Wednesday, 14 November 2018
Matters of Public Importance
I inform the Senate that at 8.30 am today 11 proposals were received in accordance with standing order 75. The question of which proposal would be submitted to the Senate was determined by lot. As a result, I inform the Senate that the following letter has been received from Senator Urquhart:
Pursuant to standing order 75, I propose that the following matter of public importance be submitted to the Senate for discussion:
Putting local workers first, including cracking down on 457 visas; using Australian grade steel; and protecting local manufacturers.
Is the proposal supported?
More than the number of senators required by the standing orders having risen in their places—
The proposal is supported. Given that no speakers list has been circulated as per normal practice, and therefore no allocations have been advised to the clerks, all speakers will be allocated 10 minutes.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to discuss the issue:
Putting local workers first, including cracking down on 457 visas; using Australian grade steel; and protecting local manufacturers.
Look at what has happened in recent years. This government drove one of the highest skilled industries out of the country, the vehicle manufacturing industry. All over the world, countries queue up to try to get investment in high skill, high-tech manufacturing, yet what did this government do? It drove them out of the country. That has left workers in South Australia with no jobs or with jobs that pay far less. It has condemned workers to low-paying work in areas of South Australia. This government is pathetic when it comes to these issues.
On the issue of the old 457 visas, they've simply changed the name but everyone knows what the visa is. A report by Ms Bassina Farbenblum and Dr Laurie Berg entitled Wage theft in silence: why migrant workers do not recover their unpaid wages in Australia found that the majority of migrant workers are paid well below the minimum wage and only a few take the opportunity to try to recover the wages they are owed. Amongst international students and backpackers who acknowledge that they had been underpaid, the overwhelming majority suffered wage theft in silence. Less than one in 10 took action to recover the wages they were owed, only three per cent of underpaid participants contacted the Fair Work Ombudsman and well over half of them recovered none of their unpaid wages. Participants selected a range of rational reasons why they had not sought to address their underpayment: a quarter indicated fear of possible immigration consequences, close to half reported that they did not know what to do and many believed that they would not be successful. We considered this report in the references committee inquiry that was precipitated by Senator Molan backing Woolworths against cleaners in Woolworths stores. This report demonstrates that an epidemic of wage theft has taken place across this country during the coalition's time as a government—hopefully that won't be much longer.
Another area that was brought to my attention recently was the CFMEU dispute down at the Royal Hobart Hospital, where site induction training was conducted by the Master Builders Association, the MBA, which, all the time, backs these mad people that are running this muppet government. The CFMEU brought attention to a case of over 100 Chinese plasterers working at the Royal Hobart Hospital site. When the CFMEU came across them, those workers had gone unpaid for nine weeks. Workers' safety should not be left exposed on any site. Most of these workers spoke little or no English, and the site safety induction was delivered in English, courtesy of the Master Builders Association. The MBA took money from contractors to deliver the induction to workers who could not speak English and delivered that induction in the English language. The good news is that the CFMEU made sure those workers received back pay and were being paid properly. They recovered $1.132 million in entitlements. Good on the CFMEU!
The government's ABCC had done nothing at the Royal Hobart Hospital site. They'd been on the site nearly every day and had done nothing to help those workers. It just shows the bias in this organisation, the ABCC. It just shows that they don't care. They are simply an organisation set up by the coalition to attack the CFMEU and building workers. It is just outrageous. While Senator Cash and her fellow muppets are making it harder for unions to represent their members, employers and their associations are getting away with not paying workers their proper pay and delivering safety training in a language that the workers don't understand. How dopey is this? Rather than exploiting vulnerable workers on temporary work visas, employers need to be employing and training more Australian workers. Instead of punishing unions, the government should be working with unions to ensure workplaces are fair and safe.
We've got Senator Cash, now a disgraced minister who misled the Senate on five occasions and whose advisers actually breached the law and advised the press of an AFP raid on the AWU. This is a failed minister. This is a minister who, when she was finally caught out on this, turned on young women in the Leader of the Opposition's office and accused them of all sorts of crazy, unsavoury things that had no basis in fact. This minister is a disgrace. For this government to have Senator Cash sitting in the cabinet room is an example of how bad they are, how devoid they are of talent and how devoid they are of people who can do a job for the government.
The government's crocodile tears over skill shortages and Senator Cash's crocodile tears are disingenuous, because this government has failed to deliver anything over the last five years. If Senator Cash and the coalition paid more attention to improving vocational education, instead of attacking workers, attacking their unions and attacking each other, we might be in a better position in this country. We would not be in the mess we are in and we would not have this government that the former Prime Minister called 'mad' and the current Prime Minister declared were 'muppets'. This is a terrible government.
