the mining tax, is the only way we can achieve this and is something that every member in this place should be fighting for.

I commend this bill to the House.

4:58 pm

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

I rise to make a few remarks in opposing the Migration Amendment (Offshore Resources Activity) Bill. Resources in Australia, including in Australia's exclusive economic zone, are there to be used for the benefit of this country, first and foremost. Over many years, when it comes to a lot of those resources, the bulk of the benefits have been flowing overseas. In the mining sector, 83 per cent of the profits flow overseas, largely to institutional shareholders, there are similar problems when it comes to Australia as a country, and including Australia's workers, getting a fair share from the resources under our oceans as well. The thing about these resources is you only get to dig them up or extract them and sell them once. Once they are gone, they are gone. You would hope that in the process of doing that, we would ensure that people in Australia, in the Commonwealth of Australia and the states of Australia, receive a fair return. We are finding that that is not happening. We may well wake up on the other side of this mining and resources boom to find that we are a hollowed out, uneducated quarry. It is not just the profits that have gone overseas but the profits that have been left here were squandered by successive generations of Liberal and Labor governments. Instead of putting the profits away for some day in the future when the rest of the world tells us to stop digging, we have spent and spent and spent, and it will come back and haunt us.

More than that, there is a real question about whether local workers in Australia are getting a fair share of the benefits from this resources boom. There is a very real risk that we are going to wake up and find that the profits have not been invested in transitioning us to the clean energy society that will set us up well for the 21st century. There is also a very real risk that we will wake up and find that the skills have gone overseas as well—in other words, the once in a generation chance to train up a body of people in the skills needed for construction, manufacturing and maintenance will have passed us by. There have been several attacks on this front. There has been the exploitation and overuse of 457 visas. Our approach here is from this principle. The Greens have no problem in saying that if you cannot find someone locally for a job, you should be able to bring someone in from overseas. We have no problem with that at all. But we do think that you should look locally first. Part of the problem has been that there has been no obligation to look locally first.

This legislation relates to a decision that a lot of people in this country would be quite stunned about. They probably would not have expected that the practice was happening in the first place or that the existing legislation fixed the problem. The Allseas decision of the Federal Court said this about an offshore resources platform that may be within Australia's Exclusive Economic Zone and may be extracting Australian resources and then sending them off somewhere else, but certainly someone would be making money from them: provided the vessel does not actually connect with that platform and pulls away again, people on that vessel do not need to be covered by Australian wages and conditions. That would come as a shock to very many people, that in Australia's Exclusive Economic Zone they are extracting Australia's resources and they do not have to apply Australian labour law as the minimum standard.

Legislation to close that loophole was passed through the last parliament which we proudly supported. It simply said that if you are working in Australia's Exclusive Economic Zone extracting Australian resources, you apply Australian labour laws. It should not be that hard. Of course along comes this government and they want to repeal that protection. They want to make it so that when you are extracting Australian resources, it does not matter that there are no locals employed on that project and it does not matter that the people who are employed on the project might be employed on half the wages and conditions that apply under Australian law. They do not care because, as we have heard from the last speaker, all they need to hear is a list of submissions from big business that says, 'We'll make a bit more money if we do it this way,' and that is enough for them.

This legislation is especially needed in the maritime industry because, by their very nature, ships and resources activity are mobile. This legislation ignores the specifics of this industry. In my experience, certainly before coming to this place but also since then, when I have been representing many Australian workers, especially low-paid workers as well as a number of unions, you hear example after example of local workers turning up to work on ships only to find that there is an existing crew from a country that is not as rich as Australia and are paid less. They find an existing crew already signed up with an existing enterprise agreement. I do not fault the people who are coming here from other countries seeking to better their own lives. But what is happening is that the floor, the minimum set of wages and conditions, is being lowered. Those people should be entitled to Australian minimum wages and conditions as well, and it is not happening. Instead, this government are saying: 'How low can we make the bar? How quickly can we make the floor rot so that there is no longer a uniform set of minimum wages and conditions in Australia?'

