Thursday, 27 June 2013
Migration Amendment (Offshore Resources Activity) Bill 2013; Second Reading
The Migration Amendment (Offshore Resources Activity) Bill 2013, like another bill we have already debated this morning in this place, is yet another test for Mr Rudd within the first 24 hours of his being redrafted by the Labor government to be Prime Minister of Australia. Mr Rudd, when he was redrafted last night to again be the Prime Minister, made certain statements to the Australian people. He has continued to make those statements today—statements to the effect that he will be looking for a new direction for the Australian Labor Party. I hope Mr Rudd is smart enough to know that unless the Labor Party changes its policies there is going to be no change in the rot that has set in. A leadership change for the Australian Labor Party is not enough if you are going to continue to follow the same failed policies.
The bill we currently have before us is an example of a piece of legislation that was drafted by now former Prime Minster Gillard in conjunction with her very, very good mate from the union—who just happens to also be the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship—Minister O'Connor. And it is not for the national interest, not as a bill that would do anything to further the offshore resources activity within Australia. It is a bill that was drafted under instruction with little to no consultation with those who will actually be affected by the legislation if it passes through this place. It is the perfect opportunity for Mr Rudd to actually stump up and this time abide by his word to the Australian people. He has said he wants a change. Well, Mr Rudd—Mr Prime Minister, as you are now; you were the former Prime Minister and the former foreign minister, and you were merely a backbencher, but today you have been sworn in and you are now the current Prime Minister of this country—this is the perfect example of a piece of legislation that you should have taken instructions on this morning and should never, ever have allowed to come before the Senate.
In allowing this legislation to come before the Senate today, in allowing this legislation to be debated, in allowing this legislation to ultimately pass through this place, what Mr Rudd is saying to the Australian people is that last night all that happened in the Australian Labor Party was a change of leadership. Despite his statements to the Australian people last night, despite what he went on TV and said to the Australian people again this morning, Mr Rudd has no intention at all to do anything differently. If Mr Rudd had intended, as he said last night, to change the policy direction of the Australian Labor Party and—to quote him—to now start 'cooking with gas', there has already been one bill this morning that he failed the test on, and that was in relation to temporary protection visas. Mr Rudd was the architect of the unwinding of the former Howard government's proven border protection policies. This morning we presented Mr Rudd with an opportunity to say, 'I will change the policy direction of the Australian Labor Party and I will put back in place what I previously unwound.' But Mr Rudd and the Australian Labor Party, when presented with an opportunity to change direction—when presented with an opportunity to acknowledge to the Australian people that a leadership change means nothing without a policy change—failed that test.
Just a few hours later, this Migration Amendment (Offshore Resources Activity) Bill presents the Labor Party with a second opportunity to say to the Australian people: 'We are not beholden to Ms Gillard, the former Prime Minister of this country. We are not beholden to the deals she did with Minister O'Connor. We acknowledge that there was little or no consultation with industry about the impacts of this bill.' But the mere fact that we are standing here today debating this bill is evidence that under Mr Rudd, now Prime Minister of Australia, nothing has changed.
I participated in the very brief Senate inquiry into this bill one week ago. When I say 'very brief', I mean it quite literally, because this Labor government completely failed to properly adhere to the processes of the Senate. Two bills were referred to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee—the other bill had to be withdrawn from the agenda because the Labor Party had been unable to get it through the other place. After the two bills were referred to committee, submitters were given less than 24 hours to get their submissions in—and these are on bills which are exceptionally contentious, about which there is a fundamental ideological difference between the two parties and which will have quite a severe impact on industry. On the Friday, 24 hours later, the Senate committee met. We had a few hours in the morning to deal with the 457 bill and then we had about 2½ hours in the afternoon to deal with this bill. We then tabled our report on the Tuesday. Even in that very short inquiry, however, some very serious considerations were raised by industry both about the stated purpose of this bill and about what its actual implications are.