Under the draconian ABCC Building Code, unions and employers can't reach agreement to guarantee the employment of apprentices. On the one hand, they're saying there are no apprentices being employed and, on the other hand, they're stopping unions and employers reaching agreements that would give young kids in this country a fair go and give them an opportunity to get an apprenticeship. And what's the latest effort? At the same time as the OECD is reporting that Australia can't access global value chains due to the lack of skills in this country, the latest effort is for Senator Cash and the Prime Minister to cave in to Senator Hanson on this so-called bush wage. It's modelled on a thought bubble from Senator Hanson. A thought bubble from Senator Hanson isn't very big, let me tell you. We've got a situation where $60 million is going to be allocated to employers who have no record of looking after apprentices and who have not employed apprentices in the past. This is going to be at the expense of companies in the bush that have been employing apprentices for years. This is a nonsense. In Senator Cash's own state, there are 9,615 fewer apprentices, including more than 7,000 in trade occupations. This is a government that doesn't get it. When you suck up to Senator Hanson, when you suck up to a racist party like One Nation— (Time expired)
I rise to speak on the second MPI in two days. Yesterday I started my MPI contribution by pointing out that, even though the MPI came from those opposite, it reflected a number of ticks for this government on a whole range of issues where this government continues to get on with the job and to deliver for the Australian people. As we look at this MPI, we're in the same place. We're talking about Australian workers. We're talking about cracking down on 457 visa holders. We're talking about the use of Australian steel and protecting local manufacturers.
I will start with the last one first—protecting local manufacturers. 'Protection' is a very dangerous word, but the best way of protecting local manufacturers is actually giving them the chance to thrive and to grow in a growing economy and in growing export markets. What have we seen in the ABS statistics in recent times for manufacturing jobs in Australia? After a long period of structural decline, we've actually seen, according to the ABS, employment in manufacturing on the increase over the last 12 months. In the year to August, we've seen some 306,000 new jobs in the manufacturing sector, in fact, representing an increase of 2½ per cent. Manufacturing jobs surged by 86,000-odd in the last 12 months alone. One in five positions created since 2007 have actually been in manufacturing. So the policies of this government in our management of the domestic economy but also in boosting international trade through a series of free trade agreements has given Australian manufacturers the chance to succeed.
I'll just go through the recent agreement that's currently before this place, one that Labor seems to be walking away from. That is the Peru-Australia Free Trade Agreement. PAFTA does a number of things of advantage. I'm very keen on some of the agricultural changes, but that's not what I'm going to focus on here today. I'm going to look at the changes to machinery imports. Peru is an economy which is seeking to increasingly utilise its natural resources, be they agricultural or mineral. It wants access to high-quality agricultural and mining equipment, and that is an area where Australia has some specific international advantages. So, under the Peru free trade agreement, which is still before this place, some 95 per cent of tariffs—tariffs of up to 17 per cent—would be eliminated on it entering into force and all remaining tariffs would be eliminated within five years. There are agricultural machinery manufacturers and mining machinery manufacturers in Australia that would benefit extraordinarily from that. Through that, we would see the manufacturing sector in Australia continuing to grow and continuing to provide those long-term, high-quality jobs that all those on this side of the chamber want to see.
Steel is vitally important to the Australian economy. It's a very important part of our manufacturing industry. It's very important for the construction sector, for engineering, for agriculture and for the mining sector. It contributes, in fact, around $11 billion to Australia's GDP every year. The steel industry is, in every sense of the words, a nation builder and is a massive contributor to our economy. More than 90,000 Australians are employed in the steel industry and related industries, and many more are employed indirectly in downstream industries that utilise steel. So this government certainly wants to see the steel industry continue in Australia and continue to supply both Australia and the world with a high-quality product.
Now we'll move on to the management of the 457 visa program. The government has abolished the 457 visa program because it isn't meeting our economic needs at this time. This was done to put Australian jobs first. There is a new visa category, the temporary skill shortage visa, which was implemented on 18 March 2018. Labor and the unions destroyed the integrity of Australia's skilled migration program when they were last in power. We are cleaning up Labor's mess with the changes that we have made to the 457 program. Workers from overseas with particular skills are required in the Australian economy. Coming from Western Australia, I very well remember the pressures in the Western Australian economy from a lack of skilled workers during the mining construction boom. It was essential for Western Australia to take advantage of the opportunities that then existed. We had a pathway to bring in skilled workers from elsewhere, and in some parts of the economy those pathways are still required where there are genuine skill shortages, and that is what the new temporary skills shortage visa will fill.
As part of the reform in this area, the coalition government tore up Labor's expansive skill list of 651 occupations and, in its place, this government is putting in place an evidence based list of occupations that reflect the genuine skills needed in our economy. This list is updated every six months. The six-monthly updates are based on research from the Department of Jobs and Small Business. In accordance with their advice, occupations are added or removed to ensure that it is responsive to the needs of the Australian labour market. In that way, it protects Australian workers.
