Senate debates

Tuesday, 25 June 2013


Australian Jobs Bill 2013; Second Reading

4:01 pm

Photo of Richard ColbeckRichard Colbeck (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Fisheries and Forestry) Share this | | Hansard source

Prior to question time I was making some comments in relation to the Australian Jobs Bill 2013. In my comments I did not say that the opposition are opposing this piece of legislation, but I did put on the record some of the reasons why we might be doing that. One reason in particular is that this legislation imposes additional costs on industry and on business, which, as I said earlier, is a hallmark of this government. I talked about the fact that this government has imposed the carbon tax on Australian business. The government claims that it has only a small impact, but it does its calculations on an economy-wide basis—it ignores sectoral specifics of the cost of a carbon tax on industry. I know one business, for example, that has spent $17 million to mitigate the cost of the carbon tax on its business. It did receive some government assistance to put a co-generation plant in as a part of that project. That will reduce their energy costs, but not in a net sense. After they have spent that $17 million, after they have received $4 million in taxpayers' assistance to spend that money, they will still have a $7 million a year bill over and above what they had before the carbon tax came in.

The government talks about its food and foundries program. Government members were in Wynyard in Tasmania with a company recently, talking about the fact that that company was going to save $140,000 a year on its energy bills, but they did not say what the net cost to the company of the energy bills was. That is what the opposition has been complaining about the whole time: the government talks about the saving but it does not talk about what the overall cost is going to be. As I said, one business spent $17 million to reduce its energy costs, which it has done, but in a net sense it is still $7 million a year worse off. These are costs being imposed on industry by government. When I go around talking to business and industry here in Australia, I hear that the cost of government to business is a significant issue.

What does this bill do? This bill adds more cost to business—yes, on large projects, but it does impose additional cost and create a new bureaucracy. We have seen extraordinary growth in the bureaucracy over the last six years, since this government has been in place. That is what we oppose. We oppose additional cost on industry and business, and we oppose the unnecessary growth of the bureaucracy.

This piece of legislation requires Australian industry plans for projects with a capital expenditure of over $500 million to have an Australian industry opportunity officer embedded in the procurement teams of those companies. There was some concern earlier in the piece that this would mean that a bureaucrat would be embedded into the business. We know now, through the discussions we had at estimates, that that is not the case. We are pleased that business is not going to be impacted here.

This legislation will establish a new bureaucracy, the Australian Industry Participation Authority, supposedly to raise the profile of the industry plans and to help industry gain access to opportunities. The legislation talks about the 10 industry innovation precincts, which the government is going to create. The government says that these changes will create an extra $1.6 billion to $6.4 billion worth of economic activity for the region. The other thing that was discussed at estimates was how this will be funded. It will be funded by cutting access to research and development. So $1.1 billion will come off R&D for industry in Australia and placed into this program. A lot of concern was generated around where the costings for this would come from. We talked to the industry department within the tax office, and they could not tell us where the difference was between, I think, the $460 million in the initial discussions on this and the $1.1 billion that it is now. The tax department talked us through the process for that number. But the fact is that here we are talking about creating jobs by taking assistance away from industry, away from the R&D that gives industry its leading edge and technological advancement. So we are going to fund this plan by cutting back on the smart end of industry. That is how we are going to allegedly create these jobs.

As I said prior to question time: here we are in the last sitting week and the government bring in the Australian Jobs Bill. We are supposed to believe that this is part of a broader plan, which the government fund by cutting R&D. They create a new bureaucracy of 50 people, but they impose an additional cost on business. The government have brought in more than 20,000 new regulations. It is no wonder that, when Senator Sinodinos and his deregulation task force set about to find savings, they found in excess of $1 billion a year worth of savings. There have been 20,000 new regulations created under the Gillard and Rudd governments, yet the government now, with this piece of legislation, wants to create more regulation and more cost and impose additional cost on industry.

Let us go through the costings. The department estimates that the development of a plan under this process will cost $9,000 based on an employer spending two weeks on the plan at an annual salary of $200,000. So fairly highly qualified people will be creating these plans. The reporting on the implementation of the plan, which is every six months, would be another $9,000 a year. So, for the life of the project, it will cost $9,000 a year for reporting, and it would take one week to prepare every six months. The cost of implementing the plan is put at $29,000 a year. It is starting to add up: $9,000 to develop it, $9,000 every six months for reporting and then $29,000 to implement it. As I said before question time: more cost, more regulation, more bureaucracy in the last sitting week of parliament.

Twenty thousand regulations have already been imposed by this government at a time when industry is telling us that the cost of government to business is a significant issue. I have talked about the mining tax, we all know about the carbon tax and we know about increased energy costs; all of these things have been imposed by this government on industry here in Australia, and the government tries to walk away from the fact that these things have had a negative impact on the competitiveness of Australian business and industry.

We have seen the Steel Transformation Plan; that is a transformation that nobody likes to see, because the steel industry will be half what it was before the government brought in the Steel Transformation Plan. We have seen a huge loss of jobs in the food processing sector and we see even more jobs under threat in that sector right now. In my home state of Tasmania we see significant concern around the Simplot plant. The company has given that plant until August or September to come up with a plan to see it survive beyond the next three to five years. We know that the Bathurst plant may not see out the next 12 months. Yet this government thinks that the way to deal with those things is to layer more regulation and more cost onto industry and business and expect that they might survive or thrive.

We have seen an out-of-balance industrial relations system being put into place; industry talk to us about that all the time. We have seen the inconsistency in industry policy. We have seen the car industry talk about sovereign risk in relation to government policy and the inconsistency of government policy over the last two years. We have seen concern about the promises that have been made. The cash-for-clunkers scheme that was going to assist the car industry disappeared before it started. Other elements of funding that were to go to the car industry were taken away before they were fully implemented. That sort of inconsistency undermines the confidence of industry and business in the governance of this country, particularly in their willingness to invest into the future—and we are seeing that.

We have seen Ford say, 'That is it; we are going to cease manufacturing in this country.' We are seeing Holden right now having some very difficult conversations with their employees in South Australia about their future and what it is going to take. If these are not manifestations of the concerns around policy in this country and of the fact that industrial relations and costs are concerning industry, I do not know what are.

In relation to this bill, we are concerned that we are creating a bureaucracy of 50 people. We are imposing tens of thousands of dollars of additional cost, yet again, through a requirement for a plan to be put in place, six- monthly reporting and then the implementation of that plan. We are concerned that this is all being funded by reducing research and development in this country. We have already seen the reform that this government put through on the R&D tax process, which was designed to restrict and limit the growth of R&D in this country beyond $20 billion a year. Yet here we are taking away the access of more companies to R&D in order to fund this process, which is about more red tape, more compliance cost and more bureaucracy.

This is symptomatic of the issues that we have dealt with from this government right through the last six years, issues that industry tell us continue to be significant problems for them. Yes, we have had the impact of the high dollar. But when you have that particular environment why would you then continue to layer on red tape, green tape and bureaucratic costs? It does not make sense—and yet we are expected to believe that this piece of legislation is going to assist in job creation at a cost to R&D expenditure. That is the reason that the opposition will not be supporting this piece of legislation.

