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senate vote 2018-09-19#1

Edited by mackay staff

on 2018-09-29 15:29:21


  • Bills — Treasury Laws Amendment (Working Holiday Maker Employer Register) Bill 2017; Second Reading
  • Treasury Laws Amendment (Working Holiday Maker Employer Register) Bill 2017 - Second Reading - Agree with the bill's main idea


  • <p class="speaker">Doug Cameron</p>
  • <p>Here we are with a bill brought on in a rush, in a hurry, by a government that is an absolute rabble. The Treasury Laws Amendment (Working Holiday Maker Employer Register) Bill 2017 is part of a deal between this rabble of a government and Senator Leyonhjelm to take away some protection for migrant workers in this country. What an absolute joke! We know this government is scraping the bottom of the barrel to try and get legislation before this place. We know it doesn't have an agenda. We know it has a Prime Minister who doesn't know what he's got to do, a Prime Minister with the L-plates up, a Prime Minister who is just in this job because another Liberal Prime Minister has been knifed in the back. We have ended up with this legislation as part of a deal with Senator Leyonhjelm to take away some protection for migrant workers in this country.</p>
  • <p>This bill removes the requirement for the public listing on the Australian Business Register of businesses that employ working holiday-makers, winding back a transparency measure in the original package. As part of worker protection that was included in the package passed by parliament in 2016, there was a requirement that a legislative framework be set up allowing the Commissioner of Taxation to establish a mandatory registration process for employers of working holiday-makers. This allowed the date of effect of an employer's registration to be made publicly available on the Australian Business Register. Effectively this was to allow visa holders to check the public register to see if a business is registered for employing working holiday-makers, to allow them to make sure a potential employer is in fact a legitimate business. It provided a public register of the companies that were employing the 200,000 visa holders, where there was no public register previously. The register addressed concerns about the exploitation of working holiday-makers and would provide valuable data on working holiday-makers.</p>
  • The majority voted in favour of a [motion]( to agree with the bill's main idea. In parliamentary jargon, they voted to read the bill for a [second time]( This means the Senate can now discuss the bill in more detail.
  • ### What is the bill's main idea?
  • According to the [bills digest](
  • > *The purpose of the Treasury Laws Amendment (Working Holiday Maker Employer Register) Bill 2017 (the Bill) is to make two amendments to tighten the information disclosure requirements for the working holiday maker employer register.*
  • > *The first of the amendments is to the A New Tax System (Australian Business Number) Act 1999 (ABN Act) to ensure that details of the working holiday maker employer register will not be able to be made publicly available.*
  • > *The second amendment is to the Taxation Administration Act 1953 (TA Act) to ensure that information sharing between the Australian Tax Office (ATO) and the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) is only undertaken in situations in which an entity is non-compliant, or is reasonably suspected of non-compliance, with a tax law.*
  • <p>It's similarly reprehensible that the Morrison government&#8212;and when you talk about a Morrison government, it's really an inverted commas 'government'; it's not much of a government; it's got no agenda; it's got no capacity to focus on the issues that are important for Australians&#8212;this rabble of a government, wants to down a measure that helps ensure employers remit the right amount of tax to the tax office on behalf of those workers. The government, with this bill, is actively and willingly increasing the risk of tax non-compliance. What a joke! What an absolute joke! The bill will rip up the ability of a working holiday-maker to look up the details of an employer on the register for employing working holiday-makers, affecting their ability to choose an employer who will comply with tax laws. Both of these provisions in the original bill meant that there was some possibility of greater protection from exploitation for working holiday-makers. Given the significant cases of worker exploitation in this area, we strongly recommend that this tawdry bill be rejected. Labor has consistently stated our commitment to transparency, particularly in areas that can help reduce exploitation of vulnerable workers.</p>