The stated purpose of the bill is to regulate foreign workers participating in offshore resources activities by bringing those activities into the migration zone, meaning that workers would therefore be required, under the Migration Act, to hold a visa. In the second reading speech, the minister made some claims—very loose claims, let me assure you. I would liken those claims to the same minister's claims about the alleged rorts in the 457 program. This is the same minister, Minister O'Connor, who is well known for his position on the 457 program: he does not like foreign workers and he will do anything to stop the supply of foreign labour to this country. He went so far as to claim that there had been 10,000 rorts in the 457 visa program. When the minister was challenged by the coalition and by industry, do you know what the minister ultimately had to admit? He said—and I am quoting him here—that he had made that number up.
This is a minister who makes up claims about particular pieces of legislation merely because he has done a deal with his mates in the CFMEU in relation to the 457 visa legislation, and he wants to blatantly mislead the Australian public on whether or not there are rorts occurring in the 457 visa program. This is the same minister who, on the day that the Senate held an inquiry into both of the bills, the one before the Senate and the one that has not quite made it to the Senate and has not been debated, who, while industry was giving evidence in relation to the labour market impact and testing arrangements of the 457 bill, which are going to be exceptionally severe, was at a skilled migration conference in Melbourne answering a question from industry in relation to what labour market testing is, saying that labour market testing is merely putting an ad in the paper. When I asked the department whether what the minister said in relation to labour market testing was correct—that it is merely putting an ad in the paper, nothing more and nothing less, and 24 hours later the employer is able to start employing foreign labour—do you know what the department said? That the minister had no basis upon which to make his claims.
This is the same minister who also said that this bill would overcome a so-called loophole identified in the Allseas case which needed to be closed. A close reading of the Allseas case—the minister clearly did not bother to read that case, but he did not need to because the case did not serve the purpose the minister needed it to serve, which was basically to make up misleading statements in relation to this bill—does not show that there is a loophole; in fact, far from it. There is no loophole at all that needs to be closed.
Another failure of the minister is in the lack of consultation. As I previously stated, this bill and the 457 visa bill were literally given to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee one day, emails went out from the secretariat that night, at a very strange time, and submitters were given less than 24 hours to read the legislation, consider the Allseas case, which is quite a complex and technical case, and then provide a submission to the Senate inquiry. The minister states that there was consultation, but that is not the evidence of those from industry directly involved in international shipping who appeared before the Senate inquiry. In fact, the contrary is true. If consultation on this bill had occurred, there is a very good chance that the bill would not be being debated at the moment, because the minister would have seen the error of his ways. But there was no consultation and so the minister did not have the benefit of what industry thought.
The minister also failed to provide documentation to show that the bill meets Australia's international obligations as they apply to the laws of the sea. Any person who has had anything to do with the laws of the sea will know that this is without doubt one of the most complex areas of law that lawyers and policymakers will ever deal with. Some very serious issues were raised in the few submissions that were able to be presented to the Senate inquiry, and they related to whether or not the bill does comply with our international obligations under the laws of the sea. That is actually very serious. If the Senate passes this bill today, there is a very good chance that we are going to be passing a piece of legislation that is in conflict with Australia's international obligations as they apply to the laws of the sea. That is a great state to be in, isn't it? The Senate is not properly informed of what our international obligations are and whether or not a piece of legislation has been properly drafted so as to comply with them.
Again, what does that say about those on the other side? It says this: the bill was never drafted to comply with our international obligations. That was not even given a thought by those on the other side in relation to this bill, because, again, it was drafted under former Prime Minister Gillard, who gave instructions to Minister O'Connor to go out and draft legislation that would respond directly to the claims that had been made by the Maritime Union of Australia about extending that union's reach to people who work on ships internationally and may come into Australian waters.
