MATTERS OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE Enterprise Migration Agreements

Mr HUSIC (Chifley—Government Whip) (16:11): This debate should be about opportunity. This is a $9.5 billion project, requiring the single largest raising of funds on the planet. It is part of a massive investment in the Australian economy. It will create close to 7,000 Australian jobs—2,000 of which will be permanent, high-paying jobs for the 20 years plus life of this project—with billions of dollars of locally sourced construction investment and $20 million spent on training. That is the opportunity we should be discussing today. There is opportunity for Australians, for businesses, for workers and for the country.

But, for those opposite, there is only one opportunity that they are interested in, and that is their own. This MPI reflects their own opportunism. It is always about them; it is not about average Australians. This is not an opportunity to undermine confidence and it is not an opportunity to spread mistruths. It is important to outline some facts concerning the total number of 457 visas in this country. In 2011-12 financial year, there were 56,010 457 visas granted to 30 April 2012. In Western Australia, this figure is 13,250. I understand from the department that, on current trends, WA will have the highest number of 457 visa grants out of any state or territory.

On Friday, the minister announced that the first enterprise migration agreement, or EMA, would go to the Roy Hill project for up to 1,700 out of 8,500 jobs attached to the construction phase of that site. That 1,700—it is worth noting—equates to 12.8 per cent of the 457 visas in Western Australia and three per cent of 457 visas for the entire country. It is important to put that into context.

Regarding the whole process itself, in July 2010, as has been outlined to the chamber, the now Special Minister of State brought down the National resources sector employment taskforce report, which made a recommendation for enterprise migration agreements. In March, Ministers Evans and Ferguson tabled the government's response, which included in-principle support. This has been worked upon for some period of time. In the budget last year, the Treasurer outlined in his budget speech that the government would implement EMAs. It was welcomed at the time as being a common-sense and important policy for the country. In September last year, the Department of Immigration and Citizenship released the guidelines and consulted with key stakeholders, including the ACTU. In November, there were active consultations with the Roy Hill project and unions about the shape of the EMA. It is important to recognise that this EMA will address skill challenges that are confronting the country. Skills Australia predicts that an additional 89,000 workers will be required in the mining sector by 2016.

It is worth noting that we heard a lot from those opposite about sovereign risk and about how this agreement would undermine the mining sector in this country. Yet, if this were a sector under risk, if this were a sector that was worried about its future, how could it plan for nearly 100,000 people to be employed in a sector which is ready to invest $450 billion in the resources sector? If you think that that is risk, I do not know what your definition of risk is when you look at how strong the resources sector is for this country.

I have to declare an interest. My dad came to Australia, in part, as a result of a sort of EMA. He was part of the post-war migration where Australia was hungry for skills. There were big projects on the boil which placed major labour demands on the country, and he got to work on the Snowy Mountains Scheme. I am a big fan of EMAs. I have seen the way that they have worked in this country by providing for local jobs and by bringing in skills and talent to make our economy and our country strong, and this approach makes sense. Most people get the common sense very quickly. For projects like this one of $9.5 billion that will create big labour demands of their own, the big projects will provide a massive jobs boost and over 6,700 will get the opportunity to work. But what happens when you cannot get people to fill the spots and what happens when a $9.5 billion project cannot find people to fill the spots—

Mr Perrett: When capital is scarce.

Mr HUSIC: and when capital is scarce, as the member for Moreton rightly raises? As has been pointed out, you set up a project-wide labour agreement, custom designed for a particular project like this one, negotiated with the project owner as this was, which sets the terms by which overseas workers will be engaged as they should be. It will be available to resource projects with capital expenditure of more than $2 billion and a peak workforce of more than 1,500. It is all set out in the facts sheet available on Immigration's website. It is all spelt out there. I have to thank member for Parramatta who brought this to our attention today. I follow her Twitter account and that is where she posted it today. You are able to see for yourself, in fact, what we have been doing, and it has been out there for ages. It is straightforward stuff.

I want to draw the House's attention to what the opposition said a few days ago. The member for Cook was talking to Andrew Bolt and said:

Well this project needed to get a guarantee of supply of labour in order to secure its funding. So the first 6,000 jobs, remember this is going to create about 8,000 jobs,—
The member for Cook is actually selling this project quite well—
6,000 of those will go to Australians under the agreement the government has approved. So we have never had a problem with Enterprise Migration Agreements—
never had a problem—
and ensuring that our mining and resources sector has the certainty …

And then, in a couple of days things changed. When they sniffed that there might be an opportunity to cause mischief, suddenly the member for Warringah, the Leader of the Opposition, created all sorts of attempts to jump on this issue.

It is worth making the House aware of—and the member for Cook should probably pay attention—the previous government's 457 rules. Remember, they brought in 457s because the RBA had been saying for ages that the economy was threatened by capacity constraints, particularly skill shortages, which the opposition—the then government—did nothing about. So they put together the 457 process because they could not actually deal with skill shortages in this country. Remember this: under their rules, Roy Hill would have been able to sponsor semiskilled workers without consultation—no consultation with unions—without paying market wages and without formal skills assessments. That was their 457 approach.

Does the coalition actually intend to reverse our reforms? Will they retain market wages safety nets that are a feature of our regime and will they provide a guarantee against foreign workers undermining working conditions and competing unfairly against workers? These are important questions, which I suspect will never get answered because they are never interested in policy; they are only ever interested in politics. As I said, they think that this is an opportunity for them to find division instead of solution and to bag and carp instead of coming up with their own ideas. They only ever really want to create mischief by seizing on the concerns of unions.

As I said, the member for Warringah was talking about Aussie jobs but, when they needed to actually support Aussies in getting trained and meeting the skills need, they were not there. Now, the architects of Work Choices are the defenders of Aussie conditions. I have seen it all! It is like Colonel Sanders defending Weight Watchers. I love seeing the way these guys operate.

I certainly get that unions would want detail and would want protections. I will draw the House's attention to the comment of the CEPU's National Secretary Peter Tighe who said:

We have to accept that there are massive projects in the pipeline, worth $300 billion to $400bn, and this country has shortages in filling the skills needs. … Australia has been bringing in people to fill skills shortages since World War II.

As a union our job is to ensure we have a say,—
which they will get—
that the people coming in are properly tested,—
that is right—
accredited and that we have agreements that also guarantee apprenticeships and the upskilling of the existing workforce.

EMAs are terrific for our economy and country and should not be the subject of political opportunism.

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Ed Husic MP
Federal Labor Member for Chifley

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