Senate debates

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

Economy, Employment, Deregulation

3:21 pm

Photo of Doug CameronDoug Cameron (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Human Services) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Minister for Employment (Senator Abetz) to questions without notice asked by Opposition senators today.

Here we are, one third of the way through the term of this government. One year into this government and what the Australian public know is that this is an unfair, incompetent and arrogant government—unfair in almost everything it does. What Senator Abetz has outlined today is that same unfairness. Whether it is workers seeking to bargain with their employers or the unemployed trying to get a fair go in this country, this government is unfair. It is an incompetent government, because this is a government that went to the Australia public saying it would not do deals. And yet we see deals being done with the Palmer United Party that will be a pyrrhic victory for this government. And it will be a pyrrhic victory for the Palmer United Party as well, because if you want to hammer the conditions and the rights of Australian workers, Work Choices showed that that would be a price that would have to be paid by this government.

This is an ideological government; a government that puts ideology before the national interest. It is an untrustworthy government because you cannot trust a word it says. I asked Senator Abetz today about changes to the 457 visa system, and he simply said, 'No, there will be no changes.' The problem for Senator Abetz and the problem for this government is that not only do we on this side of the chamber not trust them, but the Australia public also do not trust the Abbott government, because this government is a one that came to power based on lies and misrepresentation. We see it every day of the week with this government: more changes that were not outlined to the Australia public by this government and more lies and more rhetoric to try to hide the facts of its untruthful position.

When Senator Abetz raised the issue of immigration, he failed to deal with the article in The Australian today, where Senator Cash is quoted as saying:

Our immigration responses should recognise the unique labour needs of different geographic areas and allow flexibility to properly respond to those needs.

Senator Abetz will obviously have an opportunity to respond in this debate, and I would ask him to have a look at that article in The Australian and respond to Senator Cash's argument that you need different, more flexible approaches—that you have to be unique. There has been one other argument that I have heard about the uniqueness of the Australian labour market, and that argument came from Gina Rinehart. Gina Rinehart said that we should recognise the uniqueness of the mining industry and the uniqueness of the regional areas where mining takes place. That uniqueness could be fixed up by looking at what happens in Africa, where workers are on $2 a day, and we had to compete with workers in Africa on $2 a day. This position is in The Australian today—guidelines have been seen by The Australian. The Australian is saying, 'We have seen these guidelines.' The reporter has seen the guidelines and it means that workers could be paid as skilled workers about $10,000 less, or 10 per cent less, than other workers. A skilled worker could be paid $48,510 a year, rather than the minimum rate of $53,900 a year.

Senator Abetz, nobody believes your government. Nobody believes you. When it comes to the Department of Human Services on bargaining, what is the ask there? Lots of access to flex time; loss of overtime for additional hours worked; reduced hourly rates of pay; a reduction of 5.9 per cent of superannuation contributions; reduced job security; massive cuts to conditions of employment; and a pay offer that would result in the reduction of real wages. (Time expired)

3:26 pm

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

Don't you feel sorry for poor old Senator Cameron? He warbles in here, he goes on about lies, he goes on about the failures of the Abbott government. There are four main pillars of the Abbott government, one of which we saw here today. The first is that we will get rid of the carbon tax and the mining tax.

Photo of Doug CameronDoug Cameron (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Human Services) Share this | | Hansard source

The first pillar is lies.

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

That is a lie is it Senator Cameron? The second one is that we are going to stop the boats. That is another lie, is it, Senator Cameron? Look at your performance in government. The third pillar is that we are going to build the roads of the twenty-first century and we all know that they are well and truly underway. The fourth one is that we are going to fix the budget. Every one of those are well and truly underway. But do not allow Senator Cameron's interjections to interfere.

What did the Leader of the Government in the Senate say in answer to questions today? He said that the Fair Work Commission is the appropriate place for these issues to be debated. And, indeed, they have been debated. If I could refer to Mr John Hart and the hospitality and catering industry, who took to the Fair Work Commission a case that said that a circumstance—particularly on Mondays that are public holidays—that the 75 percent penalty for people working on those days was too high, and he won the case.