4:15 pm

Photo of Nick XenophonNick Xenophon (SA, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

At the outset, I would like to indicate my broad support for the Australian Jobs Bill 2013. But I also believe that this bill does not go far enough. I note Senator Colbeck's comments in relation to the bureaucracy. I am always concerned about a new bureaucracy being created. Senator Colbeck gained a unique insight into manufacturing and into our food-processing sector through the inquiry that he very capably chaired and that I was pleased to be a part of. That inquiry uncovered some of the problems in the processing sector. There were a whole range of factors. There were supply chain issues, the duopoly issues and a whole range of other factors in terms of cost pressures on the industry. That gave us a unique insight into that sector. You can extrapolate some of the issues there about the problems with Australian manufacturing and the jobs being lost from there and jobs being lost in the sorts of projects that this particular piece of legislation will relate to.

Australian manufacturers are under threat. They are competing against a high Australian dollar and cheap overseas imports, and they are struggling to survive. Fortunately, the Australian dollar has come off the boil a bit—about 11 per cent—which is unambiguously good for the economy. I hope that it goes down even further to give our farmers and our manufacturers a fighting chance. I appreciate that this bill is an attempt to support Australian manufacturers and contractors and to ensure that they get a slice of the investment in both the public and the private sectors. But there are still too many hurdles in the way.

A report from the Prime Minister's Taskforce on Manufacturing in August last year estimated that 950,000 people were employed in the sector and it contributes eight per cent of our gross domestic product directly. That does not include the significant amount that it contributes indirectly through flow-on effects to other businesses. The multiplier is quite significant. It also comprises 29 per cent of Australia's exports, despite the high dollar. But the report also stated that over the last four years over 100,000 jobs have disappeared. That means that 100,000 families around the nation have been affected by this plunge in employment in our manufacturing sector. The report also estimates that another 85,600 jobs at a minimum may be lost in the next five years. I believe that that is unacceptable. We need to tackle that.

If we lose our manufacturing sector, we will be at a global disadvantage. We will lose not only hundreds of thousands of jobs but also our self-sufficiency. We should also look at what the Obama administration has been involved with in the United States. There has been a renaissance of the manufacturing industry in the United States, a turnaround. It is interesting that in that country, in exchange for the bailout funds given to General Motors, the United States took equity in General Motors. It is not unreasonable to say that if there is further assistance to industry we should look at the model that has been used in the United States, at least in regard to the funding being secured against assets and the like. We need to have a debate about that.

It is plain common sense that Australian contractors and manufacturers should have the first chance of tendering for government funded projects. Unfortunately, the tender process often does not look further than the flat price, so an Australian company can lose out to a cheaper overseas company. But that does not take into account the flow-on effect to the economy—the multiplier effect of using a company that is based here, employing people in this country, paying Australian taxes and contributing directly to the economy in a way that we may not see with other entities. An Australian company, although it might be slightly more expensive in dollar terms, may be a much better deal for our economy. Surely that justifies paying some extra taxpayer dollars, especially considering that those paid to an overseas company might simply go offshore.

I acknowledge that this bill aims to ensure that any company applying for tender has to meet certain requirements of, for want of a better term, Australian content whether it is applying for a publicly or privately funded project. But I do not think that this bill goes far enough. We also need to look at what has happened in the United States, where there has been a turnaround in their manufacturing industry. Procurement is an issue that my colleague Senator Madigan has campaigned on and been very vocal on. That needs to be considered very closely. There should be specific requirements to consider one-off costs versus overall economic effect.

I will also be moving an amendment aimed at ensuring that companies are aware of antidumping and countervailing issues. Under this amendment, project proponents who are operators of new relevant facilities will have to ensure that they are not using goods or services that contravene Australia's antidumping or countervailing laws. In practice, this means that contractors will need to look more closely at the overseas products and services that they are using to ensure that there is no possibility of dumping or countervailing. Naturally, contractors are not able to make formal judgements of whether dumping or countervailing is occurring. However, there should be a level of responsibility in terms of abiding by Australian laws in this respect.

Because the gag will be applied on this debate and there is not enough time to consider amendments, I will speak to my amendment on sheet 7400. The aim of this amendment is to require that contractors take every reasonable step to ensure that they do not use dumped goods or services in major projects. Dumping occurs when an item is sold in Australia below the cost it would normally retail for in its domestic market. Dumping is one of the biggest challenges facing Australian manufacturers. It is impossible to compete with the low cost of these goods, and the process of mounting an antidumping case against the importers is long, complicated and costly. Given that the aim of this bill is to increase the use of the Australian workforce in major projects, the issue of dumping must be addressed.

Late last year, we saw the case mounted by BlueScope Steel against cheap imported steel products. At the time, BlueScope Steel estimated that it had lost $50 million due to the dumping. While BlueScope has had some success in that area, there are still problems if duties are imposed by Customs. There are multiple stories of importers making slight changes to products, or even changing the location in which they are produced, to avoid duties.

The intention of this amendment is not that contractors must make a formal determination of whether a product has been dumped in Australia. Instead it requires them to take reasonable steps to ensure that the goods do not contravene any of the provisions of the Customs Act relating to antidumping. So, if it appears that a good or service is being sold below cost, it is reasonable to assume that dumping is occurring. Similarly, some projects require items to be made specifically for that project because they exceed normal specifications or are not readily available—for example, a steel girder of unusual size. Where there is an arrangement for the manufacture of these unique items, the contractor will have a better idea of the relevant costs involved and may decide the item could be in contravention of antidumping provisions because of the comparative pricing or quotes they have received for the work.

Antidumping law is incredibly complex, and this amendment does not require contractors to make formal decisions. It does, however, put antidumping on the radar and gives Australian companies a better chance of competing against dumped goods or services. I note that tonight there will be a debate—as truncated as it is—in relation to dumping, which is a very important issue in terms of Australian jobs being needlessly lost through unfair practices.

I should also note that the Australian Greens will also be moving amendments in relation to the major product threshold and to allow the minister to designate a project as a major project for the purposes of the act. I broadly support that. I also note that my colleague Senator Madigan will be moving an amendment, which I have co-sponsored but he has instigated, to change the current major project threshold. At the moment it is $500 million. A limit of $20 million is more appropriate. Senator Madigan can speak to that. To be truly effective, the measures in this bill should be more widely applied. I think $20 million is quite a reasonable threshold, and that is the threshold it should apply to. Otherwise, all the principles and criteria in this bill will be simply too narrowly applied. The amendment that Senator Madigan will be moving, which I am very pleased to co-sponsor, will ensure that a significant number of projects in Australia will have to comply with the requirements of this bill, and that will further support Australian jobs.

Ultimately, I support the general intent of this bill. I note the matters raised by Senator Colbeck, which I think are quite reasonable, about other cost pressures on Australian industry, but I think it is also important that there is a level playing field when we are tendering in these major projects where taxpayers funds are involved, and we need to consider once and for all what the true benefit is of having local companies involved and local jobs being involved in manufacturing and production for major projects. The multiplier effect cannot be understated. My fear is that if we lose more and more manufacturing industry in this country, which we must avoid at all costs, we lose that base of innovation, we lose that technological advantage and we lose the skills that we will never, ever get back. I think we should look at what the United States have been doing in recent times, where they have seen a renaissance in their manufacturing industry. They have had policies similar to this, as I understand it, and this has encouraged a renaissance in the manufacturing industry.

To the workers at General Motors Holden who might be listening in my home state of South Australia: I believe that this bill will help. It opens up debate about procurement policies that are reasonable and fair for Australian manufacturers and Australian jobs. So I support this bill, and I look forward to the amendments that I will be moving also receiving the serious consideration of my colleagues.

4:26 pm

Photo of Christopher BackChristopher Back (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to comment on the Australian Jobs Bill 2013 and to pick up on some of Senator Xenophon's final comments, in which he made mention of the United States of America and its renaissance—to use his word—in manufacturing.