The idea that we can start carving out bits of this country where fewer protections apply is something that previous Labor and Liberal governments have form on when it comes to migration laws. They cannot move quickly enough to say bits of Australia are not Australia and therefore the same human rights standards do not apply. But now we are seeing that same philosophy creeping into our industrial relations laws. If this legislation passes, it will just increase the race to the bottom. People who come here to work will be on substantially lower wages and conditions than what would apply under Australian labour law. That does two things. It puts those people who have come here to work under extraordinary pressure. They will be subject to incredible exploitation and they know they will be able to be flicked back to where they came from if they misbehave. But more than that, it lowers the floor for everyone in this country. If this legislation passes and if you are running an offshore oil or gas platform, why on earth would you employ an Australian resident if you have to pay Australian labour laws when you can just ship someone in from elsewhere and pay them half as much? That is ultimately what this legislation is about. The government needs to answer to the people whose wages, conditions and jobs it is attacking through this legislation. I have no doubt, as we heard from previous speakers, that there is a long list of big business representatives who want this legislation passed. They will make even more money if this legislation gets passed. But the losers will be not only the people who cannot work on those platforms anymore but all workers here, because the minimum level of wages and conditions in this country will start to drop. That is ultimately what this legislation is about. For that reason we will be opposing it.

5:08 pm

Photo of Steve IronsSteve Irons (Swan, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Migration Amendment (Offshore Resources Activity) Repeal Bill 2014. The purpose of this bill is to repeal the Migration Amendment (Offshore Resources Activity) Act 2013, otherwise known as the ORA Act. I rise with my colleagues the member for Canning and the member for Durack to support this repeal of the bill. The ORA Act seeks to unduly regulate the employment of non-citizens working in the offshore resources industry by way of a visa arrangement, regardless of whether or not they are actually working on a resource installation. The bill was another example of Labor creating a market for unions. As we have just heard, it was supported also by the Greens.

Amendments were introduced by the previous government, who, because of the unions, went after legitimate businesses operating in Australia's exclusive economic zone. The previous government took to the Federal Court in May 2012 a case that became known as the Allseas case. The Allseas case involved two vessels attaching gas pipelines to the seabed within Australia's exclusive economic zone and the waters of the continental shelf. In its judgement, the Federal Court ruled that non-citizens aboard the two vessels were not within the migration zone and therefore not required to hold work visas. This was due to the fact that, as the offshore resources industry had maintained, both vessels fell within an exemption in the Migration Act that specifically provides that a vessel that is used or is to be used wholly or principally in manoeuvring a resources installation, or in operations relating to the attachment of a resources installation to the Australian seabed, is not a resources installation and therefore not part of the migration zone.

Labor and the unions—and, as we have just heard, the Greens—were not happy with the ruling from the Federal Court, and, despite not having a good understanding of the impact of the bill, they set about amending the Migration Act. At the time this legislation was introduced, it is important to note, the previous government stated that it had an incomplete picture of the number of non-citizens working on board vessels who did not hold visas. Instead of seeking to understand the impact of the legislation, they pushed it through. While it is true that determining a precise number of people who are affected by this regulation is difficult, consultation with the industry and the migration advice profession and across government indicates that the number is actually relatively small. One estimate has put the total at no more than 2,000 per year, while others have put the number at considerably fewer than this. When we compare this with the 68,000 overseas workers who were granted 457 visas during the last financial year, let alone with the number who are granted permanent visas each year under the migration program, it becomes even clearer just how small the number really is.

In undertaking to repeal this particular piece of overly burdensome regulation, it is important to note that the offshore resources industry is vital to the Australian economy. The member for Corio spoke earlier about the prosperity supplied by the mining industry to Australia. If he was that concerned about the prosperity supplied by the mining industry to Australia, he would have made sure that the mining tax and the carbon tax were never introduced, which directly affect the mining industry, particularly in Western Australia.

Australia is the world's ninth largest energy producer, and the oil and gas industry accounts for 2½ per cent of our GDP, generating $28 billion in revenue and contributing $9 billion in direct tax payments. The development of Australia's offshore resources contributes significantly to the Australian economy and employs thousands of Australians. It is also critical for our future energy security, accounting for 58 per cent of Australia's primary energy needs.

If we are to continue to derive the substantial economic benefits that this industry provides, it must be allowed to remain internationally competitive and be able to operate in line with international best practice. The industry should not be expected to operate under an increased regulatory burden or additional cost pressures that would put the viability of current and future projects at risk. However, the ORA Act will do exactly that.

