Wednesday, 19 September 2018
Treasury Laws Amendment (Working Holiday Maker Employer Register) Bill 2017; Second Reading
Here we are with a bill brought on in a rush, in a hurry, by a government that is an absolute rabble. The Treasury Laws Amendment (Working Holiday Maker Employer Register) Bill 2017 is part of a deal between this rabble of a government and Senator Leyonhjelm to take away some protection for migrant workers in this country. What an absolute joke! We know this government is scraping the bottom of the barrel to try and get legislation before this place. We know it doesn't have an agenda. We know it has a Prime Minister who doesn't know what he's got to do, a Prime Minister with the L-plates up, a Prime Minister who is just in this job because another Liberal Prime Minister has been knifed in the back. We have ended up with this legislation as part of a deal with Senator Leyonhjelm to take away some protection for migrant workers in this country.
This bill removes the requirement for the public listing on the Australian Business Register of businesses that employ working holiday-makers, winding back a transparency measure in the original package. As part of worker protection that was included in the package passed by parliament in 2016, there was a requirement that a legislative framework be set up allowing the Commissioner of Taxation to establish a mandatory registration process for employers of working holiday-makers. This allowed the date of effect of an employer's registration to be made publicly available on the Australian Business Register. Effectively this was to allow visa holders to check the public register to see if a business is registered for employing working holiday-makers, to allow them to make sure a potential employer is in fact a legitimate business. It provided a public register of the companies that were employing the 200,000 visa holders, where there was no public register previously. The register addressed concerns about the exploitation of working holiday-makers and would provide valuable data on working holiday-makers.
It's similarly reprehensible that the Morrison government—and when you talk about a Morrison government, it's really an inverted commas 'government'; it's not much of a government; it's got no agenda; it's got no capacity to focus on the issues that are important for Australians—this rabble of a government, wants to down a measure that helps ensure employers remit the right amount of tax to the tax office on behalf of those workers. The government, with this bill, is actively and willingly increasing the risk of tax non-compliance. What a joke! What an absolute joke! The bill will rip up the ability of a working holiday-maker to look up the details of an employer on the register for employing working holiday-makers, affecting their ability to choose an employer who will comply with tax laws. Both of these provisions in the original bill meant that there was some possibility of greater protection from exploitation for working holiday-makers. Given the significant cases of worker exploitation in this area, we strongly recommend that this tawdry bill be rejected. Labor has consistently stated our commitment to transparency, particularly in areas that can help reduce exploitation of vulnerable workers.
So this is where we are. Instead of fixing aged care or restoring penalty rates, the government is asking us to debate the merits of whether or not working holiday-makers will have access to information about potential employers. Instead of fighting fraudulent phoenix activity or tackling tax havens, the Morrison government would rather have us debate the merits of whether or not working holiday-makers should face an increased risk of exploitation. Well, they shouldn't face an increased risk of exploitation. It's an absolute nonsense that we've got a mob sitting across the chamber, calling themselves a government, that would support further exploitation of vulnerable workers in this country. But it doesn't surprise me. Anything that supports workers would not be supported by this government. Remember Work Choices? Remember the ABCC? Remember the ROC? Remember that minister, Senator Cash, who misled parliament on five occasions, who's the subject of a Federal Police investigation, who refuses to work effectively with the Federal Police to get to the bottom of what's going on? Is it any surprise that migrant workers are at the bottom of the list for this mob? Is it any surprise that they would rather have farmers in this country exploit workers? Is it any surprise they would have criminal gangs, as exposed on Four Corners, exploit migrant workers, having them live in terrible conditions and now not having a support mechanism available to them so that they can test whether theirs is a reasonable employer and an employer that meets their legal obligations?
It's not just Labor that's concerned about this. The Salvation Army, the Uniting Church, and the Tax Justice Network oppose this bill. For the benefit of the Senate, let's briefly look at where the government has come from. Former Treasurer Morrison, in a media release around the time of the original legislation, stated that backpackers could look up employers via ABN Lookup, making the register publicly accessible. Not long after that, the government introduced this bill to the House, and Fairfax reported, in early 2017:
A spokesman for the Treasurer Scott Morrison said the bill was proposed by Senator Leyonhjelm.