The major driver for that in the United States is a return to two words, words that have underpinned and driven Australia's wealth for so long, and those two words are 'cheap energy'. I speak with some interest in the United States in this matter. Two of my children are in the United States. My daughter resides in Houston, Texas, and works in the oil and gas industry supplying services to the offshore oil and gas industry, and one of my sons resides in Lafayette, Louisiana, and is employed in a senior position in the shale gas industry throughout northern and eastern USA. So I have a keen interest. Our family reflects often on how it is and how it has been. I hope the young people up there are listening, because I hope that when you get to adulthood we once again might have returned to a better circumstance.

How is it that our country is geographically similar to the United States, which has a population of 350 million, whereas we have only 23 million people, yet our per capita income is so high and we enjoy such a high standard of living? When I speak to young people and ask them the reason for this they tell me it is because of oil and gas. But of course it is not, because oil and gas are only relatively new in terms of their size and scale at the moment. Then they will tell me it is iron ore. But we have only been heavily involved in iron ore exports to any extent in the last 10 to 15 years, so it certainly is not that. Then they go back as far as the wool industry, but it is a long time since this country survived on the sheep's back. Eventually, since they cannot answer the question, they will say to me, 'You tell me, Senator Back, what the reason is.' The answer has been our cheap energy. The unfortunate thing is that through the life of the Labor government, since 2007, starting with then Prime Minister Rudd and continuing under Prime Minister Gillard, they have done every possible thing they can to destroy the one economic advantage this country has had.

When one looks at what drove manufacturing away from the United States to other markets, it was indeed the fact that they had lost the advantage of their cheaper energy. It is only now, with the resurgence of the shale gas industry, in which the geologists and others found the technique and the mechanism to actually start drilling sideways once they got down 2,000 to 3,000 metres, that they have been able to unlock those reserves of shale gas. And the US once again is in that position of having the advantage of cheap energy and bringing back onshore so much of the manufacturing that once upon a time this country would also have proudly said was our birthright, but no longer. It would be tremendous to support this legislation, because who does not want more Australian jobs? Who does not want to see more young people like these and others having a brighter future in manufacturing and related industries?

But of course there are two elements to why we cannot support this. The first is the fact that it is being driven by a government that is grossly incompetent and that unfortunately does not know how to interact with business and industry. Secondly, and regrettably, we now have a gross debt of $300 billion. That is $300,000 million. And the reality is, unfortunately, that this country is now paying $1 billion per month in interest—not capital repayments but $1,000 million a month in interest on that debt.

We know the Australian Industry Participation scheme, one introduced originally by the coalition. It has stood the test of time well and has focused on Commonwealth government procurements worth $20 million or more. Should that trigger be reached, it excites an Australian industry participation plan. These have the objective of ensuring that local firms receive and achieve optimal opportunities to tender and to undertake some or all of these project works.

In my own previous and recent existence as the chief executive officer of a company selling technology throughout Asia, India and other regions of the world, particularly very high level IT for high-value asset protection, it was a source of great frustration to me—through you, Mr Deputy President, to our shadow Attorney-General—that we never, ever seemed to be able to sell any products at all to the Australian Defence Force. Indeed, it was only when an American company eventually copied our technology and commercialised it in the US market that the Australian Defence Force bought it—as an American product. So I can assure you that I have a very strong affinity for ensuring local employment, local jobs and work going to local companies. And the closed mindedness has been a source of great frustration to me, particularly that of the Australian Defence Force procurement system in consistently looking beyond Australia's borders for supply of products when indeed superior products or equal products exist in this country. I can assure the Australian people, should they honour us with government, that those who will have responsibility in this area will have me in their offices pleading consistently for a reversal of those policies.

But what this does, which is why it must be opposed—and I congratulate Senator Colbeck for the comments he has made in this area—is extend this beyond government procurement to all procurement across industry. The proposal by the Labor government is that this would, in their words, 'strengthen the capacity of Australian firms to win more work on major projects'. But what are some of the implications of this? First, it would require that all these plans be generated for all projects with a capital expenditure of $500 million. Secondly, projects worth $2 billion or more would require an Australian industry opportunity officer. Can anybody imagine that—an Australian industry opportunity officer being embedded in the procurement teams of individual companies? I thought these things went out with the demonstrated failure of the communist system.

Senator Brandis interjecting

Yes, I do take up that observation made by Senator Brandis. You can really see the words of Stalin, and the feeling, coming through here. One wonders exactly what the role of this officer would be, what their skill sets would be. Would they sit in on the board meetings of a company? And what would that do to the levels of confidence of a business or a consortium or indeed its financiers? What would the role of the person be? Would they have to approve? Would they note? Would they rush back to a bureaucrat here in Canberra and report? And is this creating the sort of climate that we need to encourage Australian business and multinational business to continue to invest or indeed to increase their investments?

I accept and endorse the comments of Senator Xenophon, as he struggles from the chamber—perhaps he is in need of some veterinary assistance! But I endorse his comments and those of Senator Madigan in relation to comments associated with antidumping. I look forward to the debate in this chamber this evening—should we be so fortunate as to be able to have one before the guillotine mercilessly comes down on our necks—so that we can aerate far more actively and openly the issues associated with antidumping. I will not waste the time in this contribution, because I know there are others who do want to speak on it.

As part of the Australian jobs announcement, the Australian Labor government will also commit to establishing 10 industry innovation precincts. These have excited quite a degree of interest, and one would actually look to support the notion of such precincts. In my home state of Western Australia, where the offshore oil and gas industry is so important and is growing, we have, south of Fremantle in the Cockburn Sound area—the area referred to as Henderson—active shipbuilding and high-speed aluminium ferry construction; we have a lot of concentration of activity. For years, long before I came into this place, I was pleading for Henderson to become the Stavanger of the Southern Hemisphere. Stavanger is that wonderful area in Norway in which all their offshore oil and gas technology, research and development is focused, and from Stavanger is based the entire Norwegian offshore oil and gas industry.

I referred earlier to Houston. I was in Houston in December and early January to see now the massive investment that is going on by the major oil companies and the concentration of expertise, funding and finance to support the North American offshore oil and gas industry in the Gulf of Mexico and on land. I certainly see the opportunity for a place like the Cockburn Sound area to become one of these industry innovation precincts, and I look forward to seeing what prospects there are.

It was interesting during Senate estimates that we explored further the undertaking by the government to commit to expending some $10 million in advertising the plans for this program to develop these industry innovation precincts. I go to an interchange between Senator Colbeck and officers of the department of industry in the Economics Legislation Committee prior to estimates. Senator Colbeck was asking on this occasion if they could give us an indication of 'all the programs that will be rolling into the administration under that agency.' He said:

The government has announced that it is going to spend $10 million of taxpayers money advertising the plan. Can you tell us how specifically the money is going to be spent, and when and if it is all going to be spent before the election?

Ms Watson from the department said:

Yes, you are correct that $10 million has been set aside for an information campaign—

isn't that wonderful—

to promote the plan for Australian jobs. At this stage it is a campaign that is under development, so we do not have any details we can share.

She went on to say that, yes, the expenditure is committed in the current financial year.

If I consult my watch, it is now only six months till Christmas, as indeed it was six months from Christmas. My estimation is that we have 3½ business days left to spend the $10 million, but there do not yet seem to be any specifics as to where that is going to be. Ms Watson was somewhat more hopeful in her answer to Senator Colbeck in which she said that the campaign is still 'under development'. Let us hope that it gets somewhere in the next 3½ days.