The offshore resources industry is a global industry and competes for a limited pool of skilled labour. It employs a highly mobile workforce and relies on the capacity to be able to transfer workers with specialist skills from project to project and from country to country. This means that our migration arrangements must be relatively flexible and not impose an undue administrative burden on industry or create unnecessary barriers for overseas workers when they are genuinely needed, especially when their skills are unavailable in Australia. A leading offshore resource industry group has said:

Australian jobs and our overall economic success relies on a confident, growing offshore oil and gas industry able to do business consistent with international laws and practices ... With this much at stake, it is vital that sectional interests do not come before the national interest and that parliament delivers sustainable, proportionate and balanced regulation affecting offshore operations.

The government could not agree more. Hence we are seeking to repeal the union-led extension of the Migration Act.

The issue of Australia's offshore maritime zones is highly complex. In addition to international conventions, the offshore resources industry is subject to complex and overlapping regulatory frameworks imposed by Commonwealth, state and territory legislati

We therefore need to consider any regulatory changes in this context very carefully and to pursue considered and measured policies.

Repealing this legislation does not mean that the industry is or will be in any way unregulated. For example, noncitizens working on a resource installation will still be required to hold valid visas. They will also still be required to hold the appropriate visa if they wish to come to the Australian mainland. Hence, if a particular employer wants to transfer their overseas workers to a project on the mainland, they must hold a visa with an appropriate work condition, such as a 457 visa.

The ORA Act also fails to take into account the fact that many persons engaged on resource installations and vessels use fly-in fly-out arrangements and frequently transit through an Australian airport, which requires them to hold a valid visa to be immigration cleared. Hence, many of those persons who are not currently required to hold visas for the work they are doing on a vessel are still subject to immigration controls when they enter or leave Australia.

To the extent that persons working in Australia's offshore maritime zones are subject to Australian domestic laws, these laws will still be policed and enforced by the appropriate authorities. Terms and conditions of employment, for example, will continue to be protected under domestic law and, where appropriate, under international law through the Maritime Labour Convention. The National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Authority, and the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, will continue to ensure the safety of those persons working on board resource installations and vessels operating in Australia's exclusive economic zone and the waters of the Continental Shelf.

The government is committed to promoting the development of Australia's offshore resources, to adhering to Australia's international obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and to maintaining the integrity of Australia's borders. Repealing the ORA Act would remove an unnecessary and disproportionate legislative burden on an industry that is critical to Australia's future economic growth and the wellbeing of all Australians. I commend the bill to the House.

5:16 pm

Photo of Alannah MactiernanAlannah Mactiernan (Perth, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I cannot believe what we have heard here today in this debate on the Migration Amendment (Offshore Resources Activity) Repeal Bill 2014. The surrender monkeys of Australian jobs are at it again, falling over themselves one after another to get up here and to justify stripping back great opportunities for Australian employment. Let us be very clear about this: this is not an argument against 457 visas. The Labor government legislation, which we are here defending today, protects Australian jobs by saying that if you want to bring in workers to work on our oil and gas installations, you need to establish that there is no Australian who is capable of doing that. Under all of this language that has been used about deregulation, today we have a proposal, saying that we are in fact going to have open slather on our oil and gas industry.

I thought the member for Durack made some quite appalling statements, basically suggesting that Australians did not have the capacity to do these sorts of jobs and therefore we need to allow people to come in. We are the second biggest exporter of oil and gas around the world. The question has to be asked: why are we not developing this capacity? We should be the centres of excellence, of skill development in oil and gas, not putting up our hands and saying, 'No, we can't do that work; we're going to allow those well-paid jobs to be taken offshore.'

There is a particular stupidity about this proposal that is ignoring a development in this industry, a development which I have been prepared, as has my colleague the member for Brand, to support as the industry moves towards floating LNG platforms. This technology has indeed been of considerable concern to the unions and also to some of my erstwhile colleagues in the state parliament. But, quite frankly, we are taking the pragmatic approach that this appears to be the technology of the future and that we have to go with that technology. But the way in which we ensure that this is viable, that it is a good outcome for the Australian community, is to ensure that the jobs on those LNG platforms are indeed jobs for Australians. This is not insignificant.