"The government agreed to introduce the amendment after reaching an agreement with the senator to pass the original WYHM legislation. The government will honour its commitment," the spokesman said.
"This commitment did not extend to the successful passage of the amendment.
"The government is committed to protecting the rights of backpackers and protecting them from exploitation. …"
We really are at the bottom of the barrel. The spokesperson for the Prime Minister, who was the Treasurer at the time, indicated that this was simply about doing a deal with Senator Leyonhjelm. You should not be using vulnerable workers as part of a deal with the extremists in the Senate. Senator Leyonhjelm has got some of the most extreme views in the Senate.
Senator Leyonhjelm is always interested in small government, except when it comes to paying his wages. There's no small government when he's picking up his pay cheque every month. There's no small government when it comes to the perks of being a senator. There's no small government when it comes to making sure that his nose is in the trough. There's no small government when it comes to making sure that Senator Leyonhjelm's looked after. But when it comes to looking after vulnerable workers, vulnerable people, then government has to be small. When it comes to making sure that we've got a decent health system, government's got to be small. When it comes to a decent education system, according to Senator Leyonhjelm, government's got to be small. So it's big government when it's looking after his mates in the tobacco industry and it's big government when it comes to looking after Senator Leyonhjelm, but it's small government when it comes to looking after vulnerable workers.
This bill is an absolute nonsense. I would invite anyone who wants to deal with this bill, who's thinking about supporting this bill, to go back to the Four Corners transcript of Monday, 4 May 2015, where it outlined the slave labour that was going on in the Queensland rural sector. A Queensland grower said that there is slave labour in this country. So what Senator Leyonhjelm is proposing is that you hide the slave labour so that you don't get a union knocking on your door to try and make sure that decent wages and conditions are being paid. What an absolute joke! What an absolute pathetic position to be putting to this Senate.
Any time you see Senator Leyonhjelm standing up with his grandiose ideas, with all the nonsense he goes on about, then look at what he is prepared to do to vulnerable workers in this country. He is prepared to have them ripped off. It's an absolute joke. We've got nearly mafia-life exploitation of some of these workers. And then when a modest position comes in place to support those workers, we'll get Senator Leyonhjelm supporting it. We've got the government actually providing a process to bring this to the Senate. What an absolute joke this is. You should be ashamed of yourself, Senator Leyonhjelm, for bringing this to this place. You should be absolutely ashamed of yourself.
It's no use having a bit of a laugh with Senator Hanson. This is a serious issue. This is about looking after exploited workers. This is about making sure that they've got a decent right in this country and know who employers are employing. It's about making sure that these companies are paying proper taxation. So we take the view that this should be rejected. We are determined to oppose this bill, and anyone of any decency in this chamber would be opposing this bill.
I am disgusted that the coalition has allowed this to come forward to exploit workers just because they've done another grubby deal to try and save their own necks—a dying government, a decaying government, a government that their own Prime Minister describes as muppets. If there ever were a muppet show, look at what's going on here. The muppets have allowed this to be brought to the Senate to exploit ordinary working people. This is a disgraceful government. This is a chaotic government. This is a government on its last legs. This is a government that should actually go to the people and let the people make a decision whether they want decency in government and whether they want a government that will look after the exploited in this country.
This is another demonstration that workers' rights in this country mean nothing under this coalition. They mean nothing. When Senator Leyonhjelm is leading the government by the nose to exploit workers, then that is the bottom of the barrel. This government is at the bottom of the barrel. It is a government that doesn't care about workers' rights. It is a government that attacks workers' rights. It is a government that does dirty deals to ensure that ordinary workers can get ripped off and migrant workers can get ripped off. This bill is a disgrace and should be opposed.
