Senate debates

Wednesday, 19 September 2018


Treasury Laws Amendment (Working Holiday Maker Employer Register) Bill 2017; In Committee

10:31 am

Photo of Peter Whish-WilsonPeter Whish-Wilson (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I have a couple of questions I wanted to put to the government, but could I just start by saying Centre Alliance didn't give a second reading speech in this place. They didn't give a second reading speech. Have no doubt: this is the government reneging on the backpacker deal that we did in the Senate in the summer of 2016, which ex-Senator Xenophon and his team signed off on. Where is Centre Alliance? Why did they support the government in a retrograde step to reduce worker protections? Why did they support a deal that the government did with Senator Leyonhjelm? What did they get out of it? If you ever need evidence that Centre Alliance aren't all they make themselves out to be—some kind of progressive influence in the Australian Senate—just look what they've done today. I'd also like you to look at what they did by supporting the government on gutting marine protections just a month ago with no real reason. Nevertheless, they should come into this place during this Committee of the Whole stage and explain why they have supported removing an integral part of the deal that was done on the backpacker tax in 2016. I will get back to that a little bit later.

Minister, I have got a couple of questions for you. Actually, Minister, you weren't in here during my speech on the second reading, but I'll go through a little bit more detail for you. Firstly, we've seen two questions on notice—No. 196 from the Senate Economics Legislation Committee supplementary budgets estimates 2017-18 and No. 68 from the Senate Economics Legislation Committee budget estimates 2018-19—where the Registrar of the Australian Business Register and ATO commissioner have the discretion to make certain information publicly available, and the registrar had chosen not to make an employer's working holiday-maker registration publicly available on two occasions. Basically, the then Treasurer, Scott Morrison, said in his second reading speech that he would make the register public, so can you explain why the ATO has chosen not to make these registers publicly available since the legislation passed? And did you, Minister, or your government instruct the ATO not to make these registers public?

10:33 am

Photo of Zed SeseljaZed Seselja (ACT, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Treasury and Finance) Share this | | Hansard source

The answer to the second question is no. The ATO commissioner exercised his discretion not to make an employer's working holiday-maker registration publicly available on the register. In addition, whilst information on individual working holiday-maker employers is not publicly available, the ATO is required to prepare an annual report about the employment of working holiday-makers, and the ATO's first report was tabled in parliament on 22 August 2018.

10:34 am

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

I think we have to consider what has just happened here. We now have an absolute disgrace of a government—a government that their own Prime Minister describes as muppets—coming together with One Nation and with Senator Hanson, whose speech was incomprehensible. It was absolutely incomprehensible. I just don't get it. Why would One Nation and this decaying government attack defenceless workers in this country? Even worse, there is the involvement of the so-called Centre Alliance, the former Xenophon party. One thing you can say about former Senator Xenophon is that at least he treated issues seriously. The Centre Alliance senators don't seem to have any rhyme or reason about them at all. Why would Centre Alliance attack backpackers? Backpackers are defenceless when they come to this country and they have been exploited continually by farmers, by contract companies and by gangs in this country. As you heard in Senator Hinch's speech, some of them are being sexually abused and sexually harassed. It is a nonsense. I think that, as a nation, we owe it to the young people who are coming here on a working visa to protect them.

Yet, this government, because it has done some dirty deal with Senator Leyonhjelm, is prepared to throw the protections for young backpackers out of the window. The sooner we get to an election and the sooner the Australian people can have a say on getting a decent government in this country the better, because this government is now scraping the bottom of the barrel. To try to keep itself alive, to try and keep itself afloat, it's doing deals with Senator Leyonhjelm, with some of the most extreme views in this place. I just think the time for an election has come. We have a government that is described by its own leader as a bunch of muppets. What have we come to in this place? What is the problem with this rabble of a government that just can't seem to get an agenda together, that continually stabs its leader and that is always fighting? The Nationals don't like the Libs. The Libs don't like the Nationals. And the Libs don't like each other. That's what we've got now. That's the situation we have in this country.

We don't have any substantive legislation before this parliament. It's clear that they don't have an agenda. This new Prime Minister has no idea what he wants to do in terms of improving this nation. We've had the COAG meeting cancelled, a meeting that looks at trying to make things better for Australians across the country. Because this Prime Minister and this rabble of a government don't have an agenda, don't have a strategy and don't have a plan for the future, what they are doing is simply cancelling a meeting. It's an absolute disgrace.

And they have to cuddle up to One Nation to get legislation through. They have to make concessions to a party that espouses racism, a party that would come in here and simply attack other nationalities in this country, a party whose leader can't put two words together without reading them—and even then can't read them effectively or properly. That's what we've come to under this government—relying on a senator who is incomprehensible; a senator who attacks other nationalities; a senator who has become rich off the back of the electoral system in this country; a senator who can't even keep her own team together; and a senator who simply looks after No.1. That's what we've come to—and the government depend on One Nation.

