Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (14:34:14) — I would like to rise to speak to the Labour Hire Licensing Bill 2017. I will not go through the details of the bill; I think they have been very well canvassed by previous speakers in this house. Certainly in listening to the contributions and spending probably a lot more time than I thought I would on this bill, I noted that we have some really vocal opponents to this bill and we have some really vocal proponents for this bill.
I must say that I have met with a large number of those interested groups and organisations, and I appreciate and thank them for all of the information they patiently gave me in thoroughly explaining their positions on the bill and either the reasons they were for it or the difficulties they had with the bill. The Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI), the Australian Industry Group (Ai Group), the Victorian Farmers Federation (VFF), Cobram and district fruit growers, Victorian Trades Hall Council, WEstjustice — an enormous number of people — I not only met in person but also received emails and letters from.
I took this very seriously and I really have considered this bill, as I have mentioned, more than I thought I possibly would. In fact it led me to look at the effect of the Queensland legislation and to consider the rollout of what was happening in Queensland. My staff were producing tables that were looking at all of the objections around this bill from everyone from the VFF to VCCI to the Ai Group to the fruit growers — all of them — and I was going back to the department and back to those organisations over these last few months while seriously considering this bill.
It does have a very human effect. Listening to the speakers today, a lot of them have really outlined that. I am not from a country electorate so I do not necessarily have that very firsthand experience with a neighbouring farm, but I do appreciate that. Certainly when I spoke to Emma Germano with her cauliflower farm — and I have got no doubt that she is listening to this debate right now — I was really moved by the concerns that she did have with this bill. But I also listened to some of the most harrowing experiences of exploitation, that WEstjustice brought to me. Just listening to some of the conditions that workers were having to work under was really extraordinary. In my mind these are 19th century‑type working conditions and exploitation, where you have got female workers without toilet facilities and having to just pee in front of fellow workers.
I think one of the challenges as a crossbencher is that quite often you feel like your vote is a decider. Everybody’s vote in here is important, but I quite often feel that I can make a choice between the status quo or the specific changes that a bill proposes. If I was the Premier or if there was a clean slate, this possibly would not be how I would have travelled down to solve the problems, and I may have gone in an entirely different way, but that is not an option for me. Instead I balanced the two options, neither of which I think are likely to be perfect. But I have given this considerable thought and I have met with people as late as this morning to discuss concerns about this. As I say, I do not take this task lightly, and particularly in relation to this bill. As I mentioned, I have systematically worked through the major concerns that have been raised with me. I would like to raise some of those now because, as I say, we did consider them.
Looking at the proposed civil penalties under this bill, I do not think they are actually unreasonably high. I note that they are lower than the proposed penalties in Queensland and South Australia and that they are civil penalties, they are not criminal penalties, which was among the concerns that were raised with me. Obviously they will be preceded by notices to comply, with conditions and other non‑punitive mechanisms. I am satisfied that the prohibition on a host entering into a contract with an unlicensed provider is not onerous and that they only rely on the register once, which I think will be a fairly straightforward task. I am satisfied that the definition of ‘officer’ is not unreasonably broad, and when read in conjunction with standing corporations law it does mean a substantive decision‑maker. I think that is fair, that that is the person who should have that responsibility.
I am reassured that in raising an objection to a licence application by an interested person, the application will not be stayed. So the application process will proceed, even the renewal process will proceed, regardless of whether there is an objection. So that process will continue. At worst there would probably be a 14‑day delay in any application where there were objections. But as I mentioned, the application will not be stayed, nor will this mean that a business cannot continue to operate. So I do not believe it is open to the types of abuse that people have raised with me and that have been raised by previous speakers such as Mr Ondarchie. I do not think a falsified objection from an unscrupulous operator will stymie an application. I am reassured that advertisers outside of Victoria will not be caught by section 14, save for those that are wanting to place workers in Victoria directly.
On the publication requirements on the authority’s website there were concerns that this would be a breach of privacy, particularly in relation to the officers, and that this is very different to the information that is already required on websites like the Australian Securities and Investments Commission’s (ASIC’s). I think that it is very similar to what is required by ASIC and that most of the information that would be provided on that website would probably be provided on that business’s very own website. So I do not think it raised sufficient privacy concerns for me.
In looking at the processes rolling out in Queensland, the annual requirements for the provision of information I do not think were overly burdensome. I know there were conversations about having to list the number of employees that you had placed in that 12 months, and that may be problematic as far as commercial in confidence goes. I am assured that that information would not be published information. Yes, someone might try through FOI to get that information; however, there would probably be very significant and good grounds to redact that information and not provide it, on the basis of privacy and commercial in confidence.
Most importantly, I note that this scheme excludes secondments and supply to individuals — for example, having a plumber in to fix your home will not be captured by this bill and neither will translators and professional services like accountants employed by a firm and visiting another business to provide accountant services. These are all examples that were given to us over the course of the conversation around this bill. It will not cover volunteers. It will not cover genuine subcontracting and genuine outsourcing. I note that in speaking to the Ai Group this morning, one of their significant concerns was that the exclusions that had been listed in the consultation paper were not within the bill and they were seeking some assurance that the exclusions as they stood in the consultation paper would remain the same with the implementation of this bill. I have had reassurance that that will be the case, and I understand that the minister will provide that assurance in her summing up of this bill.
What has become apparent also is that there are labour shortages. The concerns that Mr O’Sullivan mentioned with trying to pick the fruit at that exactly perfect moment so that it could then be shipped to China within 8 hours are important. It is an ongoing concern for farmers and for the VFF. Shortage of labour is an ongoing concern for us everywhere, but particularly in horticulture. But I think in many ways that issue is much bigger than just this bill. That is an issue that we need to deal with from the whole of government, and I would encourage federal and state governments to address this with some sense of urgency and in a meaningful way. I commend the farmers federation’s horticulture policy statement. I think that is a very good starting point to look at how we can enable a workforce that will meet the growing demands of our growing horticulture industry. Things like an agriculture‑specific visa could well have some merit.
I am optimistic that this bill will help clean up the industry, and I am optimistic that by doing that and by giving people the sense of security that this is a safe industry, that this is a well‑regulated industry, we may see that we attract more people back in — whether it is the backpackers or it is the domestic workers or people having a gap year within their own country, and I would encourage our year 12s, if they are having a year out before they take further study, to work out in our great regional areas.
What is frightening for Australia is that on the United Kingdom’s version of the Smartraveller website they warn travellers to Australia that they may face exploitation at work. We are a country that other countries are warning young people coming here to be careful of as they may be exploited in work.
As I say, I have considered this. I do not know how many people everybody else has met, but I know that as crossbenchers we quite often receive a significant number of meeting requests on various legislation, be it this or be it the portable long service leave or many other bills that come before this house, and I did commit to meeting as many of them as I could.
I hope that I responded to every submission that I received on this. As I said at the outset, I am not in the position to offer up my own solution to these issues. I have been asked to make a decision between the status quo and this current bill. I am not saying this bill is perfect, but in weighing up the pros and cons of doing nothing or taking this proposed scheme on board, I have concluded that I would be in favour of this bill. However, in saying that, I will hold some judgement until the committee process to receive the reassurance that the limitations and exclusions that have been mentioned in the consultation paper will be within the regulations and within the bill.