Where are the problems in this? The first, of course, is waste. This is simply going to create a new bureaucracy, one in which industry will probably not be a participant or a consultant, because this government has demonstrated in the time since 2007 that you certainly do not consult meaningfully with industry. If you are the Treasurer and you think you get some political mileage out of it, it is all right to tickle them up and to start class warfare against industry and business, particularly people who are generators of huge employment around the country. They are fair game. I noticed in an answer in question time today that the Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator Conroy, talked very proudly about the number of jobs created under Labor. Let me tell you: more than 70 per cent of those jobs have been created in my home state of Western Australia, and you would have to walk a long way on a hot day, Senator Williams, to find anybody in industry and business that would agree with a statement that the Labor government has been in any way associated with that job growth in Western Australia.

Therefore we are going to see a new level of waste. We have the objectionable proposal that the government may seek to embed public servants into private companies' workforces to shape and possibly even dictate their purchasing decisions. Can you imagine that? Can you imagine such a scenario at Clough, an engineering company with a long, proud history of doing work throughout Australia and our region? I would just love to see the look on Harold Clough's face when a bureaucrat comes along and is introduced to him and he is told that that person not only is there embedded into his company but will be part of the decision-making process.

As usual with legislation that comes in from the government, there is a lack of clarity around the legislation. We do not know when it is due to start, and we do not know many of the elements of it. The exposure draft of the bill indicates that there will be a lowering of the threshold to $500 million. But what effect will this have on affected projects, which will rise from, in this case, some six per cent to 26 per cent? We do not know what the implications of these issues are.

In the few minutes that I have left I really want to focus, because jobs for Australians are so critically important. The way that you create employment in this country, particularly employment in new industries, is not to run around the countryside imposing bureaucrats into boards or into the decision-making process of companies. The way in which you do this is to sit down with business and industry and work out what government can do to help, not what government can do to stand in the way or put more burdens in place. What can government do to facilitate? Regrettably, when I ask myself that question, all I do is see where the obstacles have come.

If we look at the car industry, I think a million cars were sold in this country in 2011. I think it was a record. Of that million, 200,000 were manufactured here in Australia. If my numbers are correct, it is somewhere near the lowest number of cars produced in this country since the 1960s. Here we have a situation in which eight out of every 10 vehicles are imported, and 200,000 then—and far less now, of course—were manufactured locally, so the government imposes a carbon tax. This had two effects. One was to increase the average cost of Australian manufactured cars by $400 per car, and the other, as a direct result, was to cheapen imports so that Australian manufacturers were disadvantaged. I know there are issues associated with the Australian dollar. I know there are issues associated with the industrial climate in this country. But something as simple as that is such a key issue.

I have a branch office in Kalgoorlie in the Goldfields, so I obviously interact a lot with employers, with employees, with workers and with communities in the Goldfields. What a tragedy that it is estimated that we are losing somewhere around 3,000 jobs in mining, mining construction, mining exploration and extraction in our state alone. Why? Certainly there are a range of issues, and I do not pretend that there are not. The dollar has been high and it is now coming down. We have got to the stage where when China coughs we all get pneumonia, and that is an issue that has to be addressed. The price of gold has dived. More importantly than that, since 2008, any encouragement by this government to invest in mining exploration in Western Australia has ceased.

I recall that not long after our state election I asked Senator Conroy how the Prime Minister was going to explain the drop-off in jobs. Senator Sterle, who should have known better, abused me by laughing and carrying on and said, 'Why don't you get out there and talk to industry?' Well, industry have been talking to me and they have been telling me about the disastrous effect this government has had with the mining resource rent tax and the carbon tax. I plead for Australian jobs, but I do so from a climate of consultation and not a climate of conflict. That is what we must do to achieve change.

4:46 pm

Photo of Ron BoswellRon Boswell (Queensland, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I have looked at the Australian Jobs Bill 2013 and I have looked at the Labor Party over the last 30 years, and I have seen some beauties. This has to be the most bizarre bill that I have ever come across in my history in politics. How could anyone support this bill? It is almost like the Red Army, where you have the army officer and the political commissar. We are going to embed into successful businesses people with no business experience and hope that they can get out and provide jobs.

I have listened to the debate on this bill as I have listened to many, many debates. I have come to the conclusion that Labor are either con men or con women or they just do not know what they are doing. That has bothered me for the last 12 months, and I have come to the conclusion that they just do not know what they are doing. As someone who spent 20 years in business before I came to this place, I do understand business. I understand the costs and I understand that, if you are a businessman, you try your hardest to buy Australian products because you are aware of the jobs created and the benefits in providing those jobs.

I do not believe that anyone who is in the business of manufacturing would deliberately go out and buy an overseas product if he could get the same product of the same quality and at the same lines of delivery in Australia. I definitely do not believe he would buy an imported product. Why would he? Why would he buy an imported product when he could get the same thing on the local market? It would save him time, energy and money in shipping documents and so forth.

I cannot understand this bizarre bill before the parliament. You have a successful business out there that is trading, trying to get ahead and trying to provide wealth. The government, which knows everything, which is all knowledge, comes along and says: 'You don't know what you're doing. We're the government. We're here to help. We'll tell you how to run your business.' Well, obviously the managing director says: 'Well, that's interesting, but what experience have you had in business? What experience have you had in this type of business—manufacturing?' 'Well, I did senior year and I became a public servant.' And the managing director asks, 'What benefit is that going to provide?' It is absolutely farcical. I have seen some beauties such as closing three million square kilometres to fishing and locking out amateur and professional fisherman. But the beauty was the $10 billion bank that the Greens demanded. Whatever the Greens demand they get.

I have seen businesses going down the chute. We have seen Australian industry evaporate before our very eyes. Yes, there are jobs created in areas such as health and with people working in old people's homes, and they are doing a great job, but I have seen industry collapse before my eyes. Industry that has taken 100 years to build up has been going down the chute over the last 18 months before your very eyes. Let me cite a few of them: BlueScope Steel in Victoria—170 jobs gone; Boral—790 jobs gone; Penrice Soda in South Australia—60 jobs gone; Pentair, a company in Western Sydney that has made steel pipes for 60 years—160 jobs gone; Amcor—300 jobs; Caltex Kurnell Refinery—330 jobs; Norsk Hydro Aluminium Smelter—350 jobs.

As well, Kelley Foods are going overseas; Kresta Blinds are going overseas; Cousins Soaps are going overseas; Aerogard is going overseas with 190 jobs; and Harley-Davidson is going overseas. Golden Circle, which is a cooperative—and my father-in-law was one of the directors who started it with blood, sweat and tears—is closing down and going overseas to New Zealand. Rosella, an iconic Australian, has been in business for 120 years and has gone. The second last cannery at Windsor Farm at Cowra has gone. SPC are saying, 'If we don't get some help, we're not going to survive for three months.'

What is the answer? Yes, the dollar is a problem, and I would be the first to concede that. When you get into these troubled times, you cut your expenses and you do not add a carbon tax that gives your competitors an advantage.