Let me give you some stats, because these are important, particularly to employment for long-term unemployed people—young people, older people and regional people. Deloittes were commissioned by hospitality and catering to look at where the job needs are. They came back recently with a figure of 65,000 jobs unfilled in hospitality and catering by the end of 2014. When you add tourism to that, it goes up to 80,000 jobs that are there begging. The other day when we spoke to the president of the Australian Hotels Association in Perth, the question was asked, 'Why are there so many foreign sounding accents on the other side of the bars?' He said that a recent survey indicated—Senator Sterle who travels throughout the state will be interested in this—that his members could not find local Australians to take 45 per cent of the jobs in hotels in WA. So, that is where the demand is and that is where the opportunities lie. When we heard poor old Senator Cameron going on about overseas workers, let me make this point very, very clearly: it is always in a company's interests, it is always in Roy Hill's interests, to employ Australians. Why? Because you do not have to relocate them from another country. You do not have to orientate them to our country. You do not have to provide all of those necessities that are not necessary for Australians. That is why we will always prefer Australians rather than those who are not from our country.

But the simple fact of the matter is, as those of us from the powerhouse state of Western Australia know, that we cannot always fill the jobs with those who have the necessary skills. A good example is welding skills on some of our offshore projects at the moment. What are we going to do? Not go ahead with those projects? Is that in the best interests of Australia? Is that in the best interest of Western Australians and Australian workers generally? Not to actually go ahead with those projects? No, it isn't the best thing!

Senator Bilyk interjecting

Thank you, Senator Bilyk, for your contribution. I appreciate it.

Senator Cameron interjecting

It is in the best interests of Australia, obviously, to employ Australians. But when we cannot, the best interest surely must lie with getting in those visa holders who can do the work skilfully—not to the exclusion of Australians.

Senator Cameron made an observation. What he omitted to do in talking about wages below, of course, was to say—and I am going to read the background here, if I may—listen carefully, through you, Mr Deputy President, to Senator Cameron: 'in exceptional circumstances, if the employer has not been able to find an Australian worker in an occupation where the award or the market rate is below.' There we are! If you cannot find an Australian worker you go and have a look at another one.

Senator Cameron interjecting

Since Senator Cameron invited the opportunity to respond to all questions asked of Senator Abetz I am delighted to be able to respond to those of Senator Sterle. It is wonderful in the coalition that we can canvas a wide range of views, because we have a wide range geographically, as Senator Sterle himself well knows.

We have a mainly export-oriented wheat industry in Western Australia—

Senator Bilyk interjecting

Ninety-five per cent, Senator Bilyk—you do not grow much wheat in Tasmania—95 per cent of our wheat is exported, regardless of the size of the harvest.

Here on the east coast sometimes very little is exported; depending on their harvest it might be nearly all taken domestically. So thank you very much. There is a circumstance: we in the coalition have the opportunity to canvas the wide range of views and to come up—

Senator Cameron interjecting

You would not believe it, Senator Cameron: we can come up with good decisions based on good policy! Try it sometime! You will be interested— (Time expired)

3:32 pm

Photo of Carol BrownCarol Brown (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Families and Payments) Share this | | Hansard source

What we heard in response to the questions by the opposition from Senator Abetz today was a minister who is completely out of touch in his position on jobs.

About an answer to my question in particular: I was hoping that Senator Abetz had been listening and had realised that his policy requiring job seekers to apply for 40 jobs a month was not achievable and not able to be implemented realistically.

Photo of Eric AbetzEric Abetz (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Minister for Employment) Share this | | Hansard source

I am sitting here to listen to you.

Photo of Carol BrownCarol Brown (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Families and Payments) Share this | | Hansard source

I thought he might have been listening to the unemployed people and community organisations that have said from the very outset that this is a completely meaningless way to help unemployed people into jobs.

I thought he might have been listening because last week, I think it was, on 2GB Drive Minister Abetz said that he was not about people applying for jobs in meaningless ways. Of course, he acknowledged that that would be a burden to small businesses. So I had a little ray of hope that this minister, who has put this policy out there—this policy that will not work and which does nothing to help unemployed people into jobs—was finally listening, even to the small business community.

But it appears today, from his answers in the Senate, that that hope has gone. He was not listening. He is not prepared actually to look at his ideologically-driven policy and to put it aside because everyone knows, including the minister's own party, that this is a policy that will not work.