  • <p>So this is where we are. Instead of fixing aged care or restoring penalty rates, the government is asking us to debate the merits of whether or not working holiday-makers will have access to information about potential employers. Instead of fighting fraudulent phoenix activity or tackling tax havens, the Morrison government would rather have us debate the merits of whether or not working holiday-makers should face an increased risk of exploitation. Well, they shouldn't face an increased risk of exploitation. It's an absolute nonsense that we've got a mob sitting across the chamber, calling themselves a government, that would support further exploitation of vulnerable workers in this country. But it doesn't surprise me. Anything that supports workers would not be supported by this government. Remember Work Choices? Remember the ABCC? Remember the ROC? Remember that minister, Senator Cash, who misled parliament on five occasions, who's the subject of a Federal Police investigation, who refuses to work effectively with the Federal Police to get to the bottom of what's going on? Is it any surprise that migrant workers are at the bottom of the list for this mob? Is it any surprise that they would rather have farmers in this country exploit workers? Is it any surprise they would have criminal gangs, as exposed on <i>Four Corners</i>, exploit migrant workers, having them live in terrible conditions and now not having a support mechanism available to them so that they can test whether theirs is a reasonable employer and an employer that meets their legal obligations?</p>
  • <p>It's not just Labor that's concerned about this. The Salvation Army, the Uniting Church, and the Tax Justice Network oppose this bill. For the benefit of the Senate, let's briefly look at where the government has come from. Former Treasurer Morrison, in a media release around the time of the original legislation, stated that backpackers could look up employers via ABN Lookup, making the register publicly accessible. Not long after that, the government introduced this bill to the House, and Fairfax reported, in early 2017:</p>
  • <p class="italic">A spokesman for the Treasurer Scott Morrison said the bill was proposed by Senator Leyonhjelm.</p>
  • <p class="italic">"The government agreed to introduce the amendment after reaching an agreement with the senator to pass the original WYHM legislation. The government will honour its commitment," the spokesman said.</p>
  • <p class="italic">"This commitment did not extend to the successful passage of the amendment.</p>
  • <p class="italic">"The government is committed to protecting the rights of backpackers and protecting them from exploitation. &#8230;"</p>
  • <p>We really are at the bottom of the barrel. The spokesperson for the Prime Minister, who was the Treasurer at the time, indicated that this was simply about doing a deal with Senator Leyonhjelm. You should not be using vulnerable workers as part of a deal with the extremists in the Senate. Senator Leyonhjelm has got some of the most extreme views in the Senate.</p>
  • <p>Senator Leyonhjelm is always interested in small government, except when it comes to paying his wages. There's no small government when he's picking up his pay cheque every month. There's no small government when it comes to the perks of being a senator. There's no small government when it comes to making sure that his nose is in the trough. There's no small government when it comes to making sure that Senator Leyonhjelm's looked after. But when it comes to looking after vulnerable workers, vulnerable people, then government has to be small. When it comes to making sure that we've got a decent health system, government's got to be small. When it comes to a decent education system, according to Senator Leyonhjelm, government's got to be small. So it's big government when it's looking after his mates in the tobacco industry and it's big government when it comes to looking after Senator Leyonhjelm, but it's small government when it comes to looking after vulnerable workers.</p>
  • <p>This bill is an absolute nonsense. I would invite anyone who wants to deal with this bill, who's thinking about supporting this bill, to go back to the <i>Four Corners</i> transcript of Monday, 4 May 2015, where it outlined the slave labour that was going on in the Queensland rural sector. A Queensland grower said that there is slave labour in this country. So what Senator Leyonhjelm is proposing is that you hide the slave labour so that you don't get a union knocking on your door to try and make sure that decent wages and conditions are being paid. What an absolute joke! What an absolute pathetic position to be putting to this Senate.</p>
  • <p>Any time you see Senator Leyonhjelm standing up with his grandiose ideas, with all the nonsense he goes on about, then look at what he is prepared to do to vulnerable workers in this country. He is prepared to have them ripped off. It's an absolute joke. We've got nearly mafia-life exploitation of some of these workers. And then when a modest position comes in place to support those workers, we'll get Senator Leyonhjelm supporting it. We've got the government actually providing a process to bring this to the Senate. What an absolute joke this is. You should be ashamed of yourself, Senator Leyonhjelm, for bringing this to this place. You should be absolutely ashamed of yourself.</p>
  • <p>It's no use having a bit of a laugh with Senator Hanson. This is a serious issue. This is about looking after exploited workers. This is about making sure that they've got a decent right in this country and know who employers are employing. It's about making sure that these companies are paying proper taxation. So we take the view that this should be rejected. We are determined to oppose this bill, and anyone of any decency in this chamber would be opposing this bill.</p>