Under Labor, the 457 program actually expanded with the addition of 40,000 foreign workers. So their rhetoric in this area, the rhetoric we just heard a few minutes ago from Senator Cameron, is a complete nonsense and a complete rewriting of history. This is a government that is getting on with the job. It is delivering for Australians by boosting the economy and by creating pathways for the high-quality produce of Australia to get to the rest of the world so our high-quality Australian manufacturers can export their products to the rest of the world. That is why this government is so committed to continuing to finding new pathways to markets—things like the Indonesia trade agreement that's currently under discussion, the Peru free trade agreement that's currently before this place and the TPP-11 which has recently been passed by this place. In this way, we see that those manufacturing jobs will continue to grow and continue to be a very important—in fact, an increasingly important—part of our economy.
As economies transition, as older jobs disappear and newer jobs flow into the market, there is the potential for dislocation. It is a legitimate role of government to help with that dislocation, but we must not try to pander to the protectionist policies of the past that have failed over and over and over again. This is, sadly, as I have stated in this place before, the path that those opposite seem to be going down. There was a consensus that trade was of benefit to the economy and of benefit to all economies—of benefit to the world. It increases our government-to-government links, it increases our business-to-business links and it increases our individual-to-individual links. It allows people to move more easily across borders to take advantage of opportunities and it allows for the free flow of goods and services, as much as practicable in a world where the idea of trade has become somewhat problematic.
We have seen an antagonism towards trade across the political spectrum, and I think this is something that is very dangerous for the planet. When we start getting into trade wars, I think it offers very real risks that can lead elsewhere. The best way of keeping the peace globally is to make sure we have a highly integrated economy where everybody trades with as many people as possible. I think it is vitally important that we continue to grow the Australian economy and that we continue to grow our manufacturing export sector. In doing so we link our economy to the rest of the world in as many ways as possible. That is the path to the jobs of the future and to getting as many Australians into work as possible—providing the high-quality jobs of the future—and that is the path this government continues to proceed down.
As an Australian nationalist, I make no apologies for being strong on jobs for Australians first, and that definitely includes apprenticeships. Labor and the coalition on the other hand have quite literally opened the floodgates to foreign workers on visa schemes that have sold out the unemployed and the under-unemployed right across this country. Labor sold out workers in this country by establishing a little-known category called the 400 visa. It was a category that had very little oversight and that gave approval to foreign workers, in as little as 24 hours, to come and take Australian jobs. Hundreds of thousands of workers were employed under the 400 visa category, costing long-term unemployed Australians and university graduates finishing their studies a chance of employment.
We had the 457 visa program, where, again under Labor, the floodgates were opened to foreigners to come and take hundreds of thousands of Australian jobs. When Labor lost government in 2013, they were letting 130,000 foreign workers into Australia to take jobs like ship's engineers, ship's officers, radio journalists, magistrates, park rangers, zookeepers, and flight attendants. They are just some of the jobs Labor allowed to go to foreigners. Thankfully, the number of foreign workers on the 457 visa program dropped by 60,000 last year. One Nation was largely responsible for cuts to over 200 of those job categories, some of which I mentioned before.
I also note that ACTU Secretary Sally McManus said in July this year that there are 1.4 million visa holders with working rights in Australia. That's disgusting. I have no doubt that these people are hard workers, but the point of my disgust comes down to Australians wanting a job. They have to compete with over one million overseas workers. Both Labor and the coalition have hoodwinked voters in this country. They talk tough on jobs, but they are quietly undermining the unemployed and the future youth, who will one day join the search for a job in Australia.
I want to bring to the Senate's attention another real problem that both Labor and the coalition have failed to recognise. The Minister for Jobs and Industrial Relations, Kelly O'Dwyer, last year admitted in a Financial Review interview that 400,000 ABNs were issued to people on visas who are not allowed to work in this country. Australians find that to be so typical of government departments—they don't talk to each other. So, on top of the 1.4 million work visas issued to foreigners, we have a further 400,000 taking jobs from Aussies under the guise of small-business ownership.
I note this matter of public importance also highlights the need to protect local manufacturers and Australian grade steel. It's a bit bloody tough to protect Australian grade steel when the Greens, supported by Labor, are constantly trying to shut down mining in this country. You see, Australian-grade steel requires Australian coal, particularly the high-quality coal from my home state of Queensland, along with the high-grade iron ore from my One Nation colleague's home state of Western Australia. When I stayed in camp with 800 miners in Moranbah only a few weeks ago, I learned that the majority of Central Queensland coalmines are producing coking coal, which is one of two key ingredients for Australian-grade steel. Australian coking coal is mixed with Western Australian iron ore to form the best steel in the world. That's why we're exporting these two commodities to countries like China, Japan, Korea and Taiwan. They want their bridges and buildings to stand the test of time. But, if the Greens and Labor team up again at the next election with their mutual preference deals, we'll be thrust back to building straw-and-mud homes. The key to using Australian-grade steel and protecting local manufacturers is to stop demonising coal and other mining throughout this country.
