House debates

Monday, 7 December 2020

Questions without Notice

Workplace Relations

2:46 pm

Photo of Justine ElliotJustine Elliot (Richmond, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

My question is to the Minister for Industrial Relations: Is the minister aware of a recent report that shows blueberry workers in New South Wales are being paid as little as $3 an hour? Why is the government congratulating itself on using marketing slogans rather than doing anything to help exploited workers like this?

Photo of Christian PorterChristian Porter (Pearce, Liberal Party, Attorney-General) Share this | | Hansard source

I am aware of that report. That shouldn't happen. It's disgraceful. This government has done more on the compliance front, both legislatively and as a matter of practice, than any recent government in this country's history. That absolutely should not happen. When you ask us what further there can be done to ensure that sort of compliance, it is interesting that, of the five areas we looked at, in 150 hours worth of working groups, one of those areas was compliance. And the bill that we will introduce to parliament will, for the first time ever, create in this country at a Commonwealth level an offence of wage theft—for the first time ever. It will significantly increase civil penalties on top of the tenfold increase that we had already instituted. It will also have new principles whereby the civil penalty can be either/or: either the 50 per cent increase or a new concept, which is called 'benefit gained'. So you can actually look at the amount of underpayment that has occurred from the employer and you can fine them, effectively, either two or three times that underpayment. They're the sorts of things—

Opposition Member:

An opposition member interjecting

Photo of Christian PorterChristian Porter (Pearce, Liberal Party, Attorney-General) Share this | | Hansard source

I'll take the interjection. First, you've got to catch them. It's the Fair Work Ombudsman that did that. You underfunded them, and we increased the funding of them. So that's how you catch them. You have strong laws, which we're introducing this week, and you have a strong regulator, which we have ensured has occurred. Those sorts of situations shouldn't occur. They are regulated and policed very heavily by this government. This government has increased the penalties and will further increase the penalties, including creating the criminal penalty of wage theft, and including and introducing a whole new type of civil penalty that links the charge or fine to the amount of the underpayment, which we believe is the way in which you can ensure that the signals are right so that that sort of stuff which should never happen does not happen.