One Nation and this government are well matched. You know, Senator Hanson was a Liberal. Senator Hanson was a Liberal who was thrown out of the Liberal Party because of her so-called extreme views. Well, Senator Hanson hasn't moved. She's still got the extreme views. It's just that nobody on the other side has got the backbone, nobody has got the bottle and nobody has got the principles to actually stand up to her and her racist positions that her party adopts. It's an absolute disgrace.

This is a government that just don't get it. This country is crying out for leadership. This country is crying out to get a decent health system and a decent education system, and to get rid of an industrial system that has seen wage stagnation and families battling to put food on their table. Are we debating any of those issues in this place? No, we are not. What we are debating now is how you make it harder for young people coming to this country who are in a vulnerable situation. The Nationals, the Liberal Party, One Nation and Centre Alliance have banded together to make it harder for working people in this country. It's just about time that they conceded that they can't govern, they won't govern.

All the three-word slogans that you can think up and all the evangelistic speeches that you can make just won't cut it, because this government are in complete chaos. This government have got no agenda. The reason this bill is on is that they've run out of bills that would make this country a better place. They can't think about it, because they're too busy carving each other up. They are too busy stabbing each other in the back. They are too busy bullying women in their own party. Is it any wonder that women won't join the party?

And, imagine, Senator Reynolds stood up here and made this great speech about bullying. Senator Reynolds gets a promotion, and that's her. She becomes mute—becomes absolutely mute on the issues that she claimed that she was standing up for. They have got no principles. They have got no capacity. They are an absolute disgrace of a government.

We know what's going to happen after the next election—we've seen it: there'll be fewer women in that party. We've had senators, we've had MPs, stand up and talk about bullying, and yet when they've got a chance to do something about it, what do they do? They take a promotion, and they go quietly. What a joke. That shows you how decaying the government are. That shows you how bad the government are. It just shows you that they have got no agenda. They've got no respect for each other—absolutely no respect for each other, never mind having any respect for the population of this country.

All they want to do is crawl over each other to try to get on the front bench, backstab each other, destroy their own Prime Minister because their extremist views on climate change have to be the dominant position. They don't care about young people in this country. They don't care about climate change. They don't care about decent industrial rights. They don't care about a decent health system. They don't care about a decent education system. All they want to do is kowtow to the big end of town and stab each other in the back; that's the basis of this government. They are absolutely pathetic. And when your own Prime Minister describes you as 'muppets', it doesn't leave much room for a defence, does it? Because Prime Minister Morrison actually got it right—they are a bunch of muppets.

If you look back at what this government was about, in 2014 it brought a budget down that attacked pensioners. It brought a budget down that attacked families and family benefits, and it brought a budget down that would increase retirement to 70. It's okay, if you're sitting here on these comfortable benches at 70 years old getting a $200,000-a-year base wage, to say to somebody who's on a building site or to a fitter or a rigger that they should work until they're 70. But these people don't have a clue what it's like for ordinary working people. They just don't get it. They are so divorced from reality that all they want to do is carve each other up. I mean, the muppets look sensible compared to this lot. At least you can get a laugh at the muppets. You can laugh at this lot, but I tell you, while you're laughing, this country's going down the tube because they have got no capacity to deliver for Australian people.

This is a government that is decaying. It's a government that is absolutely on its last legs. It's a government that doesn't have an agenda. All those opposite do is sit over there and, with the extremists in One Nation and the Liberal Democrats, attack working people. That's what they do. This is not what Australians want from a government. They want a government that can actually make things better and build a decent society in this country.

We've got a Prime Minister who has got there by default. We know the extremists wanted a different Prime Minister. We know the leaks are still coming from the cabinet in this government. We know that those people who have been denied the opportunity to get on the front bench are going to do everything to continue to destabilise this government. We know that this government is just hopeless. Those opposite are absolutely hopeless. They don't have a legislative agenda to come here, so what do they do? They attack the rights of backpackers—young, vulnerable backpackers—to get protection. What a pathetic mob. What a pathetic rabble of a government. No wonder people just shake their heads when they talk about this so-called government. These were the people that were going to be the grown-ups. Well, have you seen any grown-up behaviour? I know what grown-ups do—they protect young people. These so-called grown-ups have just attacked young people who are vulnerable, young people who depend on decent laws in this country to give them a fair go. But you won't get a fair go from the muppets across here. You won't get a fair go from this decaying government. Those opposite are just pathetic, and this bill shows it in stark reasoning. They are pathetic.

10:49 am

Photo of Peter Whish-WilsonPeter Whish-Wilson (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Could I go back to the discretion that the ATO commissioner has around the release of the Australian Business Register? I understand that discretion, to make details of employers of working holiday-makers available or not, came via an amendment to the ABN act, in schedule 2 of Treasury Laws Amendment (Working Holiday Maker Reform) Act 2016. Minister, could you just refresh my memory as to when that amendment went through parliament?