As for Senator Cameron's approach to my policy on getting apprenticeships in this country, I've done more for the youth of this nation in apprenticeship schemes than Labor have ever done. If it means that rural and regional areas get the chance for their youth to get into apprenticeship schemes then so be it. If you want to refer to it as sucking up— (Time expired)
There is only one party in this place that can be trusted to put the interests of Australian workers first, and that's the Australian Labor Party. So let's look at this issue of putting workers first.
Let's look at the issue of 457 visas. This is an area which this government has completely mucked up. We know that last year the then Turnbull government rushed to announce the crackdown on 457 visas in around April, and they did that without consulting affected stakeholders. The changes and the subsequent revisions to the skilled occupation lists sent waves of uncertainty through the business, innovation and education sectors. We know that, within Mr Dutton's own department, officials were describing the skilled migration changes as a dog's breakfast. So this is a government that can't be trusted in relation to the issue of 457 visas.
We know that this is an issue particularly in Central and Northern Queensland. Our candidate in the seat of Flynn, Mr Zac Beers, has been very active in this particular space, conducting roundtables with our shadow minister for immigration, Shayne Neumann. That happened in April. We're particularly concerned about the reports that, in the solar farm area, there are unskilled workers going about on backpacker visas. These are not specialised workers, and they shouldn't be used to undertake work that should be completed by qualified professionals. This appears to be going on at the moment. So we've got an out-of-touch LNP that's constantly fought against labour market testing, which ensures that Australian workers are given the first shot at local jobs before temporary work visas are made available here. We've seen that Mr O'Dowd, the current member for Flynn, has voted against putting important labour-market-testing conditions into legislation, selling out local workers in Gladstone.
Let's look at the issue of labour hire, another issue that impacts particularly in Central Queensland. If you're listening for policies on the other side to deal with this issue of unfair labour hire practices, you'd be very disappointed, because there is not a peep from the government on this issue of unfair labour hire practices. Compare this with Labor. We have come up with the 'same jobs, same pay' policy, which goes a long way towards addressing this issue.
Again, Labor's candidate in the seat of Flynn is out there talking to workers who are the victims of unfair labour hire practices. He's been through places like Gladstone, Biloela, Moura, Blackwater and the Central Highlands, finding that these areas are being crippled by the atrocious behaviour of big companies that are taking advantage of the broken industrial relations system that we have, which allows casual labour hire to be a replacement for permanent jobs. Mr Beers has said that across Flynn he's heard stories from workers who have been made redundant, losing their permanent jobs and being offered their positions back as casual labour hire employees at significantly lower rates and with absolutely no job security or certainty. He's also heard from workers who have literally had to wait by the phone, afraid to miss a call from their employer to come in for a shift because, if they don't answer that call, they know that they'll be taken off the roster for weeks to come. He's also heard from workers who have been forced to accept unsafe and potentially life-threatening working conditions.
We know that, in Central Queensland, if you're dependent on a labour hire job and you speak up about safety issues, you can quite easily lose your job. It's an absolute disgrace that this government has stood by and allowed this practice of labour hire to infect workplaces around the country. The misuse of labour hire is destroying Central Queensland communities—let's not make any bones about that. This is a practice that must come to an end. Only a Shorten Labor government is committed to stamping out this insidious practice and restoring fairness to workers across Australia.
When we come to the issue of manufacturing, let's never forget in this place that it was those opposite who destroyed the automotive manufacturing industry. They walked away from it. Every country around the world worth its salt that has a motor vehicle manufacturing industry puts in some degree of subsidy. But this government would not support our sovereign capacity to manufacture motor vehicles. We on this side have a strong plan that will ensure that local manufacturing firms and jobs continue. Labor's Australian Investment Guarantee, the $1 billion advanced manufacturing— (Time expired)
Mr Acting Deputy President Gallacher, you may have heard the saying 'leading with your chin'. This motion from Senator Urquhart says:
Putting local workers first, including cracking down on 457 visas; using Australian grade steel; and protecting local manufacturers.
For the Labor Party to put this motion forward, is leading with your chin, for sure.
