WEDNESDAY, 16 NOVEMBER 2016
SUBJECT/S: 457 visa reform; Barnaby Joyce’s backpacker tax; Veteran work assistance; Household debt levels
SENATOR ANTHONY CHISHOLM: Thanks everyone. It's good to be in Mackay with Federal Labor Leader, Bill Shorten and Shadow Ministers Shayne Neumann and Brendan O'Connor.
This is Bill's 20th visit to regional Queensland this year so it shows a real commitment to the breadth of Queensland. This is also my third visit to Mackay since being elected because Bill Shorten has given his Senate team in Queensland the real focus of moving out in regional Queensland and focused on jobs. So it's tremendous to be back here in Mackay but it's also fantastic to be here with Bill Shorten who has shown that real commitment.
What we're talking about today is jobs for Queenslanders, jobs for Australians, but particularly jobs for people in Mackay because we know that this area has suffered from the decline of the mining boom and it's really important that we have a government in Canberra that is focused on jobs.
What we see in the local Member here is George Christensen is someone who talks a big game in Mackay but does a very different thing when he gets down to Canberra and that's not acceptable. So it's a real pleasure to be here with Bill and I'd like to introduce him now.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks very much Anthony. It's great to be at Komatsu and I congratulate Komatsu and the workforce, 450 people-plus in Queensland and right across Australia. This shows that Australian workers are as skilled as people everywhere else in the world. This also shows that Australian engineers and diesel mechanics and electricians can do a tip top job if given the opportunity. And I congratulate Komatsu for investing in this facility and we see that whilst the mining boom is over there's still a strong mining future in this country.
But it is important that with this investment, with these skills, that we keep a new generation of Australians coming through, getting the opportunities to do apprenticeships, getting the opportunities to do these high-skilled jobs. And it's also important that in regions hard hit by the decline in the mining boom, that locals get the first chance to do the work which their trained to do.
So Labor has been talking about putting Australians first in terms of job opportunities, and we think that as the economy has changed with the mining boom declining, it is overdue to revisit the rules around the visas which allow up to a million, Australians – come here and get work rights and we see Australians missing out on jobs that they're perfectly capable of doing. We also want to see a renewed support for apprenticeships and providing Australians, young people in particular but adults also seeking to be retrained, to get those opportunities.
This is my 20th trip to regional Queensland this year, and I know that more than anything else, in the great regional towns of Queensland and the regional cities, people don't want to see their friends and neighbours packing up and going elsewhere looking for work, they want to have local jobs.
Labor's got the back of the local workforce, the local manufacturing sector and of apprenticeships and tradespeople. That's why we're proposing toughening the rules on visas and people coming in from overseas and taking opportunities that should first be offered to Australians. And we want to close the loopholes, and we also want to stop the exploitation of guest workers coming in from overseas getting ripped off and are being treated in a very shonky fashion that does nothing for Australia's reputation overseas.
We're happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: George Christensen came out yesterday and said he'd like to see a ban on 457 visas for the Central and North Queensland. Are you surprised to have an ally in Mr Christensen on this issue?
SHORTEN: Well George Christensen says one thing in Mackay and another thing in Canberra. When Labor toughened up the visa rules back in 2013, Malcolm Turnbull, Peter Dutton and George Christensen all voted for slacker rules. Now we don't mind if the Government comes on board, what we're talking about, but let's also be clear, there will be some role for overseas people to come and do skilled jobs which we don't have the skills to do.
So, you know, George is going down one path, just wants to muddy up the picture so he can talk tough. I just wish George would vote for better standards in our labour market, I wish that he and the Turnbull Government would stop going after unions and the ability of workers to earn good conditions, I wish they'd stop worrying about the pay rates of blue collar workers. They need to sit down and seriously engage with us because we are the party of working people. We'll work with the Government to tidy up the rules so that unemployed Australians, Australians who would like more work than their currently getting, Australians who've got insecure work, you know, in the labour hire sector it's not a pretty picture, there's some very good companies but there's some companies who are not doing the right thing. It's all about looking after people and putting people first.
JOURNALIST: What numerical evidence do you have that foreign workers are taking jobs from Mackay workers?
SHORTEN: Well, what I'm going to do is ask my two Shadow Ministers to contribute to this answer, but what I know is that there's a million people from overseas, come by plane and their visas give them temporary work right in Australia. What I also know is these people are getting exploited and major media outlets like Fairfax are exposing that. What I also know is that some of the occupations which are being advertised for 457 visas and other visas given work rights to people from overseas include carpenters, include nurses, include mechanics, these are jobs which can be done by Australians. And where companies haven't got Australian's to fill those positions they should be training our young people to get those opportunities. But let me hand over to Shayne and to Brendan to talk further about this matter.