Also the ATO made a comment that the register has chosen, in other words it has used its discretion, not to make these details publicly available because of 'concerns raised in the community about the privacy of this information'. Can the minister now outline to the chamber whose concerns and the details of that?

10:50 am

Photo of Zed SeseljaZed Seselja (ACT, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Treasury and Finance) Share this | | Hansard source

The answer to your first question is, I believe, 2016. I'll just get the date in 2016 as well. In relation to the ATO's response to the request, the concerns raised in relation to the WHM register being made public were raised by Senator Leyonhjelm. No statement has been made, and the ATO is not aware of any entities that want the information disclosed.

10:51 am

Photo of Peter Whish-WilsonPeter Whish-Wilson (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Well, if I'm reading what you just said correctly, Minister, the only community concerns that have been raised have been Senator Leyonhjelm's. Is that the correct interpretation of what you said? I'll read the ATO's comment again: 'The register has chosen not to make these details publicly available to address concerns raised in the community about the privacy of this information.' Is the register referring to anyone else in the community, or am I to assume from your response that 'the community' is actually Senator Leyonhjelm?

10:52 am

Photo of Zed SeseljaZed Seselja (ACT, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Treasury and Finance) Share this | | Hansard source

All I can add for you is what the ATO has said, and that is that no statement has been made and the ATO is not aware of any entities that want the information disclosed.

Photo of Peter Whish-WilsonPeter Whish-Wilson (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

That's very different to their statement, 'The register has chosen not to make these details publicly available to address concerns raised in the community.' You're coming at it from the other way and saying no-one's lobbied them to release the details of this register. But let me tell you, this bloody register was part of this legislation that this house voted on. It was part of the legislation that we voted on. It was part of the deal that we did with the government when we passed the backpacker legislation. It's become abundantly clear this morning that the only person who wants this is Senator Leyonhjelm, and the ATO commissioner has made a decision based on Senator Leyonhjelm.

Now, I don't know: has Senator Leyonhjelm had a discussion, a personal conversation, with the ATO commissioner? He's not in here. Has he written to the ATO commissioner requesting that this not be released? I asked you earlier, Minister, if anyone in government had instructed the commissioner to not release this register, and you said, 'No'. Something doesn't stack up here. It doesn't stack up. You haven't instructed the commissioner. Has Senator Leyonhjelm instructed the commissioner or even asked the commissioner? What's going on?

The CHAIR: Senator Whish-Wilson.

Minister, you chose not to answer my question, which you are entitled to do. And I know that I'm only allowed to ask one more question without another senator standing up to continue this debate, so I hope there will be another senator in the chamber who will stand up and ask you a question if you refuse to answer my questions. And let me tell you, your silence is deafening and it's damning on this issue. We have been led to believe that there's some kind of matter of public interest in relation to this register not being released, and yet today you can't give us any details on why the Commissioner of Taxation has used their discretion not to release this register.

I'll ask you again, Minister Seselja: what information do you have here today as to why the ATO have used their discretion? Are you sticking with your line that, apart from Senator Leyonhjelm, no-one else has lobbied for the information to be released? Is it that the ATO don't want to do the work? Is it just a simple matter of: they don't have the resources and it's something that they don't have the time and effort to focus on if they don't believe it's a matter of public interest? How can legislation that's passed by this place be ignored?

10:55 am

Photo of Larissa WatersLarissa Waters (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Minister Seselja, in your second reading speech, there was a clear statement: 'This register will be made public.' Why has it not been, when will it be and why the delay?

10:56 am

Photo of Peter Whish-WilsonPeter Whish-Wilson (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I'll read it again for the chamber. The minister wasn't here during my second reading speech. Let me read you an extract from the now Prime Minister's—Mr Scott Morrison—second reading speech. He stated:

The register will be made public, with a list of registered employers published on the ABN Lookup, making it easy for working holiday-makers and others to check the registration status of a potential employer.

Just to refresh the memory of the chamber—and you weren't here, Minister Seselja—the critical reason for this is: if you don't register, then the businesses that aren't registered have to extract 32½c in a dollar from their foreign workers. The registered businesses are 15 per cent, plus they're registered to give more of the superannuation of these foreign workers back to them to go in their pocket when they continue their holiday or when they leave this country and continue their holiday.

Minister Seselja, did the now Prime Minister mislead parliament when he said this was going to be made public, knowing that it would never be made public, or is there another reason this register hasn't been made public, as was set out in the legislation that the Senate voted on? Let's not underestimate how important this vote was at the end of the day for your government to get this deal done, let alone the importance for foreign workers to give them any protections we could and, of course, to give the certainty that we needed for agricultural employers in this country to get on with business and support agriculture and exports.

Bill agreed to.

Bill reported without amendments; report adopted.