The US at the moment is paying industrial electricity costs at just over $60; in New Zealand it is just about the same; in Norway it is a little bit more expensive at about $70; and in Canada it is about $65. What does it cost in Australia? It costs $160 per megawatt hour, and we expect Australia to survive. Australian industry was put here because we had low-cost energy and an abundance of power, an abundance of cheap energy. So what did we do? The Labor Party said: 'You can't have a natural advantage. That's terribly unfair. Let's penalise our natural advantage and put a carbon tax on it.' New Zealand is now paying a carbon tax of $1.36; Australia is paying $21.27; China is paying $4.47; and the United States is paying $3.62. And then it doubles it up with renewable energy. No wonder we are going out the door backwards.

The jobs you are creating are childcare workers and healthcare workers, but they are not in manufacturing. Manufacturing has lost 140,000 jobs in net terms; 307,000 were lost in food processing and 352 businesses went offshore in food processing and manufacturing. Where are the blue-collar workers that you are supposed to represent and help get a job? In a nursing home, looking after old people? What are you doing? Why are you deserting your base—no wonder you have 29 per cent of the vote; I reckon it will bottom out at around 26 per cent—and coming in here and saying that a carbon tax is a great benefit? Who do you think you are fooling? You must underestimate the intelligence of the workers who are forced to pay their $300 union fees. I feel sorry for the people who are paying $300 and being ratted on by people like you over there. You know that you cannot provide jobs for those people. Where are they supposed to work? Why don't you care about them? Why do you take their money and desert them? Why do you take their money and walk away from them? You have no credibility. I will tell you why you do it: because you do not have the guts to stand up against the Greens. They lead you around by the nose and people are sick of it. Your blue-collar workers are sick of it. They know what you are doing to them. They absolutely understand how you have deserted them.

Today in TheAustralian it says 'Holden bosses must share the pain'. That is provided by Dave Smith, head of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union. Mr Devereux, who is Managing Director of Holden, says we have all got to share the pain. We even have to look at how many light bulbs we use. Everyone has to share the pain. Paul Howes from the AWU said the very famous statement: 'If one job is lost in manufacturing, we will pull the AWU out.' Hundreds and thousands of AWU members' jobs have been lost, and what has Paul Howe said? Not a thing, except that he is there to protect the Prime Minister.

I have seen some bizarre legislation and I can never understand it, but, what is more, I cannot understand how you, the Labor Party, can be led around by the nose by nine ultra-left people who believe in boycotting Jewish industry, creating wind farms and so forth. How can you fall for it? Can't any of you read the polls? Can't you understand what 29 per cent means? It means oblivion. It means you are knocked out. I know we have to have an opposition. Every government has to have an opposition. But you are not an opposition. You have become a sick joke because you will not stand up for the people who put you there. You will not stand up for the blue-collar workers. Why is it that on one hand you are saying, 'We've got to help the car industry; we can't walk away from the car industry,' but you penalise the car industry with $400 carbon tax? This is from PricewaterhouseCoopers. I have heard Mr Combet or Mr Albanese say that it is only $50. PricewaterhouseCoopers says it is $412. It is $84 million per year that is being inflicted on the car industry, and then you say we have to subsidise it. You penalise it on one hand and subsidise it on the other hand. No wonder we are being done like a dog's dinner.

Senator Back made an observation that it is cheap energy. There is America's recovery, because they have shale gas and shale oil. They are bringing back their industry to America. There is an extra $15 trillion in increased manufacturing production and there will be 3.7 million manufacturing jobs by 2025. General Electric is spending $800 million bringing back its production from China and putting it in Kentucky. Apple is spending $100 million on US manufacturing of Mac computers. BASF, the German chemical company, are spending $5.7 billion to open a factory in America because they are sick of the carbon tax and they are sick of renewable energy. People are talking with their feet and marching with their feet and putting industry back in America. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, we are just killing industry, killing jobs, killing blue-collar workers and putting poorer jobs into the health industry. I cannot understand how you cannot see it.

Fancy trying to embed in a successful business a person who has no knowledge of the industry and no commitment to it! He is a public servant and he has to make the plans. He has to sit down and talk to the board and observe the plans. It is just another one of those crazy bills that you have inflicted on us, in the last three days of parliament, that we will have to manoeuvre around somehow. If you cannot do this, let us just hope we can win the Senate. With the DLP senator, we might be able to get some sort of consistency to protect blue-collar workers and protect business.

There is not an industry in Australia that thinks this is a good idea. But the unions think it is a good idea. And when the unions think it is a good idea and the Greens think it is a good idea, you put your hand up and say, 'We've done you over on the carbon tax and you lost a lot of jobs, but we'll do this for you: we'll make sure that you get embedded in successful manufacturing businesses a spokesman who'll stand up for you.' It is almost as silly as the 457 visas.

The food-processing industry and abattoirs run with about 25 per cent 457 visas. If 457 visas were not there, you would not have a cattle industry; you could not have an abattoir. I have been into abattoirs and they say they have spent thousands and thousands of dollars advertising for people and they cannot get them. No-one wants to work in the abattoirs, so they have to employ 457 visa holders. But the Labor Party says, 'We're protecting your jobs. We're going to bear down on these 457 visas.' You will not protect their jobs. If you make it too hard, you will close the meat-processing industry and a lot of other businesses that depend on 457 visas.

When I came into this place, the Labor Party had some people who had experience in business. There were doctors, lawyers and even a wharfie from Tasmania—someone who had actually picked up a tool and was from a working-class background. There were many different occupations. But what we have now is union hacks, union people. A lot of them are nice people, but they do not have any experience in business. There is not one of them who has ever had to meet a payroll or an electricity account or had to mortgage their own home to pay the payroll tax or to pay the payroll this week or this month. They do not know how gut-wrenching it is when you run a small business and the bank manager calls you in and says, 'You're up to your limit, mate. We're not going to let you go over.' Those are the experiences you have to have in small business. You know that, if you are making one per cent or five per cent on turnover, you are travelling okay. But all this government has done is run interference with business.

Last week I went into a club—a club which, when I was a manufacturer's agent, you almost had to book a table to get into. When I went into that club, there were 10 empty tables. I thought, 'Where is everyone?' There were a couple of old retired people but there was no business. There are no businesses like Ron Boswell's anymore that employ 10 or 15 people. They are gone. There are Woolworths, Coles and the big mining companies but there are no little entrepreneurs that buy products in and go out and sell them. They have gone. You have killed them. You have killed the business that goes with it and you have killed the employment that goes with that. I used to employ nine people. They all started out as absolute red-hot Labor people, but after two years they were on the polling booth for us because they understood what we went through. You have no contact with them. For goodness sake, go out and find a couple of candidates. If you cannot find them, I know a couple of people who vote Labor who would love to come down here and represent you. But you do not do it. You stick to a closed circle of union after union. You are inbred and you do not have anything to offer the Australian people. That is why you are stumbling around at 29 per cent—and you will bottom out lower than that. People have had a gutful of what you do to them. They have had a gutful of paying $300 a year and you turning your back on them.

5:06 pm

Photo of John MadiganJohn Madigan (Victoria, Democratic Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I acknowledge the contributions of Senators Colbeck, Xenophon, Back and Boswell. Basically, I agree with the intent of the Australian Jobs Bill 2013. I think the government has good intentions but the outcome may be that there is going to be some disparity between the rhetoric and the reality. We should be talking today about the definition of major projects—the threshold, the amount. I see here that a project will only be considered if it exceeds $500 million. In my opinion, that is ridiculous. People who are running a project only have to divide it up. I do not see anything in the legislation to tell us why a project that is worth $500 million cannot be divided up into 10 lots of 50 and escape any scrutiny.