SHAYNE NEUMANN, SHADOW MINISTER FOR IMMIGRATION AND BORDER PROTECTION: We've seen a massive increase since 1997 in the number of people on temporary work visas in the country. I think the 457 visa has gone up from 1.7 to 5.6 in the last 17-20 years, and we've seen about 700,000 Australians unemployed and about a million Australians underemployed. Now we know here in North Queensland, particularly around Mackay the mining boom, the going off of the mining boom has actually effected dramatically. We've seen people leaving down and we know that, I've been up here many times over the years, we've seen the falling off there. So Queensland, particularly North Queensland, places like Townsville and Cairns have been effected badly. And I'm from Ipswich, I know what it's like in Queensland as I've travelled up and down the coast. We need to look at this, we have about 95,000 people on 457 visas, but there are about 400,000 people here in Australia on student visas, about 214,000 in relation to working holiday visas, a million people. If you were to say to Australian's there's a million people on temporary work visas in this country, and they're looking for a job, they'd be saying I wanted a job for me and my family.
BRENDAN O’CONNOR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS: Just finally, just to add, I mean clearly the changes we made in the 2013 when last in government and we could examine exactly what was happening in the labour market. The reason we could do that, is we increased the inspectors 10-fold, at least. What that meant was that those Fair Work Ombudsmen could go into workplaces and identify where there was exploitation happening but also where there was a misuse, that is, a use of a particular occupation when they were not on the shortlist.
And let's look at the shortlist today, as Bill referred to, we have carpenters, we have nurses, we have childhood educators that are on that list and yet we know there are increasingly unemployed carpenters, unemployed nurses. So we are very clear that there are locals who have got the skills and who cannot fill those jobs because they're being displaced by 457 workers and also, even when there is a shortage, what is the Government doing over the medium to longer term, what's our medium and long term ambition to equip Australians with the skills and in the emerging demand?
That's not happening either, 128,000 apprentice places cut by the Turnbull Government. Malcolm Turnbull, Scott Morrison, Peter Dutton and George Christensen three years ago, voted against these protections and these restrictions that Labor put in place and now they want to talk to us about reform? The local member wants to talk about doing something about 457s and yet he voted to stop local labour market testing, he voted to stop the power of the Ombudsmen to investigate breaches. We know they are hollow and insincere when it comes to this issue, and that's why Bill and Labor will continue to ensure that we put Australian workers first.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, people are talking about hypocrisy here today, but I mean, you back when you were Employment Minister there was the third more 457 visas given out than there has been in the last year.
SHORTEN: How out of touch is Malcolm Turnbull? Four years ago we had the mining boom, talk to people in Mackay about the change in the economy in the last four years. We've got to update our rules to protect Australian jobs as the economic circumstances change. And you've got Mr Turnbull talking about hypocrisy – if he's such a defender of the worker, why did he vote against the protections that Labor put in in 2013? This is classic Malcolm Turnbull, isn't it? He never knows who he wants to please, he doesn't have any principles to help him make his decisions on this.
What he's trying to work out is, big business, oh they love to have access to skilled Labor from overseas on a temporary basis so he's got to keep them happy, so yesterday he's out there panning Labor. But today he's worked out that Australians, no just Labor, but the Australian people want to prioritise Australians getting jobs. So now he's saying that he'll be tougher on it. Malcolm Turnbull's got to be straight with the Australian people. He's got to decide does he want stronger laws, like Labor do, or does he want weaker laws like big business do? He can't have it both ways.
JOURNALIST: So you've changed your mind but Mr Christensen can't change his mind?
SHORTEN: Well no, we haven't changed our minds. I'll back my record and Labor's record standing up for workers. Never seen George Christensen out there backing an increase in the minimum wage, never seen George Christensen or Malcolm Turnbull out there voting for our toughening up these visa laws, as we did. The question you have to ask of Malcolm Turnbull, Peter Dutton and George Christensen is they're trying to do their belated window dressing, their fake support for workers, is when Labor proposed to help improve the governance, the regulation of the visa system to make sure that Australians were getting looked after and people weren't being ripped off and exploited, they voted no.
The only reason that they're to play catch up politics now is because they know that Labor's right, they know that as the economy’s downturn, and it is a matter of record that the mining boom has eased up, that's just a fact. Just look at the vacant shops up in the big cities of Queensland who've had a mining economy up to now. Have a look at the difficulties people have in selling their houses, getting the price they paid for it. The economy has changed, and what Labor's doing is we've always been vigilant and we are going to be even stronger now because we think that in a beauty parade, we'd rather see an Australian tradesperson get the job than someone come in from overseas when there's an Aussie who can do the same work.