Let's have a look at the facts here. The motion talks about 'putting local workers first, including cracking down on 457 visas'. There are no 457 visas—they've been abolished. But there were 457s. When Labor was in power there were 40,000 more people working in Australia on 457 visas than there were when we abolished the 457s. When those opposite were in government there were more people working on 457 visas than when we took over government and abolished the 457 visas and brought in the new system, the temporary skill shortage visas. The new temporary skill shortage visa was implemented on 18 March 2018. Labor and the unions destroyed the integrity of Australia's skilled migration program, just like they destroyed the integrity of our borders. Those opposite cannot be trusted on their border policies, nor can they be trusted to run this country.
As part of our reform package, the coalition tore up Labor's expansive list of 651 occupations listed on the 457 visa, which had opened up Australia's labour market and permanent resident programs to occupations such as potters, goat herders—I'm sure there'd be a big demand for goat herders—and cattery workers. In its place, the government established an evidence based list of occupations that reflects the genuine skill needs of our economy. I want to emphasise the point that, under Labor, there were more people coming into Australia on 457 visas and working than there were under the coalition government—yet they are complaining about the 457 visa.
The motion also talks about 'using Australian grade steel'. I couldn't agree more. The steel industry is vital and employs many, many people. The steel industry, and our incredibly high-quality steel, is worth billions of dollars here. In fact, it contributes $11 billion to Australia's GDP each year. The steel industry is a nation builder and a significant contributor to our economy. More than 90,000 Australians are employed in the steel industry and many more are employed indirectly in downstream industries that utilise the steel.
So here we have Labor saying that we've got to look after our steel and buy local steel, but who is against coalmining? We know who is against coalmining. Don't shake your head, Senator Watt. It depends where Mr Shorten is talking. If he is in Melbourne and talking at a by-election he is against coalmining. You know that you will be hamstrung by the Greens. You know that the Greens are the tail wagging the dog and they want to shut down every mine in Australia.
My apologies, Mr Acting Deputy President. They've changed seats. My sincere apologies. Senator Ketter—instead of Senator Watt—here you are opposing coalmining, but how do we produce steel? Out of coking coal. We have high-quality coking coal, some of the best in the world, and the steel we produce is magnificent steel. As I said, there are 90,000 people employed, plus a huge number of people in employment on the downstream side.
You want to keep manufacturing here. Well, the problem we've got in Australia is the cost of doing business here compared to the rest of the world. What's one of the main costs? One of the main costs is electricity. Remember 2010, when Labor was in power? 'There'll be no carbon tax under a government I lead.'
Senator Carol Brown interjecting—
Yes, I think Senator Brown remembers that famous quote: 'There'll be no carbon tax under a government I lead.' Of course, along came the member for New England, Mr Tony Windsor, and he stamped his foot and said, 'I'll get behind you on one condition: that a multiparty climate change committee be formed.' And what did we get? We got a tax of $9 billion a year and growing—nine thousand million dollars in tax. It put electricity prices up. What does that do for manufacturing here? It means we are uncompetitive.
I think, Mr Acting Deputy President, the truth is starting to hurt Senator Carol Brown. I don't think she's enjoying what I'm saying, but she's going to have to sit there and listen carefully and take every word in, because what I'm saying is the absolute truth.
So you've put the cost of doing business up. I see it all the time. I've seen it at an abattoir in Inverell. Where they used to pay $40,000 a week for electricity, they're now paying $70,000 a week because of things such as the renewable energy target, which, thank goodness, the coalition did reduce from 41,000 gigawatts to 33,000 gigawatts—and it should have been reduced more. There's nothing wrong with renewable energy, on one condition: it competes on a level playing field. We see the wind towers being built now in the plain between Inverell and Glen Innes. That's fine, but there's one problem: for every wind tower that spins eight hours a day, 365 days a year, anyone who's hooked to the grid—the pensioner, the widow, the business, the family—pays $700,000 a year to that one wind turbine before they buy one watt of electricity. I think that is very unfair.
What they did in South Australia was put these windmills everywhere. Where I grew up, at Jamestown, the hills are covered with them. Of course, because of the subsidy, they can sell electricity cheaply. What did they do? They sent the coal-fired power station at Port Augusta broke. It was literally blown up. What happened then? The lights went out. The lights went out because the stupid subsidies sent the reliable source of electricity broke.
We have the crazy attitude of many in here that Australia is going to dominate the world, rule the world and change the world. They had a column in the Australian Hotel a few weeks ago—The Australian newspaper, sorry; though I have been to the Australian Hotel before today, I can tell you—that highlighted the number of coal-fired generation plants being constructed around the world. Guess what they're going to burn in those coal-fired generating plants? They're going to burn coal. Do they burn the more efficient coal from Australia or do they burn the second-rate brown coal from Indonesia, China or wherever? The Greens and many others will say: 'Don't have a coalmine in Australia. Don't burn more efficient coal, with higher energy and less CO2 production. Burn the rubbish coal and, hence, shut down the mining here and take away our wealth and our jobs.' That is the crazy hypocrisy of this whole situation. As Dr Finkel, our Chief Scientist, said, we can cut out all our emissions, 1.3 per cent of the world's CO2, and it will have virtually no effect on the planet whatsoever, but we're paying for it and paying dearly. I return to the cost of doing business. If we want to keep manufacturing here, we need to keep the costs down, and electricity is one.
