Treasury Laws Amendment (Working Holiday Maker Employer Register) Bill 2017
Posted on Wednesday, 9 May, 2018
Mr RAMSEY (Grey—Government Whip) (17:40): That was no doubt a vintage performance from the member for Lilley, pitching and showing quite plainly that the Labor Party is moving further to the left, fears the by-elections that are approaching it and is determined to make a stand against the Greens. He closed off by saying that this government, the Turnbull government, is an extreme right-wing machine. It is not a view that is shared by the entire electorate. I think this government is entirely centrist, so I reject those remarks completely. But it was very stirring. It would have been very good when he was at university.
On the Treasury Laws Amendment (Working Holiday Maker Employer Register) Bill 2017, let me speak for a start about working holiday-makers in my electorate of Grey. They are absolutely essential. I'm not sure they should be, but they certainly are, as seasonal farm workers and fruit pickers, working in small wineries, as harvest helpers in the grains industries and working at grain receival sites. Many of them just would not operate without the backpackers, quite frankly. They work as jackaroos on remote pastoral properties and as shed hands.
But probably the most critical of those backpacker workers in my electorate are those that work in the tourism and hospitality industry, particularly those that work in the more remote areas. Let me say that if we go north of Port Augusta—a very important tourist area for South Australia and the nation, with the northern Flinders Ranges and towns like Coober Pedy, Innamincka and Oodnadatta—you would be well aware of them. These are important places. They are important service spots just so people of this nation and overseas nations can explore our outback. By and large, the operators that work in those areas provide quality service. There are some very good and luxurious tourism operators that work in these areas. But, quite frankly, they just cannot get Australian workers to take the jobs. Often they are not full-time jobs, because the tourist industry gets pretty quiet over the summer months when the temperature gets up towards 50 degrees, but they need a source of labour.
It's a constant conundrum to me as the member for Grey that we just can't entice our young unemployed people to have a go, to venture forth, to leave the fires of home and to go and have a look what the Australian outback looks like, or other areas for that matter. This could be the most important step of their lives. At this stage, the latest figures I can find are that we have about 14 per cent youth unemployment in most of the centres across Grey. Starting your working life with a long period of unemployment is likely to have lifetime ramifications. You can imagine. An employer advertises a job. A 23- or 24-year-old wanders in, having finished education at high school, and the employer says to him, 'What have you been doing for the last five or six years?' 'Well, nothing. I've been unemployed.' They will go immediately to the back of the queue, because that potential employer thinks this person can't get out of bed. It may not be a fair assumption, but it is a hole on the potential employee's CV. It could be filled by all kinds of opportunities that exist out there in the economy. It may be in the part-time economy, but often those jobs lead to fuller jobs. So I don't know why we cannot seem to excite that young, unattached brigade to go and have a go. I sat next to a woman—I don't want to offend her, but she was around 30 years old—up at Coober Pedy just last weekend. She had left the city. She wanted a job. She went out and had a go. She can now drive a four-trailer road train. What a story! She said, 'I'm having a go at being a jackeroo at the moment.' Being prepared to get out and have a go has turned this individual, who was a city liver, into someone with wide experience. That's what our youth should be doing.
I know we're speaking about the backpacker trade here now, but I draw this link because it is of great concern to me when I see so many people not taking opportunities to enhance their lives and to grow their possibilities. I ran a survey for 18- to 30-year-olds a couple of years ago. One of the questions I asked was: if there is no employment near where you live, should you be expected to move to find a job? It was very concerning to me that over 70 per cent of those replied no. It really makes you wonder what their expectation of the world is. Is it that the government should supply a job? To do a job you actually need a chore; you need a task. Governments can do that, and some governments have done it in the past—they supply the job of digging a hole and then they get another gang to fill it in again. But if you want proper employment you need to be doing a useful task. It concerns me that 70 per cent of those young people said, 'No, I think somebody should find a job for me close to home.' It's very concerning because all these jobs exist, but we are having to use imported labour to fill them, largely through the backpacker trade.
Mr Deputy Speaker Georganas, you're around my vintage, so I'm sure you would remember Professor Julius Sumner Miller. As the American professor would have said: why is it so? It is a great conundrum. Why is it so? Why can't we galvanise these people? I don't want to get drawn into the debate and I've certainly wandered a fair way off the topic today, but it is interesting that some have been making the case for lifting the Newstart allowance, and they're perfectly entitled to do so. By the same token, we can't get people to take that risk and have a go, and it just makes you wonder what the drivers are. Where's the compelling piece of government policy that will get people to engage? At the end of the day, I strongly back the case for the businesses in these remote communities that can't get people to work with them, because Australians, for whatever reason, don't particularly like that line of work, to be able to access this itinerant, if you like, occasional labour pool.
This bill does address some of the issues that have arisen as a result of striking a withholding tax that is applicable, especially to holiday-makers. That rate, of course, is 15 per cent on the first $37,000 of income. For an employer to apply this rate, they must be registered as a working holiday-maker visa employer. The alternative for that employer, if they choose not to be registered, is to withhold 32 per cent, so it's an obvious incentive for working holiday-makers to seek out employment with these employers. This bill and the working holiday-maker employer register are designed to make sure they are not exploited. Most employers—certainly the ones I know—do the right thing. They are very pleased to have these people on staff and treat these employees as we would expect them to be treated. But we're all aware of some very high profile cases where that has not been the case. They've been highlighted on some very high profile television shows. This government has no tolerance at all for that kind of behaviour.
This legislation and the establishment of the working holiday-maker employer register are about stamping out that type of behaviour and empowering the worker. It links employers to the tax office. They will supply their employer records to the tax office so that government, through the tax office, can monitor what they're doing. We will know where to watch for those people who are likely to exploit this labour force. We will be on their case. I have no tolerance for it—absolutely none—and that view is shared by my colleagues.
Empowering workers reduces the likelihood of abuse. Less offending means better support from the public for this very important workforce contribution. To explain that, if we had high-profile cases popping up on television and showing the exploitative nature of employers, public support for backpackers working in Australia would basically fall away and the businesses that rely on this labour force would be at threat. Like most things with government, it's important that we get it right so the public has faith in what the government, the legislation and the bureaucracy are doing. At the end of the day, this workforce supports very viable and very important businesses that sit in my electorate and every other electorate around Australia, I should imagine, but particularly in regional and remote electorates.
I support the opportunity for people to come to Australia on a holiday, work while they're here, learn a bit about our culture—some people would say that in some places they would learn about the lack of culture—and learn that we are people who respect all who come to this nation and that we look after them properly while they're here. I support the legislation.