I rise to support the Treasury Laws Amendment (Working Holiday Maker Employer Register) Bill 2017. I see this bill as a finalisation of the government's backpacker tax package of 2016. The government's backpacker tax package passed in late 2016, albeit with a hiccup on 30 November 2016. By November 2016, the government had the support of the then Xenophon Team of three senators provided that a program to encourage unemployed youth to do seasonal work was subsequently implemented. That program has since been implemented. By 30 November 2016, the government had the support of Pauline Hanson's One Nation provided that the tax rate on working holiday-makers was reduced from 19 per cent to 15 per cent. And by 30 November 2016 the government believed it had Senator Hinch's support, too. The government knew it did not have my support at that time because the backpacker tax package included some violations of taxpayer privacy and because I considered that even a 15 per cent tax rate was excessive. That's still my view, incidentally, and I think Labor's agriculture shadow minister would agree with me.
Then, on 30 November 2016, Senator Hinch joined Senator Culleton and others to vote for a 10.5 per cent tax rate, instead of a 15 per cent tax rate. So it was a 10.5 per cent tax rate that passed the Senate, much to the dismay of the government. Treasurer Morrison came to my office asking if there was any way I could support the backpacker tax package at 15 per cent. I reluctantly agreed to support the package if the violations of taxpayer privacy were removed. Having secured this deal, the government brought that part of the backpacker tax package dealing with the tax rate back to the Senate on 1 December 2016, and a 15 per cent tax rate was finally passed.
The part of the backpacker tax package that included the violations of taxpayer privacy had already passed both houses, so it was not returned to the Senate on 1 December 2016. Instead, to fix the violations of taxpayer privacy we needed new legislation, hence the bill we are debating today, the Treasury Laws Amendment (Working Holiday Maker Employer Register) Bill 2017. I thank the government for bringing this bill to the Senate.
This bill removes a provision allowing the Australian Taxation Office to publicise on the Australian Business Register an individual employer's intention to hire working holiday-makers. The ATO has not used this power to date, given that the bill has been on the Notice Paper. Forcing the publication on the Australian Business Register of an individual employer's intention to hire working holiday-makers is a recipe for the Australian Workers' Union to harass that individual employer. Farmers are mostly small businesses—individual family businesses. They have enough problems with droughts, floods and even needles in strawberries without Senator Cameron's bovver-boy mates knocking on the door. Employers will be free to continue to publicise their intentions to hire working holiday-makers through sites frequented by prospective working holiday-makers. It will come as no surprise that working holiday-makers tend not to peruse the Australian Business Register. General reporting about working holiday-makers and employers who hire them is unaffected by this bill.
This bill also reverts to the previous rule protecting personal financial information provided by a taxpayer to the ATO, so that the ATO can provide this information to the employment department without breaching secrecy provisions only if the taxpayer is actually or reasonably suspected of noncompliance with a taxation law. Because this bill has been on the Notice Paper, the ATO is currently divulging information consistent with the previous rule, rather than divulging information more broadly. This is a protection of the personal financial information of law-abiding taxpayers and it should continue.
I expect Labor and the Greens will make outlandish claims about this bill, but this is a simple and modest bill. It ensures that the protection on taxpayer privacy in place on 30 November 2016 remains. It represents the finalisation of a backpacker tax package that the Senate agreed to on 1 December 2016. I commend the bill to the Senate.
This Treasury Laws Amendment (Working Holiday Maker Employer Register) Bill 2017 is bizarre; it's completely bizarre and completely reflective of a government that doesn't know what it's doing. We thought the backpacker tax fiasco was dead, buried and cremated, but here we have it rising from the ashes again today in the form of a most unusual backflip by the government, seemingly for Senator Leyonhjelm's benefit, and we can only wonder at what kind of deals have been done behind closed doors.
Through this bill, the government is bringing forward legislation to repeal its own legislation, which is less than two years old, to honour a deal that they didn't end up doing. I will repeat that again: through this bill, this government is bringing forward legislation to repeal its own legislation, which is less than two years old, to honour a deal they didn't do.
Well, they are a rabble. I can't say it with quite the intonation that Senator Cameron can, but absolutely they are a rabble. Senators, let's reflect on what happened around the backpacker fiasco. It was leading into the Christmas holidays. We were all looking forward to it—talk about a rabble—after an absolutely shambolic double-dissolution, going into Christmas of 2016. What did we have? We had a seemingly obscure piece of legislation around changing the tax rate for backpackers. It nearly brought the government down and it nearly brought down the Prime Minister at the time. That's how serious this was. That's how it snowballed into an absolute fiasco for the government.