I also asked Senator Abetz about Tasmania, where we have 7.6 per cent unemployment and where we also have, unfortunately, the highest youth unemployment rate in the country. Up in Braddon on the north-west coast, Mr Whiteley's seat—the member for Braddon—we have 21 per cent youth unemployment.

Photo of Eric AbetzEric Abetz (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Minister for Employment) Share this | | Hansard source

A very good member!

Photo of Carol BrownCarol Brown (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Families and Payments) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Abetz suggests that Mr Whiteley is a very good member. If he were a very good member he would be going out to see Senator Abetz and saying, 'This is not going to help young unemployed people in my area. It's not doing anything for them.' On the one hand they have been told to get out there and apply for these jobs in this way and then training pathways have been taken away—all the training that was available to them.

So everyone knows that this is a harsh policy and it does nothing to assist job seekers. But it is not designed to assist job seekers; it is designed to punish them. This is what it is designed to do. Of course, the Newstart under-30s measures that the government is also seeking to implement are designed to punish the job seekers as well. They are designed to punish people because they are unemployed. This is what this government is doing.

As I was saying, on the north-west coast youth unemployment is over 21 per cent and this is a policy that is going to have devastating effects in Braddon when people start to lose all support for a minimum of six months. We know that it can be much longer.

In Tasmania, youth unemployment is 17.4 per cent compared to the national average of just over 12 per cent.

Photo of Eric AbetzEric Abetz (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Minister for Employment) Share this | | Hansard source

A legacy of state Labor.

Photo of Carol BrownCarol Brown (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Families and Payments) Share this | | Hansard source

And Senator Abetz interjects again. We have just seen this unemployment rate rise and Premier Hodgman has just announced in his budget that he will sack 700 public servants. That is not going to help the job market at all.

Senator Abetz interjecting

Senator Abetz indicates that people should somehow find another way of finding a job— (Time expired)

3:37 pm

Photo of Zed SeseljaZed Seselja (ACT, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is a great pleasure to have the opportunity to speak on the motion to take note of Senator Abetz's answers during question time, because I think Senator Abetz gave some fantastic answers. What this actually reflects on is the questioners. We are going to spend a little bit of time on Senator Cameron, because Senator Cameron's performance was particularly embarrassing, and it was compounded by his contribution to this debate.

If we are going to take note of answers, it is also important we take note of the questions that are asked by those opposite. Senator Cameron asked Senator Abetz, 'Has the government established new rules which will enable employers to hire foreign workers on salaries up to 10 per cent below standard rates?' Senator Abetz's answer was, 'No.' Instead of going to the part of his question that says, 'If yes, ask this; if no, ask this,' Senator Cameron went ahead and asked, 'Won't the introduction of foreign workers on below standard rates simply make it more difficult for Australians to get a job?'

Didn't you hear the answer to the question? The answer to the question was 'No,' Senator Cameron, yet you felt the need to go ahead with the question as if you had not heard the answer given by Senator Abetz. That is the fundamental problem. You have no regard to the facts, no regard to what is put on the record; you simply make assertions even when you know they are false. That continued as Senator Cameron quoted from the article which presumably spurred the question in the first place. I am told the article that Senator Cameron was quoting from was retracted by the author later on the same day. Senator Cameron asked a question based on an article that had already been retracted, he got a clear answer saying that there is going to be no change and then he went ahead with his line of questioning. Senator Cameron—

Photo of Gavin MarshallGavin Marshall (Victoria, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! Senator Seselja, please address your remarks through the chair.

Photo of Zed SeseljaZed Seselja (ACT, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Through you, Deputy President, you can tell when Senator Cameron has no grasp of the facts because he gets louder and louder and louder. The louder he speaks, the more hot air, the surer you can be that he has no idea what he is talking about. That is what people should look out for when they hear Senator Cameron in debate. As he yells and we hear the bile that we often hear, be sure that he has not read the document he is referring to. We saw it with the stronger penalties legislation that we were debating and that we will be debating later: he clearly had not read it. He is the shadow minister but he does not actually know what is in it. Senator Cameron might be good at defending some of his factional allies, like Ian Macdonald of ICAC fame, but he is not so good at getting across the detail.

