Senate debates

Tuesday, 15 August 2017


Fair Work Amendment (Protecting Vulnerable Workers) Bill 2017; Second Reading

1:50 pm

Photo of Malarndirri McCarthyMalarndirri McCarthy (NT, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I'm pleased to talk about the Fair Work Amendment (Protecting Vulnerable Workers) Bill 2017 today to highlight a group of vulnerable workers in Australia who are paid less than the minimum wage and aren't covered by the Fair Work Act. They don't have federal occupational health and safety protections or workers compensation and they can't take annual leave, sick leave or carers leave. They don't get a fair day's pay for a fair day's work. More than 33,000 workers, because that's what they are, come under the Community Development Program. Of the 33,000, 31,000, or 94 per cent, are Indigenous, mainly living in regional and remote Australia. Because of where they live, and because they are mainly Aboriginal, these workers are out of sight and out of mind for the majority of Australians. This policy forces the overwhelmingly Indigenous population of remote communities into labour with none of the benefits of employment enjoyed by every other Australian worker.

The union movement is deeply committed to ending this discriminatory CDP policy. Kara Keys from the ACTU described it by saying:

This is a program which discriminates on the basis of race, and has no place in a modern society.

The ACTU looks forward to a future in which all Australian workers are treated equally, Indigenous people are not treated as second-class workers and are given the same opportunities and rights at work that any Australian worker rightfully expects.

The First Nations Workers Alliance has been launched to give a voice to this group of workers, a group who often don't have a voice, let alone a national presence. I will say a bit about CDP. Participants undertake activities, including hygiene classes, T-shirt dyeing and art making. Some participants have described this aspect of CDP as taking part in adult child care. There is very little of community development in the approach. Participants can also spend up to six months in a workplace, which the government describes as a long-term work experience opportunity. Basically, though, it's a pool of free labour for employers to access in remote areas, and those employers have none of the responsibilities that we would normally expect to their employees. The First Nations Workers Alliance is campaigning for wage justice, an issue that is at the heart of the labour movement. I congratulate the ACTU and the union movement across the board for their support of the First Nations Workers Alliance.

On the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples, Labor stands with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to recommit to delivering a greater say on issues that affect their lives. It is a day that we celebrated only recently. We've made it clear we support enshrining an Indigenous voice in our Constitution, because for too long First Australians have been excluded from the nation's birth certificate. Labor is committed to advancing the recommendations from the Uluru Statement from the Heart and the Referendum Council's report. Labor has clearly outlined a bipartisan parliamentary process to make this recognition a reality. We are committed to deliver practical, community-driven measures to help close the gap for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in every part of our national life, from education and employment to justice, housing and health. That's why we worked to set up the current Senate committee that is looking into the CDP.

I take this opportunity to thank all those organisations and individuals who've made submissions and will give evidence in the coming weeks to this inquiry. I'd like to share some of what people have already submitted. Mr Dereck Harris is chair of the Ngaanyatjarra Council, which delivers services to remote communities in WA just across the NT border. He makes it clear what happened when CDP replaced the old community development employment program: 'We feel the government stole our self-respect when CDP was taken away, and we will sink lower if we're forced to go on the healthy welfare card.'

People worked for CDEP because they got paid money, but under CDP they come in because they don't want their pay to get stopped. It is a punitive system that is clearly discriminatory, does nothing to foster job development and employment, exploits workers and fails to develop and empower remote communities socially or economically. This legislation is better than nothing, but being better than nothing does not make it as good as it could have been. It offers limited protections to vulnerable workers but, I suspect, nothing at all to our most vulnerable workers: those on CDP living in remote areas.


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