We had a situation where, in a tax grab, a revenue grab—and it wasn't very much revenue either, by the way; we're talking about only a very small amount of money—the government decided in their budget to go after foreign workers. They decided to go after foreign workers, who, for all intents and purposes, were working on short-term visas—holiday visas—in Australia, helping Australian businesses pick their fruit, which is very important in my home state of Tasmania. The government basically said, 'You're not paying any tax while you're here. We're going to levy a 32.5 per cent tax rate on the money you're going to earn.' There were existing exemptions and loopholes and all sorts of accusations of rorting of the system, but the employers, the National Farmers' Federation, clearly told us senators—and as a Tasmanian senator I had discussions with all the stakeholders—that the system was working. They were able to source the labour they needed to pick their fruit and stay in business. The system was working because Australia was an attractive destination. They not only came here for a holiday but for a working holiday, and there was work available. They were able, effectively, to get more money in their pocket, because of the way the tax laws were, and therefore we were very competitive compared to our friends across the ditch in New Zealand, and to other places. So, the government set a 32.5 per cent tax rate and there were going to be no negotiations on that.
When it was clear that they didn't have the support in the Senate the government decide to bring in a tax rate of 19 per cent. They weren't going to budge, and they weren't going to negotiate. They'd already compromised, so that's what it was going to be. Of course, senators in this place got together, and they talked to employers again, and a new proposition was put up on multiple fronts—I think One Nation put up a proposition; the previous Senator Lambie certainly put up a proposition—and the Senate passed a 10.5 per cent tax rate for foreign workers. The Greens, at that point, had a really clear position. We wanted the system to stay the way it was. We didn't want foreign workers to pay any tax while they were here, because they were benefiting our economy, they were benefiting our community and they were spending most of their money here anyway. They were earning on their working holiday money that they were spending in this country. We were pretty happy with the way it was, so we didn't support changing the tax rate at all. We had a very clear position all the way through.
The government weren't going to come at 10.5 per cent, so what did they do? They dropped their required tax rate to 15 per cent. So it was 15 per cent, and that was it. Just as they'd said the other two times, they were not going to negotiate on 15 per cent. That was the base rate. I can understand, if you're the government and you're in charge of a country, why you wouldn't want to negotiate legislation by auction, and not just by auction but by very public auction. If it wasn't clear to Australians after the double dissolution that the government had lost control it certainly was going into Christmas 2016, because legislation was up for a very public auction.
As a Tasmanian senator, I could see my state of Tasmania on its knees—and ultimately we're here as senators for our states. It was desperation stakes. Where I come from, in the Tamar Valley in Tasmania, it's all fruit growing operations. As some of you may be aware, I planted a small vineyard of three hectares many years before I came into the Senate. I relied on fruit pickers. Everybody in my state in the agricultural industry relies on foreign workers, mostly on working holiday visas. As I've said in the Senate, I had a fantastic pair of rock climbers, two fantastic guys from Patagonia, who were staying on our farm and picking fruit. They were working in all sorts of different businesses. We've been lifelong friends ever since. This is absolutely critical to Tasmania.