Figures have been quoted today by various members. I think the member for Canning and the member for Durack talked about there not being very many people concerned about this matter and that we are talking of only a couple of thousand jobs and even that is probably at the high end. I put it to you that, firstly, we should be looking very carefully at even a couple of thousand very well-paid jobs. And, secondly, we have to be very mindful of the direction in which the industry is going.

I am going to talk a little bit about the scale of the floating LNG industry that is emerging. In Western Australia in particular we are very conscious of this because we are seeing the first project in Australia that will be coming on stream, hopefully in the next couple of years, with the Shell Prelude project off the Kimberley coast.

APPEA projects that investment in floating LNG in Australia could top $65 billion over the next six years. That is a massive industry, which is a complete transformation of the way in which we have done offshore oil and gas in the past. It means that the jobs go offshore and that the vast bulk of the jobs that are associated with the oil and gas industry will be offshore jobs. And now we have the surrender monkeys in here tonight, telling us that we are not even going to require a 457 visa—

Photo of Bruce ScottBruce Scott (Maranoa, Deputy-Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! The member for Perth will not refer to members opposite as monkeys—

Photo of Alannah MactiernanAlannah Mactiernan (Perth, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Mr Deputy President. Surrender persons—

Photo of Bruce ScottBruce Scott (Maranoa, Deputy-Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

and will withdraw the use of—

Photo of Alannah MactiernanAlannah Mactiernan (Perth, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Deputy Speaker, I withdraw the use of the word 'monkey' and, instead, say we have these surrenderers, these people who do not have the guts to stand up for Australian jobs. Equally frightening, they appear to have no knowledge, although they claim to be representatives from Western Australia, of the very seismic shift that we are seeing in the nature of this industry.

If I could quote David Byers, the CEO of APPEA. He acknowledges that, with this technology, potentially there are fewer jobs for Australians in the construction phase. But he says that more benefits and job growth will come through the operational phase. He makes the point that if we do this right Perth is placed to become a global centre for FLNG development and technology. So we lose out in the construction phase but the gains really come in that operational phase. We have this potential. We are now looking at, first of all, the Prelude facility, for which there has been a final investment decision, so that is going ahead. We have got Woodside now looking at their Browse project. There has also been floating LNG and we hope that there will be a final investment decision on that next year. We know that Exxon and BHP Billiton are looking at FLNG for their Scarborough field. Similarly in the Northern Territory we see in the Bonaparte Gulf they are looking at going down the path of floating LNG. There is a seismic change in this industry, a seismic change that will be profoundly affected by this legislative proposal that we have here before us today.

I would really like to hear a response from the government on where in this new environment this industry is going. How do we then ensure that Australians have an opportunity to compete for these jobs? Not even a 457 visa will be required into the future. We have got this great opportunity as this industry emerges to be right at the forefront of that. We should be developing a centre of excellence for FLNG and I would obviously like to see that in Perth. I believe that we at the same time have to ensure that we are training those people that are going to be the world leaders in the maintenance and the operation of these facilities. That simply will not happen if we lay down the gauntlet and say that we are not going to put any protections on these jobs for Australians. So we have, as I say, a profound ignorance of the direction in which this industry is going and it appears that this legislation may have been developed without any cognisance of that. It certainly will be a great lost opportunity. I think it will be a very bad outcome for the companies involved, because companies like Shell and Woodside realise that there is a battle that is going on for their technology. Just last week in the state parliament in Western Australia the blue team and the red team combined to put out a report that was highly critical of the move to FLNG, the members of the committee wanting to support Mr Barnett's ill-founded dream of a gas hub at James Price Point. They point to the loss of jobs that will occur by going offshore. But what we have to do and what these companies should be realising that they need to do is go out there and win the hearts and minds of Western Australians and of Australians with this new technology and assure them that there will be these fantastic job opportunities, long-term jobs. These floating platforms have a projected lifespan of around 25-30 years on these gas fields in Australia. These are really stable, long-term jobs that we should be conserving for Australians and making sure that we do what is necessary to skill our workers up to be able to take their rightful place in the oil and gas industry given our ascendancy in this industry worldwide.

