Skilled migration restrictions will harm regional business’ growth

I oppose this bill and remind the previous speaker that there has been no regulatory impact statement done to accompany this bill either. That is something that was completely missing from the previous speaker’s comments. That demonstrates that there is no greater difference between the philosophies of each side of this House than in the treatment of the Australian business community. Haven’t we seen that!

This applies to all forms of business, whether it is a small mum-and-dad business or others and medium and large businesses, and this bill is further irrefutable proof of that difference between both sides in this place. On this side, we understand business and are the friends of business.

We understand that business, industry and, particularly, small business employ millions and millions of Australians. We are committed to helping our businesses grow. We need them to flourish and, where we can, we need to help them to do so. We need to get out of the way when we cannot assist them to grow and flourish because we need to enable them to employ even more workers.

But on the other side, as we have heard, the Labor government and its union bosses simply cannot get beyond the politics. They cannot get beyond the politics of division and envy, and it appears to me an utter resentment of the success that comes from the hard work, commitment, endeavour and risk that business, small business particularly, is prepared to take in Australia.

I make no apologies that we are here to help business and industry get ahead. It is in this nation’s interests and certainly in the interests of people who work in this country. Yet the Labor government is clearly here to literally drag those businesses back down if they dare to be successful—how dare you be successful!—or just do as the unions are demanding.

This simple question and equation is emblematic of the political divide in Australia, and the current bill is a prime example of that. We know that Australian businesses and industry can only thrive with a capable and adequate workforce. It is the key to viability, productivity and being able to employ even more Australians.

I know how important workers are to a business; they are critical. In a recent survey, conducted through the Bunbury Chamber of Commerce and Industry in my electorate, the ability to attract and retain good staff was given the highest priority by Bunbury business owners. We have had major challenges in my electorate in attracting and retaining staff.

It is really clear that small businesses particularly know and respect the fact that their staff is their highest priority and critical to their business. It is a great asset and their most important resource, which brings me to the substance of this bill. Again, the coalition understands clearly what the Labor government does not and why this is clearly another cynical political exercise.

We on this side know that in some industries in some geographical regions of Australia it is simply not possible to find the workforce that businesses and local industry need, and there are a lot of reasons. It could be that the special skills or experiences needed are not available. In some instances, the skills are available, but those that have them are unwilling to travel to the regional and remote regions where the jobs are. Sometimes, it is a combination of reasons.

Those are the circumstances in which the 457 program has come to the rescue of the struggling businesses desperate for workers. You cannot produce if you have no-one to help you produce it. You simply cannot do your business. The work that is done is what keeps them in business.

We know that approximately 75 per cent of 457 visa holders are of a professional or managerial nature. These are not competing with Australian workers for unskilled jobs, but they are a vital part of keeping our economy running.

If you are in a regional area, certainly in my part of the world, you know all about shortages. I wonder: why on earth has this Labor government been so utterly determined in its rhetoric to, basically, demonise foreign workers? I find it appalling.

In the same vein, it also brings that same focus to Australian small, medium and large businesses who rely on 457 visas. That is why this is a political exercise and nothing more. We certainly have not seen any of the evidence.

We know that the government wanted to get this particular legislation through before the Senate report came down. We know that there is no widespread rorting of the program. The government simply failed to come up with the evidence.

We heard the totally unsupported claims that the Labor minister made and we have also heard subsequently of the 24 complaints in 12 months of which zero have been passed on to the immigration department.

No evidence has been presented that this is the case. In fact the opposite from what we have here is the case. We have heard what the minister has to say about this.

Unfortunately, again with the rhetoric of division, we have seen fear and political spin. This is, unfortunately, part of the Labor philosophy.

We know that there is a real business need. There is a need in industry, and there is an economic need for this bill to be defeated. If the Gillard government really lived up to its catchcry of ‘put jobs and growth first’, it would pull this bill immediately if that was its genuine intent.

But this is not a business decision, an industrial issue or an economic issue. We know that it is simply a political issue, one that is being dictated by the unions, and, of course, the government is doing exactly what the unions want.

We know that there is no regulatory impact statement accompanying this bill, again showing how Labor does not understand business at all, is not interested in what happens in business and has no understanding.

How many Labor ministers and members have ever invested their own money, as we see with small and medium businesses? How many have actually invested their own money and taken a risk, mortgaged their own home, to build their own business?