Let us be clear on what we are talking about. Let us be clear on what Senator Abetz made clear and on what Senator Cash made clear: the story that was published was false. Workers coming in will have to be paid at least what Australian workers are being paid. Those are the facts. Senator Cash has made it 100 per cent clear. The author retracted the article. Senator Abetz made it clear to you in question time today, yet you pretended that it had not happened. How about we deal with the facts rather than the scaremongering? Next time we hear from the likes of Senator Cameron making all sorts of outrageous claims, people should consider that. People should consider how loose Senator Cameron and the Labor Party are with facts. They are not interested in what is actually happening; they are interested in making up a story about what they would like to tell the public is happening. The fact is that it is not true.

Photo of Doug CameronDoug Cameron (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Human Services) Share this | | Hansard source

Imagine you lot saying that—what hypocrisy!

Photo of Zed SeseljaZed Seselja (ACT, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Cameron interjects. He may be good at looking after the likes of Ian Macdonald of ICAC fame, but he is not good at getting across the facts of his portfolio. That has been shown again today. I commend Senator Abetz for putting some facts on the table today. (Time expired)

3:42 pm

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I also rise to speak on the motion to take note of the answers given by Senator Abetz to questions put to him in question time. But I just want to say that that was a shocking waste of five minutes—that was terrible. You really had no grasp, Senator Seselja.

I want to touch on the important issue of the use of foreign workers, particularly but not limited to those on 457 visas. Everyone in this place knows my commitment to the Kimberley, after 30 years of working up and down that area both as a truckie and then as a senator. If we did not have foreign workers, backpackers, in the Kimberley, I would be the first one to admit that the Kimberley would close down. Roadhouses would not be open, pubs would not be open and cafes would not be open. It is a well-known fact.

We on this side of the chamber have never ever set out to demonise foreign workers. Our problem is when they are used to the exclusion of Australian workers, on substandard rates of pay and conditions, and when Australians are not even given the opportunity to apply for the job. It is all right for Senator Back to carry on, raise his voice, scream and somehow attack me. I was half asleep, but he woke me up. I do not know how I fitted into it.

Mr Deputy President, you have a commitment to working people, as demonstrated in your previous life. I am not running this as an argument from just this side of the chamber, but I am going to pose a small question that I do not expect to be answered. I am going to plant a seed in those opposite. I contacted a very good friend of mine yesterday. We were having a chat. I wanted to ask him how things were in WA. He has a transport company. I am going to dig deeper into this. He said to me: 'You are not going to believe what is happening in WA.' He said he has never seen it so bad, that it is shocking. He said, 'There is a mob in WA that have started up a removals company and they only target office removals,' which is a very, very important part of the removals industry, because it employs a heck of a lot of workers, predominantly after hours and on weekends. As an ex furniture removalist I say we made our cream on office removals on the weekend. But he has put to me—and he is going to give me the information—that this mob that have started up only use backpackers. They only access foreign backpackers to go out there, put on a pair of sand shoes or desert boots—no training, no occupational health and safety, not Australian residents, not going to spend a heap of their money and time here in WA. It is just a means to get a few bob and then take off somewhere else.

We welcome backpackers—crikey, the more the merrier—but I am going to dig deeper. There is an accusation that there are a number of mining companies in Western Australia using this mob. I am not talking little backyard ventures. I will report it to the Senate, I will investigate fully and I will go out in the media and tell that lot up there. I will be banging, clapping and throwing hand grenades—whatever I have to do. I do not want to start a 'union' fight; this is not a union fight. But I challenge that side of the chamber to stand with me because o senator in this place, no member of parliament in the other place, if these accusations are proven correct, could ever justify it. Not even the maddies on the far right on that side could justify the use of backpackers to circumvent Australian citizens carrying out furniture removals—office removals for multi-billion-dollar companies.

With that one cleared, I go to some of the questions to Senator Abetz. I was the one who raised the point about the mess that is their party room and the mocking that started. You do not have to be Einstein and pick up the paper every day to work out there is something going wrong on that side of the parliamentary chambers. You do not have to be Einstein to work out that every time the Treasurer and member for North Sydney opens his mouth there is a bevy of backbenchers who cannot wait to brief the media to have a crack at the mess that was and is this budget. Over 100 days, every day we go to the media there is someone backgrounding about what a mess this is. Even today. I am not going to have enough time, unfortunately, but the latest one is the absolute meltdown of the Treasurer in their party room today. I have run out of time, but I will get to contribute to this slapdown— (Time expired)

Question agreed to.