You don't want to see foreigners working here. Mr Acting Deputy President, it was 15 September 2008, a while back now, when I made my maiden speech to this chamber. I said then that some of the young ones in Australia who are fit and capable of working need a touch on the backside with a cattle prod—not literally, metaphorically—to get them off their butts and get them to work. When I was a young fella, if you didn't work it was a shame. You were shamed in your community. We didn't have enough land for me to work when I threw in my scholarship at university in and came home to the farm, so I took up shearing sheep. It's not an easy job. There's probably none tougher. I remember my first day shearing. I worked my butt off for eight hours and crawled out on all fours. I had shorn 32 sheep for the day. I thought, 'What a great future I have in this industry!' Anyway, I got better as time went on. I then went driving trucks.
So the young ones, the healthy ones, need to get to work. Our abattoir at Inverell employs 800 people. It was started by the great man John McDonald and his family, who kicked off the abattoir after it had closed down about 20 years ago. Locals were employed. They actually ran a bus out to areas of unemployment such as Tyngin. People came to work for the first couple of days. Then they didn't come to work. Australians came to work and—guess what?—they failed the grog test. They failed the drug test. They got the spear. They were offered a job, they had a job and they wouldn't play by the rules.
So what do we have now? We have many Filipino and Brazilian workers there because we can't get others to work there. It is all right to say, 'Let's have the locals working,' but they've got to have a bit of a go. There's nothing wrong with working at abattoirs. It's a great industry that relies on exports and export income. It has great local jobs and puts great money in the local community. So it's all right to say, 'Preserve our jobs,' but the locals are going to have to work. In many countries, as Senator Gichuhi pointed out about where she comes from in her maiden speech, if you don't work, you don't get paid. Luckily we do in Australia, but that money should be there to help people along to the next job. For those who refuse to work, we have a real problem because some are simply not capable of working and we need to keep business costs down.
This MPI raises a number of very important matters of great concern to me. As I said in my speech opposing the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, there has been a long list of so-called free trade deals, going back to the disastrous Lima agreement of 1975, which have crippled our manufacturing industries and, in the process, shed many hundreds of thousands of Aussie jobs. It seems very ironic that this MPI would be put up by the Labor Party today when, only a few weeks ago, it supported the latest TPP agreement which did exactly what it is now lamenting. Australia's self-proclaimed 'Fabius Maximus', former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, has to rate as the No. 1 enemy of manufacturing industry and jobs, signing a trade agreement that had the explicit purpose of killing Australian jobs and transferring manufacture to the Third World. Whitlam slashed tariffs and, overnight, destroyed whole industries.
Before Whitlam, around 70 per cent of the Australian workforce were employed in decent, well-paid jobs in manufacturing, but now that number has fallen to a tiny fraction. The working-class voter who naively put Whitlam into power in 1972 little realised that his radical Left interventionist vision cared nothing for the prosperity of them and their families. Those who cared about their jobs, the jobs of Aussie workers—and I know there are many in the Labor Party today who genuinely do—realised that trade treaties that allow cheap foreign products to be dumped on our markets simply destroy our own industries. They realised that allowing foreign workers to flood into this country on 457 visas and the like only takes jobs from Australians.
Foreign worker visas are a Trojan Horse not only stealing hundreds of thousands of jobs from Aussies every year but providing a conduit for a flood of Third World immigrants. Foreign worker visas should not be issued at the expense of Australian jobs. There should be a very stringent public interest test in which employers seeking foreign labour should be required to prove that the position genuinely cannot be filled by an Australian. These visas should be of a very limited time with a subsequent period of ineligibility for reapplication after completion. At their conclusion, those who have had foreign worker visas should be compelled to return to their countries of origin with no entitlement to jump the queue for immigration selection.
It is of great concern to me that neither the Liberals nor the Labor Party appear to have any industrial policies. How can we ever hope to address the decline of Australian manufacturing under these circumstances? As I set out in my maiden speech, I do not just want to protect our remaining residual manufacturing; I want a program to reindustrialise Australia. However, we don't need to reinvent the wheel on this.