I see here that you are going to insert people—bureaucrats, public servants—into businesses to police the thing, but really we are all in this together. This adversarial position that we have heard today is not going to save any jobs and is not going to help our industries and our manufacturers. As I said, I think some pretty clever operators will just divide up their projects worth $500 million.

In government circles, when projects are discussed, I often hear the notion of 'best value for money'. We have not spoken here today about the real jobs, the real skills, the real people and the real prosperity that is generated by our manufacturers, our farmers and our food processors, amongst others. I think this bill could have gone some way to addressing the fact that when people have jobs—a sense of self-worth and gainful employment—we have less demand on Centrelink, less alcohol and drug abuse, less domestic violence, less vandalism, fewer mental health problems et cetera.

We have to look at how we sell this to people and how we build bridges between the union movement, industry and government. How do we get a bigger cake to pay for the aspirations of all the people? I suggest—I have put it in my amendment—that we lower this to $20 million, which is far more realistic. There are a hell of a lot more projects across rural, regional and urban Australia that come in at around that figure than at the figure of $500 million. Even a project of $20 million has huge flow-on, knock-on, domino effects for small- and medium-sized businesses in the community, let alone the larger businesses. We need to be thinking about Australian intellectual property as well, because that is integral to Australian jobs. We also need to be looking at Australian patent protection.

We need to talk about the state of our oil refineries and the fact that, amongst others, Shell has the refinery at Geelong on the market. As some of us know, LPG is a by-product of the refinery business and there are a hell of a lot of cars in Australia—in both a domestic context and a business context—that use gas. If we think that the rest of the world is going to give us cheap oil, petrol and gas when we have no ability to produce our own, we are, quite frankly, kidding ourselves.

Australian manufacturing delivers socially, economically and environmentally. Our salaries and our perks of office are provided by businesses who pay tax in this country and by the people who pay their PAYG tax in this country. They are not paid for by companies operating overseas. We legislate for Australian businesses—manufacturers, food processors et cetera—and they are the people who pay our salaries. We owe them the greatest duty of care.

We also need to talk about our domestic gas reserves for industry and for households, which was mentioned earlier in one of the contributions, and the natural advantage they have given us. As I said, in essence I agree with the sentiment of the bill but I fear that the bill has some glaring inadequacies. I plead with the government not to butcher a bill which, in essence, could and should help our industry and Australian working people.

I plead with the opposition to make some positive contributions about how this bill may be improved to deliver for all the players this bill will affect.

5:12 pm

Photo of Cory BernardiCory Bernardi (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The Australian Jobs Bill 2013 is important for Australia in many respects because it highlights the haphazard way this government has gone about its legislative program. When I examine the documents I have before me, one of the things that galls me about the proposals in this bill relates to questions raised by Senator Colbeck in Senate estimates—that is, that this government has applied $10 million worth of taxpayer money to promote, advertise and market the changes that this bill will be implementing within the Australian Industry Participation system. In and of itself, whether that is justified could be the subject of much debate, but what Senator Colbeck flushed out four weeks ago was that this $10 million had to be spent by 30 June—in this financial year. There are four and a bit days left of this financial year and, as of four weeks ago, the department and the government had no idea what form their campaign was going to take.

So $10 million of taxpayers' money is going to be spent in the next four days to advertise and market a bill on which substantive and full debate will not have taken place—because it is subject to this vicious guillotine that is stifling the development and fostering of positive amendments and debate in this chamber. This government is using its numbers in a brutal manner in this chamber, where it is undermining the role of the Senate as the states' house and the representatives truly of the people, dedicated to improving legislation. It is also wasting taxpayers' money by rushing bills like this through and then, on the back of it, having a marketing campaign which I am sure will have more to do with promoting whatever virtue is left in this government than the actual act before us. It is galling.

Yet, strangely, I am not surprised—because of the track record of this government. I know the Australian people are, quite rightly, outraged and appalled at the mismanagement of taxpayers' money in the past by this government. We have had, after all, deficit after deficit—record deficits of $50-plus billion—and there is no end to them in sight, no matter what this government says, unless we change this government. Then there could be hope and optimism for the future, because there would be reward and opportunity for the Australian people. They would know that the merits of their labours would be fully rewarded by a prudent and sound government, with the adults in charge of the Treasury benches.

The figure of $10 million which is applied to this advertising campaign is particularly galling because this is the government that, in the last week, sought to rig the referendum on changing Australia's Constitution. What an appalling, grubby piece of work that was—rigging a referendum on Australia's constitutional document. With the same amount of money, they are trying to promote their grubby deals. This is $10 million worth of taxpayers' money. In the case of the referendum, they gave it to the case that they wanted to advocate. But they would not give the same amount of money—they gave one-twentieth—to those who want to preserve and protect our Constitution and maintain the separation of powers, those who do not want to see the grubby transfer of power from local communities into Canberra.

I can understand why the Australian people are outraged about that. They should be aware that this is a government which has very little regard for the Australian people. It has very little regard for the checks and balances in our Constitution. It has very little regard for the prudent use of taxpayers' money, as the $10 million marketing campaign in this bill suggests. I am appalled. I am sure the Australian people would be equally disappointed. I compliment the forensic questioning of Senator Colbeck which exposed the department, who were forced by the nature of the questioning to expose the government and their malfeasance. It is appalling. It is, some would say, almost a rort, and that is something no-one in this place can condone.

To turn to the substance of this bill: the bill's passage would result in changes to the Australian Industry Participation system. On this side of the chamber we are supportive of the Australian Industry Participation system because it was an initiative of the Howard government, in 2001, and its core purpose was to give Australian firms increased opportunity to secure work on major local projects. It is a good idea. But I am not going to listen to lectures or some sort of homily from this government about the importance of including Australian industry and Australians in major projects when they have to import a grubby spin doctor from the UK to prop up their disgraceful conduct over many years.

We have seen the spin come out and the objectionable use of abuse. We have seen the Prime Minister's office—need I remind all of us in this chamber?—involved directly with trying to engineer an Australia Day race riot by agitating one group of people and unleashing them to endanger the Leader of the Opposition. The poor result of that, of course, was a Prime Minister fleeing for her very safety, with her security protection detail, and losing a shoe in the process. That sort of grubby behaviour was engineered by someone in the Prime Minister's office—the same people that are now lecturing the opposition about our own conduct and how we should be dealing with the public and with the politics of this situation. I will not take any lectures about including Australians or Australian industry, particularly on a program that was started by the Howard government and that has always been soundly managed, to the best of my knowledge.

This government is intent on making rushed changes that I suggest are anathema to the operation of the vibrant private sector, which— strangely!—has quietened down under the uncertainties provided by the economic climate of this government. In regard to the private sector, it is very clear to me in my dealings with business people, whether their businesses be big or small, that they are desperate for some certainty, because the one thing they all say to me is that this government provides uncertainty. They do not know whether the ground they are standing on to conduct their business is going to change radically because of red and green tape. They do not know whether a new tax or a new burden is going to be placed upon them at the whim of some spin doctor or based on some back-of-the-envelope calculation. They know that the government has very little regard or respect for those who actually generate the wealth.

The government set up class warfare—it is the employer versus the employee. In my experience, that has never really been the case. Employers do whatever they can to keep their employees happy, because they know they are absolutely vital and necessary to their business. It is, as Senator Boswell suggested, some more militant people within the union movement—seeking to feather their own nest or to build their own empire, increase their power base and build a profile for themselves so that they can get into parliament—who seek to agitate and stir up industrial action. These are the problems that businesses are facing today in this country.