  • <p>I am disgusted that the coalition has allowed this to come forward to exploit workers just because they've done another grubby deal to try and save their own necks&#8212;a dying government, a decaying government, a government that their own Prime Minister describes as muppets. If there ever were a muppet show, look at what's going on here. The muppets have allowed this to be brought to the Senate to exploit ordinary working people. This is a disgraceful government. This is a chaotic government. This is a government on its last legs. This is a government that should actually go to the people and let the people make a decision whether they want decency in government and whether they want a government that will look after the exploited in this country.</p>
  • <p>This is another demonstration that workers' rights in this country mean nothing under this coalition. They mean nothing. When Senator Leyonhjelm is leading the government by the nose to exploit workers, then that is the bottom of the barrel. This government is at the bottom of the barrel. It is a government that doesn't care about workers' rights. It is a government that attacks workers' rights. It is a government that does dirty deals to ensure that ordinary workers can get ripped off and migrant workers can get ripped off. This bill is a disgrace and should be opposed.</p>
  • <p class="speaker">David Leyonhjelm</p>
  • <p>I rise to support the Treasury Laws Amendment (Working Holiday Maker Employer Register) Bill 2017. I see this bill as a finalisation of the government's backpacker tax package of 2016. The government's backpacker tax package passed in late 2016, albeit with a hiccup on 30 November 2016. By November 2016, the government had the support of the then Xenophon Team of three senators provided that a program to encourage unemployed youth to do seasonal work was subsequently implemented. That program has since been implemented. By 30 November 2016, the government had the support of Pauline Hanson's One Nation provided that the tax rate on working holiday-makers was reduced from 19 per cent to 15 per cent. And by 30 November 2016 the government believed it had Senator Hinch's support, too. The government knew it did not have my support at that time because the backpacker tax package included some violations of taxpayer privacy and because I considered that even a 15 per cent tax rate was excessive. That's still my view, incidentally, and I think Labor's agriculture shadow minister would agree with me.</p>
  • <p>Then, on 30 November 2016, Senator Hinch joined Senator Culleton and others to vote for a 10.5 per cent tax rate, instead of a 15 per cent tax rate. So it was a 10.5 per cent tax rate that passed the Senate, much to the dismay of the government. Treasurer Morrison came to my office asking if there was any way I could support the backpacker tax package at 15 per cent. I reluctantly agreed to support the package if the violations of taxpayer privacy were removed. Having secured this deal, the government brought that part of the backpacker tax package dealing with the tax rate back to the Senate on 1 December 2016, and a 15 per cent tax rate was finally passed.</p>
  • <p>The part of the backpacker tax package that included the violations of taxpayer privacy had already passed both houses, so it was not returned to the Senate on 1 December 2016. Instead, to fix the violations of taxpayer privacy we needed new legislation, hence the bill we are debating today, the Treasury Laws Amendment (Working Holiday Maker Employer Register) Bill 2017. I thank the government for bringing this bill to the Senate.</p>
  • <p>This bill removes a provision allowing the Australian Taxation Office to publicise on the Australian Business Register an individual employer's intention to hire working holiday-makers. The ATO has not used this power to date, given that the bill has been on the <i>Notice Paper</i>. Forcing the publication on the Australian Business Register of an individual employer's intention to hire working holiday-makers is a recipe for the Australian Workers' Union to harass that individual employer. Farmers are mostly small businesses&#8212;individual family businesses. They have enough problems with droughts, floods and even needles in strawberries without Senator Cameron's bovver-boy mates knocking on the door. Employers will be free to continue to publicise their intentions to hire working holiday-makers through sites frequented by prospective working holiday-makers. It will come as no surprise that working holiday-makers tend not to peruse the Australian Business Register. General reporting about working holiday-makers and employers who hire them is unaffected by this bill.</p>
  • <p>This bill also reverts to the previous rule protecting personal financial information provided by a taxpayer to the ATO, so that the ATO can provide this information to the employment department without breaching secrecy provisions only if the taxpayer is actually or reasonably suspected of noncompliance with a taxation law. Because this bill has been on the <i>Notice Paper</i>, the ATO is currently divulging information consistent with the previous rule, rather than divulging information more broadly. This is a protection of the personal financial information of law-abiding taxpayers and it should continue.</p>
  • <p>I expect Labor and the Greens will make outlandish claims about this bill, but this is a simple and modest bill. It ensures that the protection on taxpayer privacy in place on 30 November 2016 remains. It represents the finalisation of a backpacker tax package that the Senate agreed to on 1 December 2016. I commend the bill to the Senate.</p>
  • <p class='motion-notice motion-notice-truncated'>Long debate text truncated.</p>