Wednesday, 12 May 2021
Mutual Recognition Amendment Bill 2021; Second Reading
I appreciate the opportunity to make a contribution to the Mutual Recognition Amendment Bill 2021. I want to start by stating Labor's strong opposition to the government's management of this piece of legislation. This chamber functions on norms and principles, and the rules and processes of this chamber are there not for our advantage but to facilitate the business of the Australian people. That's not the approach taken by the government today. That's all been thrown out the window. This is a government that is willing to play games on a bill that is complicated and that might impact on the lives of ordinary Australians but is not being dealt with through the norms and principles that we ordinarily observe.
Before each sitting week, a document titled Draft Legislation Program for the Senate is circulated to senators and staff and outlines the week ahead. It allows the parliament to adequately prepare for debate on bills that will be before this chamber. This week, that document, the Draft Legislation Program for the Senate, was circulated very late—very late, indeed—on Monday morning. Was this bill on it? It was nowhere to be seen. In fact, the very first time that opposition senators heard that it would be coming on for debate today was last night.
This is a complicated bill. It is Labor's view that a bill of this kind ought to be referred to a Senate committee for examination—not a long examination, but enough time to get into the detail. That is what the Senate is here for. This is a house of review. It's a place where we inspect, interrogate and clarify aspects of legislation before we make them laws. I think everyone in this place would acknowledge that the collaborative nature of that process often means that real shortcomings are identified in that process and remedied before bills pass into law. Labor took this position, a very straightforward position, to the responsible assistant minister, the member for Tangney, Ben Morton, and he gave us his word that this bill would be referred to a Senate committee for inquiry. Imagine our surprise today when the bill is listed for debate, to be pushed straight through. Apparently, this minister's word means absolutely nothing. So we've been ambushed here today by the Morrison government, who've gone back on their commitment and tried to jam through a piece of legislation with no prior warning and against all of the norms and processes of this place.
What is all of this for? Those opposite apparently—and it is for them to explain this—consider the Mutual Recognition Amendment Bill 2021 'an urgent matter'. Well, that will utterly confound all Australians. What does this government actually think is an urgent matter? Apparently not bushfire recovery—that's not urgent. The summer of 2019-20 was one of the worst bushfire seasons on record and yet those opposite, the Liberal government, have not spent a single cent of their Regional Recovery Partnerships fund to help communities rebuild after bushfires. Stopping cruise ships from entering Australia at the start of the pandemic may have been considered urgent. But, no, the Ruby Princess was allowed to arrive duly in Sydney because the federal government failed to do their job. The result was hundreds and hundreds of active COVID-19 cases spilling out into our community. It's not urgent, apparently, to bring stranded Australians home. There are 40,000 Australian citizens suffering around the world, many of them in India, because Scott Morrison has refused to implement a proper national quarantine program. And it's certainly not urgent to vaccinate Australia. Our vaccine rollout has been such a failure that we are left staring in envy at countries like Mongolia, El Salvador and Suriname, whose governments got right what our government has got so very, very wrong.
So what on earth is so urgent about this bill? It is so urgent that the government didn't know that it was a priority on Monday, or even yesterday morning or yesterday afternoon, but it is something that became very, very urgent last night. It is something that was so urgent that they would lie to the Labor Party, go back on their word and break the norms and processes of this place to ram it through. What is it that is so urgent? They won't tell us. They won't tell me, they won't tell Labor and they won't tell the Australian people. That is the problem with this government. It's all a game to them. They don't keep their promises, they don't follow the rules and they don't deliver.
Scott Morrison is not on your side. Scott Morrison is all about himself. He doesn't really care about you or your family. He's not interested in what you want or need. He's not on your side. He's only in it for himself, and the Morrison government have pulled a very shonky manoeuvre here. They didn't warn the chamber this bill would be brought on this week. They lied to Labor when they agreed that this bill would be referred to an appropriate Senate committee so it could be investigated. If they can't run the Senate, what hope is there that they can run the country? If the Morrison government can't tell the truth on a bill like this, how can you trust a single word—a single word—in their budget papers? If they can't tell you on Monday what they're doing on Wednesday, how can you have any confidence in their COVID vaccine rollout or their COVID recovery plan? The proof is in the pudding, because we have seen what they deliver over eight long years. The truth is you know you can't trust them, because eight long years of this tired, stale Liberal National government have shown that they have nothing to contribute. They are nowhere and they stand for nothing. They are big on tricks.
But you need to ask the question: why would they go to such lengths to lie and obscure what their agenda was this week? What is in this bill that requires hiding? What is in the fine print that they want to jam through the parliament before it can be discovered by senators on a legislation committee? What is in store for Australian workers? If it's Scott Morrison's idea, you know it can't be good. The Prime Minister has spent over a billion dollars on advertising. That is a billion dollars on self-promotion from an adman Prime Minister who would celebrate the opening of an envelope if he could. He loves a big photo-op. He loves a big announcement. So why is he so quiet on these details? Why are they being rushed through?
The reality is that this is a Prime Minister who is all about himself. He doesn't really care about you or your family or your livelihood. When things go well—and admittedly it is harder and harder to catch him on such a day—he is the very first to take credit, but when things go wrong, he doesn't take charge or responsibility. Bushfires? Straight to Hawaii. 'Don't hold a hose, mate.' COVID-19? Well, that's for the premiers to deal with. Vaccines? The EU's fault. If this bill is so wonderful, why is it being jammed through like this? What is in this bill that he doesn't want to advertise? If this were good news for the Australian people, we'd know about it. The management of this bill suggests otherwise. Scott Morrison is not interested in what you want or need. He's not on your side; he's only in it for himself. He would rather play games with the chamber than be upfront about whatever scheme is being cooked up here today.
Part of our frustration stems from the fact that Labor does not want to dismiss this bill out of hand. Labor supports the principle, of course, of allowing workers to move around the country in pursuit of work and having their qualifications recognised. We acknowledge that all states and territories have provided consent to the Mutual Recognition Amendment Bill, including Victoria, which has stated that this provides significant reform, and we also acknowledge the concerns of unions, including the ACTU, who have flagged that this bill may have unintended consequences and cause issues for workers because of a lack of national standards. That is why we want to send the bill to inquiry. Labor seek to be cooperative on any measure that makes it easier for Australians to secure good jobs, including giving workers the opportunity to move around the country and maintain the ability to work in their chosen profession or trade, but we have to ensure that there are no unintended consequences that would negatively impact workers or the standard of work that they perform.
That's why we will be moving a second reading amendment in this place to refer the bill to the appropriate committee for inquiry, as we were promised by the Morrison government, and if they won't let us investigate the nuts and bolts of this bill then we will be forced to oppose it. I repeat again, in closing, our strongest condemnation of the actions of the Morrison government here today, and I ask the crossbench to carefully consider our amendment and to support it so the Senate can do its job. I move:
Omit all words after 'That", substitute "the Bill be referred to the Education and Employment Legislation Committee for inquiry and report by 9 June 2021, with particular reference to concerns raised by the Scrutiny of Bills Committee, and whether the legislation will:
a) act as a disincentive to states and territories harmonising rules and regulations relating to occupational registration and/or licensing of occupations where significant jurisdictional variation exists,
b) restrict existing licensing and registration authorities from adequately performing their functions, and
c) reduce consumer protections, public safety and the work health and safety of workers by replacing existing mutual recognition arrangements of occupations that require licensing and/or registration with the proposed automatic mutual recognition arrangements".