One of our great challenges is: how can we get the balance right? But I think the Howard government's approach to the Australian Industry Participation system did get the balance right. I say that because this bill is going to create an increased bureaucracy. It is going to create a new bureaucracy with up to 50 individuals who are going to have new powers to enforce compliance and apply penalties for noncompliance. This is just what the country does not need—more bureaucracy stifling innovation and people's ability to be creative and develop their business as they see fit.

Importantly there is a principle attached to this. This objectionable bill contains a proposal that the government could embed public servants into a private company's workforce. I would be delighted to be corrected on that, because it concerns me that those public servants could then shape and even dictate the purchasing decisions of that particular company.

Since when did a public servant know what was better for a company than the shareholders, the directors or the employees—those who are closer to the action? Since when was it acceptable to embed public servants in private sector companies to tell them what they should and should not be doing? It smells more of the old communism or socialist totalitarianism than it does of a modern-day capitalist environment in which work is provided for the benefit of all engaged in it.

There is also a lack of clarity in the legislation about what has been termed the trigger date, the date when the production of an AIPP becomes mandatory. I would welcome the opportunity for a committee stage in which we could discuss this and ask these questions of the minister, because that is a very important part of thrashing out the problems with a bill. The difficulty we have with that, of course, is that this bill is one of more than 50 this week and one of more than 200 under this parliament to be subject to that thing benignly termed 'time management'. That is the guillotine. That is where the government and the Greens team up and say, 'I'm sorry, but we're not allowing any more debate or discussion on this subject because we have not been able to get our own house in order and we do not think the Australian people should know much more about this.'

Senator Feeney interjecting

I note the interjections from the other side, from Senator Feeney, who is the minister on duty. It is very hard for him to justify his engagement in and involvement with this bill. He has probably just been lumbered with it. It probably just landed on his desk before he came in here. But the difficulty we have is this. Anyone with a true commitment to democracy knows that there will be the odd occasion when time management is necessary in this place—and it can be done, with cooperation. But in this week alone—and we are only on day 2—there will be more guillotines brought down on more bills than in the entire last term of the Howard government.

It is little wonder that the Australian people regard the years of the Howard-Costello coalition government as the golden years, because they knew that they had a government with inherent decency. They knew they had a government that believed in a fair go. They knew they had a government that wanted to see the right thing done by Australia. There are very few people in the country today who think we have a government that is committed to doing the right thing for Australians.

We know how desperate the Prime Minister is at the moment to cling to her job. We know how desperate some on the other side of the chamber are for her to be deposed from that job so that they can get some benefit out of it. We know how desperate another group of them are to stop that from happening. This is a desperate government that is trying to desperately ram through a bunch of objectionable bills that have flaws in them—because they can. And they are frightened about what might happen when they put the question to the Australian people in a couple of months time. That is a problem.

We have many more weeks in which parliament could sit. We could have had extended hours for many weeks previously. But the point is that the government did not have an agenda, save for: 'What can we do politically to spin our way out of trouble?' It has not worked. The blue-tie fiasco of last week did not work. The race riots of Australia Day did not work. None of the spin has worked because the credibility of the government is at rock bottom.

This bill adds to the lack of credibility of this government because all Australians should rightly be ashamed of a government that is seeking—in these difficult financial and economic times, when there are more clouds gathering on the horizon globally that are sure to impact us in this country—to increase bureaucracy, increase penalties and increase compliance requirements on the very industries that can be providing opportunity, jobs and economic growth.

What is lost on this government is that it is not government that provides wealth creation. Government can provide the right environment for it, but it is up to individuals and companies who invest capital to develop actual productive wealth for this nation. The problem is lost on the government, which only sees wealth producers as some sort of cash cow. This government has always been the most guilty of that. They have been the most heinous breakers of any credibility in respect of prudent financial management.

So why would we trust them to be doing the right thing by Australian industry at the eleventh hour? Why would we trust them? How could we? Our own questions have not been answered. Mrs Mirabella asked for a briefing from Minister Combet's office to discuss the industry innovation statement but was refused. I suggest to Mrs Mirabella that it is probably because the government had no idea what they were doing at the time—just like their marketing plan, just like the $10 million they are going to spend in the next four days promoting a bill that has not even passed yet. And it should not pass because we will not have the opportunity to fully explore the problems within it or the opportunity to amend it and make the changes necessary to clean and tidy it up.

The government has of course tried to publicly create the pretext that its industry statement somehow represents an injection of $1 billion in new funding to the industry portfolio, but anyone who makes more than a cursory examination of these headline-grabbing statements, which are like something out of a sitcom, knows well that it cannot be true. Instead, the industry statement seems to incorporate around $600 million worth of cuts. So on one hand we have a government promising to promote Australian industry; on the other hand we have a government making about $600 million worth of cuts. On one hand we are saying this is going to help Australian businesses procure bigger contracts; on the other hand the government will be installing public servants into private businesses to determine the purchasing decisions of private companies.

I suggest, and I stand firm with the coalition in saying, that the best results are always going to be achieved by working cooperatively with industry and business in this country rather than through coercion. Where confusion and ambiguity exist, this chamber exists to seek clarification. I regret the dastardly and bloodthirsty manner that the government are killing off debate. It suggests to me that they have something to hide, just as they were seeking to rig the referendum on the constitutional recognition of local government by a disgraceful bias in funding. That was unprecedented in 100 years in this country. Never before has a referendum received such shoddy treatment by such a shoddy government.

Now we have another $10 million that is going to be spent in the next four days promoting another dodgy scheme, a scheme that they will not allow full scrutiny of. The scheme needs the full scrutiny of this chamber and this parliament, but, unfortunately, we will not be allowed to do that. But I think the Australian people will render their verdict come the opportunity on 14 September.

An honourable senator interjecting

Photo of Sean EdwardsSean Edwards (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source


5:32 pm

Photo of Fiona NashFiona Nash (NSW, National Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Regional Education) Share this | | Hansard source

Yes, encore indeed! I think the chamber could learn a lot from Senator Bernardi making more contributions. Perhaps, if those on the other side listened a little more to the contributions from this side of the chamber, they might actually learn something and somehow—somehow, colleagues—improve the standard of government in this nation, because it is most sorely lacking.

I rise to make some remarks on the Australian Jobs Bill 2013. Its title is in some ways a misnomer because it is yet another shambolic piece of legislation put forward by this government. As people would undoubtedly know, the bill's passage would result in changes to the Australian Industry Participation system. The government says that its aim is to make revisions to the system which will potentially increase the number of Australian suppliers to major local projects. However, it certainly seems to this side of the chamber, which puts a rather more practical, sensible and objective slant on these pieces of legislation, that some of those changes are impractical and, indeed, unreasonable.

We do not have any obvious problem with the intent of the program, given that it was something that came in under the Howard government. I do not think anybody in the nation would have any quarrel with looking to improve the use of local firms' capabilities in major public and private sector projects. There are obviously a number of benefits to be gained there. Our issue with this bill is the fact that it is again shambolic. We see in the first instance yet another creation of yet another bureaucracy. It certainly seems that, whenever the government are scrambling around to try and do something, one of the first things they say is, 'Let's create a new bureaucracy. Let's put another layer of red tape in. Let's make it more difficult for business to actually get on and do business—to do what they need to do on a daily basis.' So we are seeing yet another new bureaucracy, this one with new powers to enforce compliance and apply penalties for noncompliance.