It takes years and it takes hard work and it takes passion and it takes hours and hours of worry. How many of the Labor ministers have done this? How many have ever employed local people, someone from their community?

How many have ever filled out a BAS statement? Clearly, it would have to be very few, because if they had then this bill would not be before the House today, particularly if they had been the owner or the creator of a business who could not find anyone to work with them to get the work done so that they could be profitable and offer opportunities to other Australians. If they had done that they would have had firsthand experience.

Come and try to get a business up and running in a small rural or regional area. Come and look for people able to do the job you need them to do and find you are not able to get the employees you need.

We do not see that experience coming through from those on the other side, and that is why this bill is before the House.

When small businesses are short-staffed and in desperate need of workers, the Labor government has decided to impose a significant workload and paper trail on businesses to prove that they cannot find workers locally. Again, there is not even a regulatory impact statement to go with it—we just have to do it.

Currently, skill shortages are identified by the inclusion on the skilled occupation list of the department of immigration, which takes its advice from Skills Australia. Prospective employers can apply for 457s for workers in occupations on that list.

For the occupations not on the list, employers have to undertake labour market testing and be able to demonstrate an inability to fill the positions domestically. The bill removes the distinction and requires all employers to market test, unless the minister provides an exemption. Well, we’ll be waiting for that! This is political interference in employment. It is the type of input that has decimated Australia’s competitive advantage and undermined our productivity. It adds just another layer.

If any of the ministers or anyone on the other side ever go out and talk to business, ask them about red tape and see what they say.

Once again, you have added another layer, when business is already overburdened, and it creates uncertainty. The government, as we know, exempted this particular bill from a regulatory impact statement.

That’s not important! Why would that matter to business, particularly small business? I assume it must be out of embarrassment as to what that regulatory impact statement would have contained.

The south-west of Western Australia, like so much in that great state, relies on 457 visa workers to keep our region moving and growing. What is there about that that the government does not understand?

It is especially noticeable in the agricultural and food processing industries. A lot of farm labour is hard and isolated work. Many Australians may not be prepared to do it.

The farmers tell me so: they cannot get the workers to travel to regional and remote areas for the sort of work that is involved. As well, we know that food processing industries are struggling to find local staff; they just cannot get them, so they cannot process .

Because of this we have many 457 visa holders who have found themselves fruit picking or working in abattoirs or in food processing. There is no-one to do the work, but these jobs still have to be filled because they cannot run their plant otherwise. Some might not consider those attractive jobs, but they are vital jobs if Australians want to eat and if we want to help feed others.

At a time when many food producers themselves are struggling, this is not the time to make finding staff harder, but that is what the government is doing. Obviously, none of them on that side are involved in this sector; none of them have any understanding of what it is like to try to recruit and retain staff in a rural and remote area.

They have no idea at all, and no consideration. They are just adding to the burden of someone doing business.

The most astounding part of this bill is its timing and the government’s absolute hypocrisy.

That is all this is. We know that the government has lost control of Australia’s borders and we know that illegal arrivals are at the worst level this nation has seen. There have been more than 44,600 under Labor, more than the population of the city of Bunbury or the city of Busselton in my electorate.

But three months from the election we are not debating that—one of the three really important issues that the Prime Minister used as her imperative for taking over from her predecessor.

We are not going to fix our biggest immigration problem because that would require this government to admit that they got it wrong to start with. Instead—and here we go with the hypocrisy—we are going to target legitimate workers and struggling businesses, particularly those in rural and regional areas who cannot get workers.

All I can assume from that is that they are a softer target for this government than the people smugglers.

When I move around my electorate I meet the businesses that have this problem and I know that we have real challenges in the hospitality and tourism sector.

I asked a business how it was going and they said to me, ‘We can’t get workers.’ They said they had done everything. In the end they said to me, ‘Well, Nola, you go and get that bus out the front, you go and pick up everybody around who is capable of working here, or even wants to work here, and we will employ them, because we haven’t got anybody to work in this business.’

That is why they have to use 457 visa holders. At the time they could not get welders or heavy duty diesel mechanics, so they could not get their job done. This government is going to make it more difficult for all those business.

If you are a small to medium business in rural, regional or even remote Australia and you are trying to find workers to get the job done, you have just had your job made so much more difficult by this government, which has no understanding and no interest. This is all about politics, certainly not about good government. I strongly oppose this bill.