But this is not just a problem for the future. I have no shame in saying that I support the unions standing up for Australian jobs; I 100 per cent support the unions standing up for Australian jobs. There are around 500 unemployed seafarers at the moment in Western Australia and I have been told today that Saipan, the Italian company that is subcontracting to Inpex in terms of the laying of the pipes for the pipeline from Western Australia to Darwin, have indicated that they propose, presumably once this legislation is through, to bring in eight foreign vessels to be doing that work, that they will not be employing Australian workers on that job. They will be having foreign crewed vessels laying those pipes from that Inpex project. That is already an immediate loss of Australian jobs. We have seafarers that are trained and skilled, we have got young guys and women doing their training that want that opportunity with that Inpex project, and once this legislation is through those opportunities are going to vanish.

I just do not know how you justify this. These companies overwhelmingly are owned by overseas interests. One of the ways in which the Australian community gets benefit out of these oil and gas projects is by the creation of these well-paid jobs for Australian workers. That is what has caused Australian workers to get in there and be behind the oil and gas industry. If we see this wholesale employment of overseas workers without even requiring a 457 visa, without even the most rudimentary test being applied to see if there were Australians that can do that job, the oil and gas industry will start losing the support of the Australian community.

5:28 pm

Photo of Scott MorrisonScott Morrison (Cook, Liberal Party, Minister for Immigration and Border Protection) Share this | | Hansard source

The bill that is now before us seeks to undo the knee-jerk policy undertaken by the previous government which was, frankly, pandering to special interests that make-or-break every member of this Labor Party from the leader down, and that is the union movement. Once again we have heard from members opposite in speaking to this bill the usual demonisation of skilled migration. I am not sure whether they undertake those same attacks against skilled migrants when they out in the community visiting many different ethnic communities and talking about skilled migration and the way they come in here and vote on skilled migration, but one thing I do know is that skilled migration has been one of the key pillars on which this country is built. It always amazes me that those opposite are always happy to encourage those who are coming the wrong way and do nothing about that but seem to take great issue when people come the right way, particularly when people come and get involved in the economy, contribute to the bottom line of this country and live the whole principle of Australia that those who get a fair go are those who have a go. Those opposite seem to have a real problem with that, and that has been demonstrated again in this bill, as it was when the original act that this bill seeks to repeal was introduced.

The act that this bill seeks now to repeal sprung wholly from the attempts of the previous government to force what I would argue is an anticompetitive regulation upon industry after it discovered that existing legislation did not permit the extension of union power to offshore installations beyond the universally accepted reach of Australia's migration zone. Members opposite talk about unions standing up for the workers—only if they did—but they tend to stand up for union officials, which seems to be their record in this place. In this debate we have seen those attacks and those positions maintained by those opposite.

A previous minister for immigration—and there were quite a few last year; we had three in the space of six months—sought to challenge the long-held convention and impose domestic migration law on workers far outside Australia's migration zone. The influence of the unions on that government was so strong that it bowed to their demands and tied up resource projects, installations and pipelines with union red tape, stifling business and investment. In the case of Allseas Construction SA v Minister for Immigration and Citizenship the government were challenged to provide any just reason or justification for their attempt to impose domestic migration regulation upon offshore workers, and they could not do that. In May 2012 the Federal Court ruled that the two vessels in question were not Australian resources installations within the meaning of the Migration Act whilst they were wholly or principally engaged in operations relating to the installation of offshore pipelines. The court ruled that the vessels and the noncitizens working on board these vessels were not within the migration zone and, therefore, were not working within the migration zone as defined by section 5(1) of the act and could not be required to hold visas in order to undertake the work they had been contracted to perform.

Contrary to the claims of the then immigration minister of the previous government, the Allseas litigation did not expose any loophole in Australia's migration system that was being exploited by the industry. There was no loophole. No loophole in fact existed. In this vein the same motivations were glaringly apparent when the previous minister for immigration launched his attack on skilled migration in the 457 visa legislation. The previous Labor government sought, through the offshore resources amendment, to create a problem where there actually was none and to demonise the legitimate employment of highly skilled workers who were beyond the reach of unions and added to the productivity of those projects.