We never cease to be astounded on this side of the chamber by the fact that this government can continually place greater burdens and more red tape on business. Indeed, as my very good colleague Senator Boswell said earlier, this government has absolutely no idea about small business—absolutely none at all. There is likely to be a rise in the number of plans that will need to be produced. There is undoubtedly going to be a rise in the compliance and reporting requirements. Business has been clearly saying that this will be yet another burden on it. Here the government is wallowing around trying to come up with a policy that in some way is substantive or appropriate or can be seen as a piece of legislation. One day, those on the other side might surprise us and come up with a bill where we say, 'That's a cracker piece of legislation for the business sector—look at that!' But it has not happened to date and I suspect it is not going to happen this week.

There is a $10 million advertising plan attached to this but no detail about how it is going to be spent. We have seen nothing from the government about how that is going to be rolled out or any scrutiny of how that money is going to be spent. Rather, we see yet another bucket of money being spent by this Labor government. It is extraordinary. When we look at this government's activities, time after time there does not seem to be any sort of rigorous cost-benefit analysis done. We only have to look at the NBN to know that the government has a track record.

Senator Cormann interjecting

Thank you, Senator Cormann, I will take that interjection. They never do have a cost-benefit analysis. Look at the NBN. How did that come about? I think it was our very good friends Senator Conroy and Mr Rudd scratching on the back of a piece of paper in a plane—somehow they came up with the NBN. There was no cost-benefit analysis whatsoever. One of the hallmarks of this government is the fact that they cannot provide for the Australian people substantive and well-thought-out policy. They are simply incapable of doing it. Perhaps the Prime Minister might be able to knit together a good piece of legislation one day, but I have not seen it as yet. We do not have any confidence that it will ever turn up.

This government has no idea. Here we have a piece of legislation, as my good colleague Senator Bernardi referred to before, that the shadow minister, Ms Mirabella, could not even get a briefing on from the minister. That is unheard of when it comes to protocols and processes in this place. My understanding is that apparently the shadow minister was told she was being critical of the government. Good lord, if everybody critical of the government were going to be shut down in this place, there would be a plethora of people shut down. It is all too easy to criticise this government—because there is so much to criticise.

This is a government that just cannot run the nation. All people out there in the community want are some grown-ups to please run the country. All we have at the moment is this self-indulgent navel gazing from the other side when it comes to whom they want to be leader. It is like watching kindergarteners tussle in a sandpit: 'I want to be leader. I want to be leader!' It is ridiculous. The interesting thing is that if the Prime Minister were doing a good job, if she were doing an appropriate, proper and diligent job in leading this nation, there would not be a leadership question. There would be no question over whether or not Mr Rudd should be leader or whether or not Ms Gillard should be leader or whether or not the local cat should be leader. There would not be any speculation whatsoever.

Senator Feeney interjecting

I am hoping, with your interjection Senator Feeney, you might be indicating who you support. You are apparently one of the powerbrokers. Perhaps you could give us an indication of where this might all end up.

Senator Feeney interjecting

I will take that interjection, Senator Feeney. He has asked me to provide the name of the bill, the Australian Jobs Bill 2013. Any minute now he is going to interject and say it is not relevant. Actually, it is relevant because it is about the government supposedly providing legislation to grow jobs in this nation and they simply do not do that because they are clearly incapable. Why are they incapable of doing that? It is because they simply do not understand how business, small business in particular, works.

When we look at those on the other side, as my good colleague Senator Boswell said earlier, there is a lack of background in business skills in the government. It is absolutely true. What do we see from the other side? Who on the government side has any real knowledge about small business when it comes to farming? On this side, we have a bucketload of regional representatives who understand and know regional communities, who understand regional Australia. On the other side there is precious little. That is why they have been simply incapable of coming up with legislation that is going to help those communities and provide jobs in the regions to make sure that our future is sustainable. They simply cannot do it.

From what we can tell, the funding indicated for this piece of legislation is supposed to be around $98.2 million over the next five years. The expenditure is supposedly offset by cuts of a billion dollars overall to the R&D tax incentive. But the figures do not appear to have been appropriately modelled. They have certainly never been publicly clarified or justified. One day this government may appropriately explain a proper, thorough, diligent process when bringing a piece of legislation before the parliament. But we are yet to see it.

Photo of David FeeneyDavid Feeney (Victoria, Australian Labor Party, Parliamentary Secretary for Defence) Share this | | Hansard source

Two minutes 40 seconds.

Photo of Fiona NashFiona Nash (NSW, National Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Regional Education) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Feeney, I am so glad when you interject and tell me how much time I have left. I can only assume you are enjoying my contribution so much that you want it to go on and on.

Senator Cormann interjecting

Thank you very much, Senator Cormann. I will take that interjection. Senator Cormann has indicated he believes it is a great contribution. I unfortunately only have two minutes left to speak because of the nature of the gag. But it is very important.

Photo of Mathias CormannMathias Cormann (WA, Liberal Party, Shadow Assistant Treasurer) Share this | | Hansard source

I would like to speak to it too.

Photo of Fiona NashFiona Nash (NSW, National Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Regional Education) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Senator Cormann. I will take that interjection. You would like to speak to it too. You see, it is very important. Other colleagues before me have been very diligent and thorough in placing their views on the record about this piece of legislation. This government's track record for shambolic policy development has to be highlighted. Not only do they have no ability to deliver proper diligent policy but once they actually bring a piece of legislation in here to the chamber, they guillotine it. I can remember in this place—when we were fortunate enough to sit on the other side of this chamber—when we were howled down about the guillotine. We were absolutely held to account as if it were a travesty of democracy when we did that. Let me share with you that, in the time we did have the majority here in the Senate, 32 bills were gagged.

Senator Feeney interjecting

Do you know, Senator Feeney, how many your side have gagged since you have been in? Over 200 pieces of legislation have been guillotined. The hypocrisy from this Labor-Greens-Independent government knows no bounds. It is extraordinary. It says one thing—it does not matter if it relates to the truth or not; it makes absolutely no difference to this government whatsoever, absolutely no difference at all—and does another. With this piece of legislation, after bringing in more than 21,000 new regulations, the government is going to bring in another agency, another bureaucracy. It is not at all surprising.

Senator Feeney interjecting

That is a very important point to make again. Thank you, Senator Feeney. I made that point and it is very important to make it again, because it shows the shambolic nature of this government. The Australian people deserve much better.

Photo of Louise PrattLouise Pratt (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The time allotted for the consideration of this bill has expired. The question is that this bill be read a second time.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

5:45 pm

Photo of Penny WrightPenny Wright (SA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I indicate that in fact the Australian Greens are withdrawing all of their amendments, so we will not be needing to vote on them. I seek leave to withdraw those amendments.

Leave granted.

Photo of Louise PrattLouise Pratt (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The question now is that amendment (1) on sheet 7401 revised and amendments (1) and (2) on sheet 7400 revised 2, circulated by Senator Madigan and Senator Xenophon, be agreed to:

(1) Clause 8, page 12 (line 16), omit "$500 million", substitute "$20 million".

(1) Clause 36, page 33 (after line 37), at the end of the clause, add:

(3) The project proponent must take all reasonable steps to ensure that goods or services provided by non-Australian entities do not contravene the anti-dumping and countervailing provisions set out in the Customs Act 1901 and any other relevant legislation.

(2) Clause 40, page 37 (after line 8), at the end of the clause, add:

(3) The operator of the new relevant facility must take all reasonable steps to ensure that goods or services provided by non-Australian entities do not contravene the anti-dumping and countervailing provisions set out in the Customs Act 1901 and any other relevant legislation.