JOURNALIST: What you make of reports in Fairfax papers that the Government was considering changes to 457 visas before you made your announcement? And the second question is, what do you make of the different emphasis on the US alliance, is there a split in the Labor party on the US alliance?
SHORTEN: Well I think Malcolm Turnbull, as I said, classic Malcolm Turnbull syndrome, he's trying to work out who he's got to keep happy before he arrives in his position. The fact of the matter is that Labor's had a policy which we took to the last election. On the whole issue of tightening up laws and protections for Australian jobs and Australian workers. Now Malcolm Turnbull rushed out in the last couple of days and said well this is terrible, blah blah blah. But now it's emerged that they were thinking similar measures in recent times, copying Labor's policy. Malcolm Turnbull's got to stop playing politics, he's got to stop worrying about who has the idea and instead get back to one basic principle – jobs, jobs, jobs. There is nothing wrong with advocating we that we build in Australia, that we buy in Australia and we employ Australians.
In terms of the American alliance, Labor sees the American alliance, regardless of who is the President of the United States, or indeed the Prime Minister of Australia, as something which has been going for seven decades and important to our national security. We have shared values with the United States, but we are not exactly the same as the United States. So when people talk about the future of the American alliance, I am optimistic about it, but that doesn't mean that we shouldn't also be engaging in Asia. Labor's always had three pillars to our foreign policy and nothing's changed. One is the American alliance, two is deeper engagement in our region, and three is respect for multilateral institutions such as the United Nations and international forums which deal with a whole range of important issues which effect the globe.
Perhaps I can take one or two more questions if there are any.
JOURNALIST: Don't you think that your policy on the backpacker tax and this 457 policy are contradictory?
SHORTEN: No, not at all. The Government's lying about the whole backpacker tax mess. Let me just remind you briefly of the history. Backpackers used to pay no tax. Then the Government decided to introduce a 32 per cent tax, that sent all the farmers and everyone else up in arms who need working holiday makers to be able to get the crops picked and the tourism industry, the bar staff. And so the 32 per cent tax was poorly designed and it's seen backpackers choose other destinations in the world rather than here. The point about backpackers is they also spend a lot of money here so it's good for the local economies. Labor's had a look at their latest proposal and we think that a 10.5 per cent tax from every dollar earned from $0, that's more than a backpacker’s currently paying, they're currently paying nothing. No tax at all up to $18,200. So our measure will see backpackers pay more or the same tax as Australians, depending on how much they earn, and not less.
And the Government's been caught out, this is classic Government politics. They rush an idea, they don't consult anyone, they bank illusory savings to the budget which don't exist. Then they find out they've mucked up the implementation. And they normally, when they do their first backflip they execute that poorly, and their first backflip has been a mess. And what's happening is a lot of people, a lot of small business, a lot of people are saying that we expect backpackers should pay the same if not more tax than Australians, but don't create a system which is such a disincentive that we won't get people coming here to do some of that work in the future.
No, the Government always likes to create distractions from their own mistakes. It was the Liberals who introduced the 0 to 32 per cent tax. It's the Liberals who failed to convince farmers and growers and small businesses about the merit of their proposals. As usual, just like the visa system, it's left to Labor to help mop up the mess and help the Government try and get back on track. And we will stand up for farmers, small business and of course Australian jobs.
One last question, thanks.
JOURNALIST: Do you support the Government's policy on pushing veterans through the recruitment process, better chance of getting work.
JOURNALIST: Quickly, can I ask something, the RBA Governor has issued a warning about household debt levels, do you share those concerns?
JOURNALIST: And what are your specific concerns and how they relate to what was said in Melbourne last night?
SHORTEN: I'm conscience that a lot of Australians are carrying a fair bit of personal debt because we've had historic low interest rates. Australians have been maxing the plastic and certainly we have the high profile in terms of debt, that's why we need more than slogans from the Government. What gets this country going again is the combination of infrastructure investment, more jobs. What gets this country going again is a skilled workforce, more apprenticeships.
What gets this country going again is a proper, world-class, NBN, so businesses can compete in our region and not have second-class technology. What gets this country going again is regular wage rises. What gets this country going again is sensible policy, which also makes sure that people can still afford to go and see the doctor. The real challenge in Australia is that we've got a Government with no policy, they just respond to events, they have no agenda, they have no authority and that's why I think on something as basic as Australian jobs, Malcolm Turnbull should just accept that Labor's got a good proposal here and get on board with us and I think that will lift confidence. Thank you everybody.