Working Holiday Visa Program

Monday, 21 November 2016

Mr HAWKE (Mitchell—Assistant Minister for Immigration and Border Protection) (13:11): I rise to speak to this motion. Of course, the Labor Party continually tries to create the sense of crisis in our visa system that does not exist. Broadly speaking, the 417 and 462 systems work very well in supplying a cultural experience and labour solutions to companies all around Australia where it is difficult to get labour. Australians, of course, do take advantage of this same system overseas, making a holiday in many parts of the world on this visa system.

The member for Bendigo is pretty emblematic of the current dilemma in the modern Labor Party. She does not know if she is supporting Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton; she is coming at it from both angles. She is anti-foreigners, and yet she is promoting foreign workers, even in the United Voice union on 457s. The United Voice union, of course, is the number one union that took advantage of 457 visas, including for the positions of workplace relations advisers—foreign workers coming in to advise unions on Australian workplace relations. So when we hear the Labor Party try to lecture us on the use of foreign workers, they could start with the union movement; they could start with the use of foreign workers within the union movement, because if you do not think that there are any Australians qualified to advise on the Australian workplace relations system, then you would be wrong. It is false for her to get up and say there is a crisis in our system.

Of course, the Australian government takes very seriously the issues of visa fraud, illegal work and the exploitation of foreign workers. This government has already made changes to the working holiday-maker program, which is not acknowledged in this motion. Since late 2015, the member for Bendigo—if she had bothered to look it up—would know that this government made applicants for a second-year working holiday-maker visa need to demonstrate that their three months' specified work was paid in accordance with Australian workplace law—an improvement that this government made already in 2015. This provides a strong incentive for working holiday-makers to inform themselves about pay and conditions, and discourages working holiday-makers from willingly undercutting Australian wage levels.

While the member for Bendigo calls in this motion for the government to take legislative action, she would be aware that the Department of Employment informed the government's taskforce that the government intends to amend the Fair Work Act 2009, and it will protect vulnerable workers by increasing penalties, including introducing a new and serious contravention penalty for deliberate or systemic exploitation. We will strengthen the evidence-gathering powers of the Fair Work Ombudsman, and expressly prohibit providing false or misleading information to fair work inspectors. We will introduce new provisions to capture franchises who fail to deal with exploitation by their franchisees, and expressly prohibit behaviour in which an employer pays the correct wages to an employee, but then forces them to repay an amount. These changes are already in the works.

Of course, the member for Bendigo does not want to look at sensible government improvements; she wants to create a series of false claims of hysteria and panic about our system. This government is making sensible changes to the 417 and 462 systems. We are certainly making sensible changes to the backpacker tax, and I reject the comments of the member for Bendigo on this topic. At the moment it is the Australian Labor Party that is standing up for the right of a backpacker to pay no tax or to pay less tax than Australian worker.

Opposition members interjecting—

Mr HAWKE: I know that gets some reaction from members opposite. You are advocating for Australian workers to be taxed higher than foreign labour. That is what you are advocating for. That is why it is hard to figure out if you are coming from the left or coming from the right. You are promoting xenophobia in this country by attacking foreign workers on 457s—deliberately knowing what you are doing in Mackay and North Queensland, attacking foreign workers in the field. At the same time you are undercutting the ability of Australians to get jobs. You are coming at it from the left and the right. Nobody knows where you are coming from in relation to these topics.

But what we do know is that this is bad for our economy. It is dangerous for our economy and for our society. 457s have a legitimate role in meeting workplace shortages and a legitimate role in meeting shortages in our economy that we are unable to fill, especially in rural and regional areas. But is not unreasonable for the Australian government to say that backpackers should pay a decent rate of tax that does not provide a disincentive but also means that Australian labour is not uncompetitive with backpacker labour. That is what this government is doing—sensible reforms in this place.

Labor is, of course, playing all politics. They are not looking at the economy or at what is best for the workers—the visa system, for rural and regional areas and also for our broader economy. I think it is emblematic of this motion that the member for Bendigo, who comes from the United Voice union, the number one union in Australia that makes use of 457s, stands up in this place and tries to condemn the government, which is actually getting on with the practical reforms that will make these visas work better and make sure that visa fraud and legality are stamped out.