I felt very strongly, and I know Senator Rice and others in the party room who come from states that have large agricultural industries felt very strongly, that we couldn't let this go on over Christmas. We were getting the very clear signal that businesses weren't able to employ people because people weren't coming. The numbers were down significantly because of the uncertainty that had been introduced for what was essentially, in the beginning, a small tax grab. It snowballed, and there was a stampede away from Australia on the back of this stupidity. That's what it was. At the end of the day, the Greens were the adult in the room. We sat down with Senator Cormann, and we negotiated what we thought was a way forward for everybody. We got the best possible deal we could for foreign workers, although they paid a 15 per cent headline rate, which the government at that stage refused to negotiate on. They were paying 95 per cent of their superannuation when they left this country into a fund that went back to the government. Foreign workers were only getting five per cent of their super back. So we proposed to the government that they change that 95 per cent rate to a rate that gave an equivalent effective tax rate of 10½ per cent. At that point it worked out to be that 65 per cent of their super would be paid to the government, so foreign workers got over a third of their super back in their pockets when they left. So workers got the 10½ per cent rate, the government got to save face and keep its 15 per cent headline rate and the Greens also negotiated a desperately needed $100 million for Landcare. We need a lot more than that, but we negotiated that deal. It was a good deal for foreign workers. It was universally applauded by employer groups, by the National Farmers' Federation and by many businesses, including in my home state of Tasmania. Although we'd have liked to have seen no tax at all paid by foreign workers while they were here, it has turned out to still be an effective, competitive tax rate for backpackers.
Let's get back to this totally bizarre piece of legislation. How did we get here today? Part of the backpacker tax package passed by this parliament involved establishing a public register of employers. The explanatory memorandum of the original bill, the Treasury Laws Amendment (Working Holiday Maker Reform) Bill 2016 states:
WHMs are working holiday-makers. The explanatory memorandum continues:
Information as to who is a registered employer for this purpose will be publicly available. This will incentivise employers to register in order to attract WHMs, since unregistered employers will be required to withhold at the 32.5 per cent rate from the first dollar of income.
Keep in mind that that 32½ per cent rate is not competitive. That will not bring in foreign workers to work in the businesses where we need them. We were absolutely confident about that. It would be a total disincentive to potential employees. So this was to be avoided. The explanatory memorandum continues:
The register will assist with enforcing compliance and will provide data that can be used to help inform future policy related to WHMs.
The then Treasurer, now Prime Minister, in his second reading speech, 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.
But, in the process of trying to get the bill through parliament, it would appear that Senator Leyonhjelm extracted a commitment from the government not to make the register public. Presumably he got this concession when the government thought they needed his vote. In the end, they didn't need his vote, and legislation was passed that would allow for the register to be made public. But, not three months later, government introduced this bill to repeal their own legislation, on a deal that they didn't even do. Of course—I don't know—there may have been other deals done around this. That's very possible.
This bill has been sitting in the parliament ever since then. This bill has, it would appear, been cause for the ATO not to act to make the register public. The answer to question on notice No. 196 from the Senate Economics Legislation Committee at supplementary budget estimates 2017-18 says:
As Registrar of the Australian Business Register, the Commissioner has the discretion to make certain information publicly available.
The Registrar has chosen not to make an employer's working holiday maker registration publicly available.
In other words, even though this legislation passed this place and there was a very good reason for this register—the register was there to protect working holiday-makers in this country—it wasn't made public. The answer to another question on notice to the Senate Economics Legislation Committee, No. 68 at budget estimates 2018-19, says:
The Commissioner, in his role as Registrar of the ABR, received discretion to make details of employers of working holiday makers publicly available on 2 December 2016 via an amendment to the ABN Act Schedule 2 of Treasury Laws Amendment (Working Holiday Maker Reform) Act 2016.
The Registrar has chosen not to make these details publicly available to address concerns raised in the community about the privacy of this information.
Really? Who in the community has raised these concerns about the privacy of information, apart from Senator Leyonhjelm?
Senator Leyonhjelm is, out and proud, a libertarian, and this is important to him and the people he represents. I don't know how many of them there are. But who else? Who else is the proxy for concerns raised in the community about privacy of this information? Was it the businesses themselves who didn't want to disclose the effective tax rates that they were levying off foreign workers? That's something we can ask in committee, because I'm interested to know who else has raised these issues with the minister and the minister's office apart from Senator Leyonhjelm.