That is all this bill is about, and I hope that no-one in this place thinks that this bill has any other stated purpose. This is all about Minister O'Connor and former Prime Minister Gillard ramming through this place, with little or no consultation at all, legislation that is going to assist their mates in the Maritime Union of Australia. Why do I say that? Because the legislation actually addresses each of the concerns raised by the Maritime Union of Australia and fails in any way to go anywhere near the concerns—the very, very serious concerns—that were raised by industry, that were raised by those people who deal on a daily basis with international law as it applies to the sea. This is what the MUA said about the bill in its submission to the committee inquiry:
As I said, any person who actually bothered to read the Allseas case and the judgement in that case would know that that is just completely wrong. The MUA continued:
Again, anybody who has bothered to read the submissions that industry put in on the issue of certainty would also know—oops!—the MUA got that one as wrong as well. It goes on:
There you go. That is the key in relation to this bill: the MUA wants control over a group of workers that it currently does not have any control over. That is the sole purpose of this bill, as drafted under Minister O'Connor's instructions. The MUA also said:
I say to the minister: clearly, again, you are not au fait with the international law surrounding the laws of the sea, because, if you were, you would already know we comply with that.
The MUA also said that the bill will provide the government with the capacity to monitor non-nationals working on critical resource projects. Well, this would be the problem, because one of the things that the bill may well do is not provide the government with the capacity to monitor non-nationals working on critical resource projects—because the very clear evidence from industry was: 'Guess what? We don't have to come to Australia. We can actually stay in another port and we can accept another contract elsewhere, in a country that is not going to stitch us up in relation to the international laws of the sea.' That was the evidence of industry. It is as easy as that: 'We don't have to come to Australia if we don't want to.'
So much for the government drafting a piece of legislation that it says, or the MUA has requested, will provide the government with the capacity to monitor non-nationals working on critical resource projects, because based on the evidence of industry there may well not be any of those non-nationals. That is because industry, just like in relation to the carbon tax, says, 'If you keep on whacking us with additional regulation, guess what, we have no obligation to do any business in Australia at all and we will go elsewhere.' That is what industry says.
It is very clear from the evidence of a number of affected parties, in the very short time that they had to respond and provide a submission to the Senate inquiry, that the minister failed to consult adequately with industry and that the limited consultation that the minister claims occurred was limited to amorphous concepts and principles that preceded the drafting of the bill. The bill itself is nothing more and nothing less than a union response by the minister for immigration directly to his union mates in the MUA.
Here we go again: another bill, another gag. I will restricting my remarks to allow Senator Humphries the time to speak on this migration amendment legislation as well. He was involved in the very short inquiry that was held into the Migration Amendment (Offshore Resources Activity) Bill, which Senator Cash has told us about. The evidence that was taken in that inquiry makes it obvious that this is about a payoff to former Prime Minister Gillard's mates in the unions. That is all it is. It is about a pay-off to the unions. There was not even a regulation impact statement proposed on this legislation. Yet, under the Australian government's requirements, when there is a regulatory proposal that is likely to have an impact on business or the not-for-profit sector, unless it is of a minor or machinery nature and does not substantially alter existing arrangements there must be a regulation impact statement.
Why was there not a regulation impact statement? Firstly, I do not think that former Prime Minister Gillard wanted these bills exposed to the scrutiny that might go with a regulation impact statement. Goodness, someone might have actually worked out—as Senator Cash pointed out—that we do not even know, in terms of the overseas aspects of this bill, whether we are breaking the international Law of the Sea by putting this piece of legislation through. We do not know that. Goodness, we would not want a regulation impact statement for the temporary sponsored visas, or it might come out that there is in fact a much simpler and much better way of fixing this. That would be to simply look at the consolidated occupations list that is used and think about how you might amend that. I think that is the way we need to look at this.
If there are problems with the standard consolidated occupations list, for heaven's sake, let us just look at them and think about how we might fix that. I agree with Joanna Howe, writing in The Conversation earlier this week, when she said that the current mechanism for identifying skills shortages is too crude. There are 600 occupations on the consolidated standard occupations list. That is clearly too many. If the government's aim had been to improve the 457 visa system, the way they should have gone about it was to improve that list so that it genuinely represented occupations where there were shortages. It is not a tricky thing to do. It is a good list, it is a contemporary list and it is updated regularly—unlike the clunky labour market testing, which this government wants to put through.