Konrad Adenauer's postwar German economic miracle, which ultimately led to both high wages and high profits for companies, is a model for the reindustrialisation of Australia and a means to return to widespread employment in secondary industry. Adenauer's approach of rebuilding manufacturing as a national collaborative effort between private capital, government and unions provides a means to create sustainable industries, free of the adversarial industrial disputes that bedevilled our past. Following the German model, the boards of these new industries would have positions reserved for union representatives who would have full access to profit-and-loss accounts and would then be able to realistically negotiate wage levels, based on the actual profitability of the companies. As occurred in postwar Germany, wages would be expected to be low on start-up but then would grow with rising profits.
By following this model, collaborative manufacturing would be built up, concurrently serving the interests of labour and capital. Supported by some import restrictions and limited temporary tariffs, and a blanket policy for government procurement of only locally made goods, Australia could be reindustrialised along efficient, cooperative lines, re-creating our national industrial independence and balancing our economic development through import substitution. The cooperative nationalist industrial model that I propose would lead to the creation of hundreds of thousands of secure, well-paid jobs in a profitable industry free of industrial disputes that would reassert our economic freedom and our independence as a nation.
Putting local workers first and protecting local manufacturers is a key responsibility of Australian government and can only be done by a government that understands the threats facing workers and manufacturing businesses in Australia, threats this government has shown it simply does not understand—threats like foreign products, such as steel, being dumped into the Australian market; threats like the use of visas to bring in foreign workers to do jobs that can and should be done by Australians; threats like underinvestment in research and development; and threats like governments procuring goods and services from overseas when there are equal or better Australian alternatives available.
The government's contempt for manufacturing is demonstrated by the revolving door of ministers for industry. Minister Karen Andrews is the sixth. Under this government, they have a shorter life expectancy than the bogong moth. Minister Andrews' tenure has been marked by her preference for soft media events, rather than meetings with actual stakeholders. Currently, Minister Andrews is asleep at the wheel while crises and urgent calls for action pile up at her door. A perfect example of such a situation is the crisis, on her watch, facing the complementary medicine industry.
Complementary medicine manufacturing in Australia has 82 different manufacturing companies employing over 29,000 Australians and paying $170 million annually in salaries. The industry generated $4.9 billion in revenue in 2017 and has nearly doubled in size in the last five years. Much of this growth has come on the back of exports to Asia. This growth is based on Australia's reputation as a clean, safe supplier, endorsed by the 'Australian made' logo. It's an increasingly rare example of Australian manufacturers being able to enjoy some competitive advantage against cheaper overseas rivals. But an unintended outcome of changes to labelling laws has thrown doubt on the industry's right to use the 'Australian made' label, jeopardising the jobs and revenue generated by this industry. This crisis requires firm and decisive action by the minister for industry to find a resolution. So how many stakeholders have managed a meeting with Minister Andrews on this matter? According to our information, it is zero. Perhaps this minister, too, is suffering from what a member of the government described earlier today as 'L-plate syndrome'.
As the OECD has made clear, the sustainability of economic growth and prosperity depends on knowledge based economies having a vibrant innovation system. A nation that does not invest in R&D is not investing in its future. The latest annual science, research and innovation budget tables, released last month, confirm there has been a 10 per cent decline in real terms in spending on science, research and innovation during the life of this government. This decline has covered all sectors—government, universities and businesses both large and small. A Shorten Labor government will aim for three per cent of GDP to be devoted to R&D by 2030. The present level, 1.8 per cent of GDP, is well below the OECD average of 2.3 per cent.
The automotive industry is another example of this government's failure. Automotive manufacturing has not only been a major direct employer, especially in South Australia and Victoria, but it has also generated jobs across Australia through its supply chain. Most importantly, this industry always has been the great repository of advanced manufacturing skills in Australia. It's been the great driver of research and development, as leaders of other sectors have long acknowledged, making Australia not just a leading industrial nation but, more importantly, a nation ready for the fourth industrial revolution.
But Australians will not benefit unless government is prepared to invest in Australians, in their skills and in their future. Unfortunately, this government has given up. The former motor vehicle producers know the capability of Australia's engineers and industrial designers. That's why all three have still chosen to retain design and testing centres in Australia. We must not lose this essential core of knowledge and skills and the great talent pool of the former auto supply chain.
A small window remains for Australia to fully participate in the technological revolution that is transforming industrial economies across the globe. We don't have to compete with low-wage countries producing manufactured goods for mass markets, but that window is about to close unless there is change in 2019.
I think it's really interesting that this matter of public importance starts with, 'Putting local workers first'. It's interesting because it's obvious. It is core to who we are as a coalition government that we put Australians, their jobs, their work, their freedom and their prosperity first every day of the week. It's a principal role of a government to endeavour always to do what is in the best interests of Australians. That means doing all we can to support Australians to have jobs.