Australia is one of the top 10 energy producers in the world and each year our oil and gas industries make up about 2.5 per cent of GDP. This activity generates nearly $30 billion in revenue every year. Energy producers contribute around $9 billion in direct tax payments and supply 58 per cent of Australia's primary energy needs. At the time when the act that this bill seeks to repeal was introduced into this place the then government could not provide any indication, nor indeed sought to acknowledge in any significant way, the increased costs that the extension of Australia's migration zone must necessarily burden the energy and resources industry with.

Apart from the not insignificant costs attached to formally sponsoring workers, union interests clearly sought to force outrageous wage demands upon the industry. In May last year the maritime workers' union sought to impose wage requirements for cooks working on offshore north-west gas projects of $230,000 a year. How can Australia possibly hope to compete with the rest of the world and attract critical growth industries to projects in our territorial waters if this sort of union driven, anticompetitive and highly interventionist regulation is allowed to be forced on industry with union red tape at the behest of union interests, represented in those who sit opposite?

Not every worker needed for every energy industry project can be found in Australia. Where they can be, they should be employed. That is what the law is designed to achieve. Much of the work undertaken on offshore installations is highly specialised, requiring someone who has considerable expertise performing very specific tasks. Often the projects of the type being developed off Australia have never been established here before. It is entirely reasonable, therefore, to expect that some portion of the experts required must necessarily be sourced from outside of Australia. An inquiry by the Inspector of Transport Security in 2012 into the offshore oil and gas resources sector security clearly identified the legitimate need for an internationally sourced workforce and found that companies are increasingly recruiting personnel from overseas due to skill shortages in Australia. Forcing industry to wade through unnecessary red tape simply to bring these critical workers to their operations will inevitably slow down productivity and thus the attractiveness of investing in Australia.

When the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee conducted an inquiry into the Migration Amendment (Offshore Resources Activity) Bill last year the key resources industry body—the Australian Mines and Metals Association—offered a very clear warning of the detrimental impact on the continued attraction of foreign investment that the former government's reforms to their recruitment and movement of specialist workers would bring about. Executive Director Mr Scott Barklamb stated:

Australia is not the only place in the world with offshore oil and gas resources. International investors are all too aware of and are in the business of evaluating competing resource destinations.

Despite the clear significance of the impact of the reforms upon the future growth of the energy and resources sector in Australia, at the time of the introduction of the act that this bill now seeks to repeal the previous government could not even quantify or estimate the number of foreign workers in the offshore maritime zone. So absurd was the entire basis for that act that the previous government could not even show how significant the apparent issue it sought to address was. One would have imagined that any government with even a remote sense of responsibility would have made some effort to determine the nature of the problem before they just willingly accepted the union's proposed solution.

The Federal Court may have found that Australia's migration zone did not extend to certain offshore installations or vessels, but these workplaces hardly operate in a secret vacuum. The offshore resources industry is subject to a plethora of domestic regulatory systems set out in a variety of often overlapping pieces of federal, state and territory legislation. Through these, Australian law provides a wide range of mechanisms that operate to safeguard those who work on board installations or vessels in our waters.

A large proportion of these installations operate under the oversight of the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority, which has responsibility for the regulation of the occupational health and safety of workers on offshore facilities, wells and well operations in Australian waters and in waters where state powers have been conferred. By law, offshore petroleum activities cannot begin before the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority has assessed and approved a detailed risk management plan, including how an organisation will manage risks to workers' safety and health.

Despite the claims of the maritime workers union and other union interests, no need exists to extend any additional protection or safeguards to workers on offshore installations. The claim simply formed part of a concerted campaign to render it near impossible for the energy and resources industry to employ foreign workers. As I have stated, and many industry specialists have also asserted, this protectionist stance is simply not sustainable. It adds to sovereign risk in relation to investments, it undermines the flow of foreign investment to Australia and places significant hindrances on the efforts of any company to develop offshore installations in Australia's territorial waters and therefore generate revenue and further employment opportunities within Australia.

The Prime Minister has said Australia is open for business, and this bill is consistent with and seeks to demonstrate this objective. The coalition government will support the suite of structures that operate to protect workers, but we will not implement policy to serve the anticompetitive will of special interests, in particular the unions seeking to protect the interests of unions. The bill helps restore the confidence that both industry and the Australian people can have in our nation's future growth and opportunities in this sector. I commend the bill to the House.