I am reminded that the last time labour market testing was part of the 457 regime in Australia, there were all manner of rumours of rorts by the unions who were conducting the labour market testing for large employers. Particularly in the mining and grazing industries, the unions would—for a fee, of course—suss out whether there were enough local people to do the job or not. Those rumours were rife, particularly throughout Queensland, the last time there was a labour market test.
As Ms Howe pointed out in terms of labour market tests:
The issue with employer-conducted labour market testing is that this won’t stop the rorts of the 457 visa scheme. Good employers already recruit for local workers and when they can’t, they make an application to the department to use the 457 visa scheme. The vast majority of Australian employers are decent, law-abiding men and women who use the 457 visa scheme to fill genuine skill shortages. Nonetheless, bad employers exist.
There are not 10,000 of them, as the minister fantasised about when he was desperately trying to find an excuse for this union-instigated legislation—which should be voted down by anybody with a grain of courage or decency.
Madam Acting Deputy President, let me state the facts as they are, because I have knowledge and background in this industry, and inform those on the other side of how dangerous the move is that they are proposing. The simple fact of the matter is that my associates internationally—and these people have enormous experience in the industry and have been working offshore Western Australia—have said to me only in recent weeks that they will never, ever bring their vessels, their crews or their expertise back into Australian waters again. This is the effect of the Migration Amendment (Offshore Resources Activity) Bill.
There never was a problem with 457 workers. In this case, Minister O'Connor went looking for one. He found spurious figures not as a result of those submitted to him by his own department or others; it was a group of figures put to him by a union who are trying to dominate an area over which they do not have the control they want at the moment and, more importantly, an area in which they do not have the expertise. The great value in bringing these workers into our waters is that the skill sets of those in Australia can be elevated. Should this legislation pass, they will be denied that skills development opportunity which, at the moment, they are enjoying. But more importantly—and I say it again; and I cannot say it any more bluntly than this—I was told in my home, in Perth, not three weeks ago by a person who is regarded in the world as the leader in the field and who brought crews into Australian waters that, firstly, the project ran over because of interruptions and interferences locally and, secondly, the expertise did not exist here; the expertise came from overseas.
What people must understand in the context of what we are speaking about is that so many of these crews come into Australian waters only briefly to do specific work and then they leave again. There is no way in the world that the international operators or the shipowners are going to agree to a set of conditions that might apply in a place in which they are working for only very limited periods of time. As we move into what is new work in the world—and that is floating LNG—it is going to have its origins in Western Australian waters. If the Shell Prelude project gets underway, instead of all being on board and an opportunity opening for Australians to develop expertise and to be part of a new and emerging industry, we are going to see the short-sighted actions of a union and the incompetence of a minister cause a circumstance in which we will again not have the opportunity to move into this new and emerging world.
I will conclude with a few comments. Only in the last three weeks did I have members of the AMWU come to see me in my office, in Perth, and plead with me to be part of a case in which we can re-establish a shipbuilding industry in our state and in our country. I said to them: 'It's in your hands. If you want to see shipowners and builders bid for projects then come on board and be part of it.' Madam Acting Deputy President, just let me tell you what the competition is. This time last week, a member of my own family was visiting a major shipyard in China, looking at the possible purchase of a large number of vessels. That Chinese shipyard is building 30 vessels a year. Every 10 days they turn out a new vessel, and he tells me it is of the highest quality
That is what we are bidding against if we want to establish a shipbuilding industry to service the offshore oil and gas industries of our state and our country, and if this government and this union want to establish the biggest possible turn-off from that proceeding and from opening new opportunities for employment and skills development then they just need to keep up what they are doing.