The last thing I'd like to address is why the government hasn't brought this bill forward before now, especially considering the fact that they haven't disclosed this register anyway. They haven't protected foreign workers. They haven't made it easy for foreign workers to detect and determine which employers would be the best employers to work for in terms of how they're going to be paid. Why would I want to go and work for a business that's going to charge me 32.5 per cent when I could get 15 per cent from a business on a register and I can make that decision? If I'm on a working holiday, obviously these decisions are going to be very important. I'm going to be looking at where I'm going to work geographically. I'm going to be determining my choice of employment not just on things like tax rates but on where I want to go for my holiday and what I want to do around my holiday. My two friends from Patagonia, who started on our farm in Tasmania, chose Tasmania because they were rock climbers and there was plenty of work. We were desperately seeking workers in the summer of 2016. Our registrations—I checked this with working holiday businesses who matched the demand and supply—were down more than a third that summer because of this backpacker fiasco. It was a totally unnecessary fiasco, based on a quick tax grab by a government without giving any thought to the uncertainty this would cause to the agricultural industry in Australia. It was an absolute fiasco.
I say this personally: I, as a Tasmanian senator, felt that it was very important to get a deal done and certainty for Tasmanian businesses, and for the workers. If we had let it go to Christmas they would have been slugged 32½ per cent. And Tasmanian pickers and businesses weren't able to find workers. I got a lot of attacks. That's probably a good way to describe it. I would like to use an expletive, but I know the Acting Deputy President would pull me up on that. I got a lot of attacks that Christmas because we did a deal with the government and people felt like we'd let Mr Malcolm Turnbull and Mr Scott Morrison off the hook. This could have brought the Prime Minister down. It was that bad. It was that much of a fiasco. They had totally lost control of government over this bill. But it was absolutely critical, and my party room all supported this because we wanted to see the agricultural businesses get the employment they needed to keep going, and we wanted to see workers and foreign workers get the best possible deal and get certainty on this issue. That's why we came up with what was a very good compromise in the end for all parties involved.
We won't be supporting this bill. We want to see this register. It's absolutely critical that it's out in public and that workers get to choose and get the best information possible for their working holidays. When we go in committee, unless the minister deals with this in her second reader amendment, I'll be very interested to know who these other parties are that have complained about the privacy issues surrounding this public register.
One Nation will be supporting the Treasury Laws Amendment (Working Holiday Maker Employer Register) Bill 2017. I'm well aware of the Labor Party's position on this bill. They won't be supporting it because they're intent on harassing and victimising businesses who register as working holiday-makers' employers, particularly in the farming sector, which utilises backpackers for seasonal work.
Once upon a time Aussies would flock to picking jobs throughout the country. They would work in the strawberry fields on the Sunshine Coast for four months, or a bit longer if they were there for the planting of runners. Once that season had ended, they'd head off in different directions for other crops across the country. Some would head off to Darwin and pick mangoes. Others would go and do watermelons or pick tomatoes in Bundaberg. Some would go and pick blueberries in Coffs Harbour. But the Australian workforce that once travelled the country fruit picking have inevitably grown a bit older, and they're more focused on the grey nomad lifestyle. They haven't given up the travel, just the need to work.
Unfortunately, the generations of Aussies haven't kept up those traditions of fruit picking, and it's left growers in all fruit and vegetable industries short on farmhands. Call it generational change or call it a change in work ethic, but the reality is that Aussies are less interested in farm work, leaving farmers short on staff. That's why this government, and previous Labor governments, have allowed seasonal fruit picking to be done by backpackers.
I just ask why Labor would want to leave a loophole in our system for these farmers or seasonal work providers to be named and shamed. I find it ironic that the Labor Party are quite supportive of the Pacific Labour Scheme, which allows 2,000 workers from Pacific island nations like Nauru and Tuvalu to fill labour gaps in rural and regional Australia. The Pacific Labour Scheme isn't a short employment period either; it's for up to three years. So what's the difference between supporting the Pacific Labour Scheme, where employers' details aren't plastered online for Labor and their goons to name and shame, versus working holiday-makers?
Let's also point out a few other facts with these backpackers and the short stints they do to make sure our farming sector doesn't collapse. They pay tax from the very first dollar earned. We passed the backpacker tax in 2016, where backpackers pay 15 per cent on every dollar paid to them. As part of that legislative change, employers of working holiday-makers were required to be registered with the Commissioner of Taxation, which allowed employers to withhold the applicable tax. But it's in this very change that we find ourselves fixing up the problem.