On our side of politics, we believe deeply that the best solution—the very best for any individual—is work. Not welfare—work. There are some in this place who think the solution is to have a big government, promise the earth, give plenty, require little and, in the process, stifle the economic growth that's needed to be able to provide jobs. A constant welfare drip doesn't grow the economy. It doesn't give support to those people in our community who are looking for a job, who are desperately wanting a chance to get ahead, who are proud people wanting to get along without the need for government handouts.
Tax reform and reducing the burden of tax on businesses is key to providing businesses with the capacity to create jobs. When we do that, we are putting local workers first. But, of course, those opposite have been happy to get in the way of efforts to reduce the tax burden on business. They've been happy to hamper the government in its effort to make it as easy as possible for business to grow and to include more and more Australians in that wealth. We've made individual income tax cuts because we know they make a difference to individuals and give them more reward in their pockets for the effort they put into work.
Another initiative that is fundamental to growing jobs in this country is the negotiation of free trade agreements. Australian manufacturers and producers are well respected around the world for their competitive pricing and the product quality they produce. Removing barriers to trade improves our trading position and leads to more jobs for local workers. In the past year, exports have increased by four per cent, while, importantly, rural exports have increased by 19 per cent. Our landmark agreements with China, Japan, South Korea and, recently, Peru will generate more export opportunities for Australian agriculture, mining, manufacturing and service industries.
This MPI talks about 457 visas, but the 457 visa program has been cancelled. It ended on 18 March 2018, and it's worth noting that under Labor there were 40,000 457 visas. That's how many were in place at the time that the coalition came to government, and it has taken a coalition government to act to put Australians first in this field. The new temporary skills shortage visa scheme was implemented in March 2018, and it is yet again a case of the coalition cleaning up Labor's mess. In doing so, we have torn up the expansive list of 651 occupations that had opened up Australia's labour market and permanent residence programs to a broad range of options. Instead, we are now focused on what matters, and that is putting Australians and their job opportunities first, putting Australian businesses and their needs first, and always testing the entitlement to go for a visa against this important question: could we get an Australian to do this job? That's what we do every day of the week, because you can always count on the coalition to put the needs of Australian workers first.
I rise to contribute to this matter of public importance debate about the government's failure to put local workers first and to protect local manufacturing. It is, of course, only the ALP who cares about manufacturing jobs and working people—including, I would say, working people in the western suburbs of Melbourne. As we know, this is being tested at the moment, with an election on in Victoria.
It's disappointing that the Greens have chosen not to participate in this debate, but it is perhaps not surprising, because they, like the Liberals, are not truly focused on delivering for Australian workers. Their failure to put local workers and local industries first is, of course, not the only failure by the Greens that we have heard about this week. I am, of course, talking about the complete failure of the Greens to address the toxic culture of violent misogyny that is currently plaguing their party. The New South Wales Greens are in open warfare over the failure of the Greens leadership to take a stand over indecent assault allegations levelled against Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham. Former Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon has condemned Mr Buckingham's response to this complaint and criticised party leaders for failing to call out his shocking behaviour. Current Greens Senator Mehreen Faruqi and member for Newtown, Jenny Leong, have called on Mr Buckingham to stand down as a Greens MP. When they are so riven with division and their culture has become so toxic, it is no wonder the Greens are completely incapable of delivering on the things that matter to the Australian people, like gender equality in the workplace and an economy that delivers for all Australians.
The former Leader of the Greens in my home state of Victoria was accused of sexist discrimination and sexually harassing a former staff member. According to this complaint, the Greens leader banned women from entering a meeting room in his office which he described as 'the men's room' and described women working in his office as 'fat, hairy lesbians' and 'hairy-legged feminists'. The current leader of the Victorian Greens, Samantha Ratnam, is refusing to show some leadership and sack her disgraced candidate for Footscray, Angus McAlpine. Just this week, it has been reported that Mr McAlpine had boasted about drugging women and raping them, trivialised domestic violence and made a series of other disgusting sexist and homophobic slurs. This Greens candidate's behaviour has been criticised by the Victorian Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby and the Centres Against Sexual Assault, but Samantha Ratnam and the Victorian Greens continue to make excuses for him and to promote him under the Greens banner. Today the ABC reports that the Victorian Greens are also standing by their candidate for Sandringham, Dominic Phillips, who liked a series of sexist and racist social media pages which joked about pornography, degraded women and insulted multicultural Australia.
The Greens cannot be trusted to stand up for Australia, Australian jobs, local industry and the role of women in society when they refuse to address the toxic culture of violent misogyny that currently plagues their party, including in my home state of Victoria. You can say that you have principles and values, but words are empty, as the Greens leader, Senator Di Natale, said yesterday. If you are not prepared to act in accordance with your principles, you have none; you become all that you complain of. That is what we see today in the Greens political party.