Consideration in Detail: Appropriation Bill (No 1) 2023-2024

Tuesday, 13 June 2023

Mr HAWKE (Mitchell) (16:44): It's hard to know where to start, but I'll follow my learned colleague the member for Bradfield in asking some detailed questions about the government's assumptions and, indeed, its reaction in the legislation it is proposing in this House today in relation to industrial relations. In the government's own budget we see a forecast assumption of an increase in unemployment over the next few. At the same time, the minister is introducing legislation to increase the rigidity of our labour market and remove options for flexibility for different layers of businesses in our economy, right at the time when they are forecasting unemployment. So, of course, I ask straightaway: what modelling is it that shows how much is forecast from industrial relations changes and how much is forecast from economic factors? Has the minister modelled the economic impact of his legislation, given that much of the business community has expressed severe concern over it. Today in the House the minister said that this was just about labour hire and only in a certain sector, and that Same Work, Same Pay didn't mean all the jobs that the business community has taken it to mean. If that's the case, why doesn't the legislation read just about labour hire in specific circumstances that the minister is concerned about? Why doesn't the legislation say that? Why does it capture contractors, Minister? Why does it capture all the service contractors that the business community is saying, and that the minister is contemplating doing his own deal with certain parts of the economy—his own multifactor test that would just relieve certain sectors of the economy? Why should other sectors of the economy have their service contractors caught up where they're not full-time employers, they're not labour hire, but they're service contractors for a particular service that is needed by a business for a defined period? Why doesn't the legislation just address that problem if that's the problem that, by the minister's own language, he has defined as the problem in the House today? Why doesn't the legislation just tackle that?

In fact, when you go through this legislation and look at these changes and what the business community is saying, they are saying that reduced flexibility will mean more difficulty in employing people. The smaller the business, the more difficult this challenge will become. When you have a look at some of the issues that underlie many of the things that the member for Bradfield has talked about, I ask the minister: is this concern that he has with the gig economy—which he mentioned again in the House today as represented in some of this legislation—is not a unionised workforce? Is that one of the concerns the government has in relation to tackling the gig economy, which is technology, innovation and all the things the member for Chisholm just spoke about? The gig economy is the new way of doing work because it suits workers. It's not because of some undercutting or some race to the bottom—people can work when they want to work, they can do the things they want to do when they want to do them, they can clock on and clock off, they don't need to bother the government or the unions or anybody else, they've got a workplace, and they get well paid at the Australian legal standards. They can work when they want to work, and it is a modern way of working. Millions of Australians and millions of people internationally embrace the gig economy. Why is the government pursuing an agenda that is against the gig economy, and is it because of this lack of a unionised workforce in the gig economy? Is that driver for the government's legislation? I ask that question to the minister.

Further to the question of labour hire, when the government was in opposition it ran a longstanding campaign on labour hire—a decade-long campaign, fuelled again by the unions. To be fair, they've always said they had concerns with labour hire. But the members and the ministers have raised the impact on seasonal work, and I can say to the minister at the table today that my experience as a former immigration minister is that most of the problems with seasonal work or with labour hire revolve around immigration issues and seasonal work which employs foreign workers. That proportion of trouble that we have is actually much lower than the government would like to represent. Most employers in Australia do the right thing. They pay the right wages. They don't underpay and wouldn't seek to underpay. Certainly, we do need more resources to target people who are doing the wrong thing. I ask the minister: why aren't we focusing on that question—targeting the employers who are doing the wrong thing in relation to underpayment and seasonal work where there is evidence of wrongdoing? Why don't we support the changes that are needed at law, and the resourcing that my colleagues a member for Bradfield spoke about, to target those employers who are doing the wrong thing? Because that is the smallest proportion, the easiest thing to do, and it levels the playing field for all the rest of the employers—most of our agricultural and seasonal work sectors in Australia, who are doing and always have done absolutely the right thing by their workers.

I ask these questions to the minister, particularly whether the minister has modelled the impact of his legislation on unemployment, given that the government is forecasting an increase in unemployment in its own budget?