Aussies won't do this sort of work, because it has unpredictable hours and the farmer doesn't know how long his season will last. The strawberry industry is a classic example of the uncertainty that farming work offers. It takes a few criminals to sabotage perfectly good fruit and scare the hell out of consumers, and, before you know it, their season has ended prematurely. Almost every single worker in the strawberry industry in Queensland has lost their job today. I think everyone in this country knows my stance on jobs for Australians, but work in certain industries like farming just doesn't appeal to Australians anymore.
You're lucky I'm not the Prime Minister, because I'd be a hard taskmaster. I'd force some of these dole bludgers, who haven't worked a day in their lives, to go out and pick fruit or cut their Centrelink payments. Could you imagine it if I managed to pull that off? I'd have the Greens all over me like a filthy rash because I dared make some of these bludgers work. Let's be honest, though. If you put some of these people on a farm, it would be a punishment to our farmers and an embarrassment to humanity. So in these circumstances I don't mind supporting backpackers working on farms, if Australians don't want to take up the jobs.
I can't let this time go by without responding to Senator Cameron, with his comments about the workers and the ABCC bill, the ROC bill and what's happened with workers in this country. What an absolutely hypocritical comment that was, because the ABCC bill was actually looking after those employers, who employ people. They were actually controlled by thuggery, mainly by the CFMEU and the unions, to shut them down. These building sites were costing the taxpayer an estimated 30 per cent more because of the thuggery from the unions, who would just go in there and shut them down and destroy small businesses. Or—the fact is—they'd say to the businesses, 'If you want the job, we want a cheque from you,' so they could be handing over a cheque for $5,000 or more to the unions to get the jobs. Sabotage was happening on these sites. It was about control and bullying, and that's all they're used to.
On jobs: he talks about the penalty rates. What about the unions and their EBA agreements? What about those? Your agreements were paying a lot of these workers in the smaller hotel and motel chains $10 less an hour. What about those in the supermarkets—again, $8 to $10 less an hour, and you talk about your enterprise agreement bargaining and what you've done. What about the 457 workers? You're actually talking about jobs here in Australia. Under Labor, wasn't it the highest 457 number—130,000, plus the families? What about all that? And you talk about workers!
What happened to the TAFE colleges when Labor were in? Labor are in Queensland as well and across the country. Where are all the TAFE colleges? You've shut them down. Now, as rhetoric, the same old rhetoric, you'll drag it out: 'Labor are going to open up the TAFE colleges, and we're going to do all this.' It's all lip-service again, as usual, from the Labor Party. Your words are a pittance to me because I don't believe a word that you say about looking after the workers in this country, which you haven't done.
to the chair. There's a lot more here that we need to address.
When Senator Cameron stands up and makes these comments, Mr Acting Deputy President, I just shudder. I remember that in 1996, the first time I stood for an election, I went to a meeting. It was then Terry Mackenroth—yes, a Labor minister. They were determined to destroy the nursing industry, cut the numbers down. This was Labor's intent. They were not interested in supporting our nurses or apprenticeships. They've done nothing to encourage it, and that's why we've had such a fall.
I've been able to manage to get an increase, an apprenticeships pilot scheme that will be up and running in Australia. And yet they still criticise me over it because I've been able to get it: 'We can't allow One Nation to get ahead of us with this one.' They're starting to realise what the Australian public want.
You'll only get good government when you've got good opposition, and I don't see that on the other side of this chamber from the Labor Party, ever. Whenever they've been in government in this country, all they've done is destroy this country with their economic madness, and they cannot manage anything.
With this bill today, I will support a correction in the legislation that protects the identity of those employers who hire them.
I cannot support the Treasury Laws Amendment (Working Holiday Maker Employer Register) Bill 2017, which has Senator Leyonhjelm's fingerprints all over it. I sat in my office with the mother of a backpacker murdered in Queensland who had been exploited and treated very shabbily by unscrupulous farm and orchard employers. Her story, her plight, does not directly connect to this bill, but her mother recounted stories to me from other backpackers who desperately need the physical and financial protections that this public register partially provides. Taking it private, making it confidential, would be, in my mind, a travesty.
Earlier this year, I met up with Englishwoman Rosie Ayliffe, the heartbroken mother of Mia Ayliffe. In August 2016, while working her required 88 days on a farm in North Queensland, Mia was stabbed to death while sleeping in her bed, murdered by another worker with a history of mental instability. The employer had locked the gates of the compound where she was staying, meaning that, even if she'd tried to escape, she would not have been able to. I know that this bill would not have prevented Mia's death, but it would have enabled her to know that she was going to a registered and reputable employer.
Then there's the case of Natalie. In 2013, after completing her time as an au pair, she decided to stay a little longer in Australia. That was when 'au pair' wasn't a dirty word. In order to qualify for her second visa, she had to complete those 88 days of farm work. She went on Gumtree and found a sheep farmer advertising a role for his farm on Kangaroo Island. She contacted him directly, searched him on Facebook, searched the company on Facebook and found nothing suspicious. He told her he had other people working there, including other backpackers, and that he had a partner.
Natalie flew in to Tasmania late at night from Adelaide and he picked her up. He was drunk. After swerving all the way home they arrived at the farm, 20 kilometres away from the nearest town, only for Natalie to find out there was nobody else there, not a single other soul except the drunk employer and her. She was isolated with no phone service and no wi-fi. He had a code on his landline so she couldn't dial out. For the next 15 days she was subjected to verbal abuse and the farmer slaughtered lambs in front of her because 'That's what I do when I'm angry.' Luckily, Natalie has an IT background. She was eventually able to hack into his wi-fi, call the police and get off the island. Not remarkably, this farmer was already known to police.
I know that vulnerable employees are having their 88 days drawn out. They are sent to work and stay in hostels, which they have to pay for, often owned by the employer. They are told that work will be coming up very soon. Sometimes those 88 days have been drawn out for as long as six months. And they are paying for it. I have heard how female backpackers have got suspicious because the pretty ones were getting work and the less attractive ones were not. I have heard of girls being told they must have sexual relations with the employer if they want him to sign off on, to verify, the 88 days. That is disgusting.
That's why I cannot support this attempt to lessen protections for workers and not enhance them. The public register gives some protection—not a lot, but some—to workers. This retrograde bill will certainly not.
I'd like to thank those senators who have contributed to this debate on the Treasury Laws Amendment (Working Holiday Maker Employer Register) Bill 2017. The government recognises that working holiday-makers are an important part of Australia's tourism industry and a key source of labour, particularly in the agriculture, horticulture, tourism and hospitality sectors.
This bill ensures the details of the working holiday-maker employer register are not made public, and it restores provisions regarding information sharing between the ATO and the Fair Work Ombudsman to what they were prior to the changes made by the Treasury Laws Amendment (Working Holiday Maker Reform) Act 2016. All employers of working holiday-makers will still be required to register with the Australian Taxation Office. Registered employers will be able to withhold tax at the new working holiday-maker tax rate of 15 per cent from the first dollar of income up to $37,000. Once registered, employers can advise current and prospective working holiday-maker employees that they are registered and are able to withhold tax at the new working holiday-maker tax rate of 15 per cent from the first dollar of income up to $37,000.
The register addresses concerns about the exploitation of working holiday-makers and will provide valuable data on who employs working holiday-makers, what sectors they are engaged in and where employers are located. This amendment does not affect the requirement for the Australian Taxation Office to report this information annually to the Treasurer for presentation to the parliament. This reporting process involves aggregate employer information and will not identify any working holiday-maker employers.
This bill also restores provisions regarding information sharing between the ATO and the Fair Work Ombudsman to what they were prior to the changes made by the Treasury Laws Amendment (Working Holiday Maker Reform) Act 2016. Information sharing between the ATO and the Fair Work Ombudsman will be limited to situations where an entity is actually or reasonably suspected of noncompliance with the tax law. This bill is part of a broader package of reforms to ensure that Australia remains an attractive and safe destination for working holiday-makers, and I commend the bill to the Senate.