Labour Hire Licensing Bill

Ms CHAPMAN (Bragg—Deputy Leader of the Opposition) (16:47): I rise to speak on the Labour Hire Licensing Bill 2017. The bill was introduced by the Attorney-General on 8 August this year to provide for licensing and regulation of persons who provide labour hire services. Essentially, this requires a person who provides labour hire services to be licensed, with a fit and proper person test, and provides penalties, deregistration options, suspension and the like in the event of noncompliance with the act or standards set.

It is proposed, on the information provided, that the Consumer and Business Services division, under the responsibility of the Attorney, will be responsible for the administration of this scheme. Subsequent to the May 2015 ABC Four Corners program, in which there were very severe allegations of exploitation and underpayment of migrant workers, the government claimed that there needed to be reform in this area. In particular, concern was expressed about the alleged abuse of migrant workers on farms and in the food processing industry.

The Premier announced a parliamentary inquiry by the Economic and Finance Committee to look into the labour hire industry, including underpayment of wages, harassment and mistreatment. This report was published on 18 October 2016. I thank the members of the house who made a contribution to that committee report. Meanwhile, national and state ministers were meeting and resolved that they would establish a task force to deal with compliance and enforcement and a second task force to deal with phoenixing. The federal parliament has also passed a national vulnerable workers bill to increase penalties in this area.

Whilst there has been consideration of a national scheme for licensing, most importantly to provide some consistency, that has not occurred. Some rather scathing comment has been made by the Attorney in his second reading in respect of that, but I commend the federal government for progressing legislation to greater protect vulnerable workers in this space and to ensure that there are other groups to monitor and enforce the standards and law in respect of the protection of workers in these industries. The commonwealth approach has generally been to prosecute people who break the law, and that is something, on balance, we consider needs to be done.

It is interesting to note the consultations I had on this matter and the advice I received from a number of stakeholders. I was advised at a very late briefing that apparently no growers were actually prosecuted arising out of those rather startling allegations that were made in the 2015 Four Corners report. Nevertheless, it does not mean that one should not be alert to potential breaches in this area and the vulnerability, mainly due to language, poverty and, of course, the need to be in a host country in order to undertake work, so many workers are potentially vulnerable and this needs to be supervised and looked into.

I have asked the government to provide details of the 442 labour hire services that currently operate in South Australia, and to date I have not received any response in respect of the request on this bill. I have also sought particulars of prosecutions in the Fair Work Commission; that has not been forthcoming. I have also sought particulars of SafeWork SA cases involving prosecutions that cover vulnerable 457 visa holders and other labour hire workers in South Australia. Again, none of that information has been provided. It is fair to say, though, that potential problems can be most common in the following areas: agriculture, horticulture, meatworks, cleaning, construction, food packing and processing.

It soon became clear, in considering other jurisdictions around Australia, that the Labor governments had got together and decided they were all going to introduce labour hire regulation. I note that Premier Palaszczuk in Queensland passed legislation on 7 September 2017. It was not quite as draconian as this bill. For example, even she did not expect to get through her parliament—and did not even ask to put through—the right of entry of inspectors without a warrant. Under this bill, they are to have greater powers than the police. Even Premier Palaszczuk did not ask for that.

Nevertheless, I have now viewed their bill and the Hansard equivalent of the contributions in that debate, and it seems pretty clear that this has been a request by the union base of the Labor Party to advance this as best they can around the country through the sympathetic Labor administration, and that is exactly what is happening. Victoria is currently drafting similar legislation with the intent to progress the same. There was a provisional briefing, as I have indicated, by the government (in particular, SafeWork SA personnel). There were no attendances at the briefing by Consumer and Business Services staff, who are apparently going to be operating this.

Nevertheless, I appreciate the attendance of SafeWork SA personnel. The briefing indicated that there is a claim that ReturnToWorkSA and RevenueSA support the bill—I suspect the latter, primarily, because of the attempts to deal with the phoenixing aspect in the bill. Stakeholders were quite varied in this field as to their support or otherwise. I think it is fair to say that, consistent with the general national push, many of the stakeholders who are either involved in the industry or inadvertently caught up in the bill, or the potential application of the bill, had no strong objection to having some kind of registration system.

However, when it came to dealing with matters such as the inclusion of criminal sanctions, including imprisonment, the powers of the inspectors under the bill to enter a property without a warrant; matters including the discretion that would be given to the Consumer and Business Affairs commissioner in the approval of licences and the imposition of conditions, including taking into account the reputation of an applicant for registration, the breadth of the application proposed by the bill by definition to include parties such as trainees and group training organisations, the latter of which were quick to point out that they have a very robust series of obligations in respect of standards that they have to comply with already in their industry, both state and federal, they certainly did not want to have the obligation of further regulatory positions.

The Motor Trade Association was obviously unhappy about the inclusion of all apprentices and the extra burden of that. Between the major stakeholders—including the South Australian Wine Industry Association; the Motor Trade Association; the Master Builders Association; Group Training Australia, which, as I say, deals with group training organisations; the Law Society of South Australia; the A1 Group, which represents a number of consultants; Business SA put in a comprehensive submission; and AUSVEG, who, of course, represent growers in the horticultural field—a lot of work had gone into these submissions and I thank all who took the time to provide us with briefings of their approach to this matter.

It is fair to say that, in considering this bill and how the opposition might treat it and how, in particular, I might recommend we deal with this bill, I did attempt to look at whether there was a capacity to amend a number of what may have been these inadvertent extensions of applications proposed in this bill and try to render it to an acceptable registrational licensing process that the stakeholders would then work with to accept. It seemed pretty clear that that job was going to be massive. We certainly made the effort to look at a number of the amendments. We probably would have been here for the rest of the week debating each of them. So, on balance, our party felt that there was far too much to try to remedy in this process.

The government clearly had not listened to what I think have been meritorious arguments to make significant amendment to this bill. They have decided to completely ignore those submissions and press ahead with what I would say is quite draconian legislation that clearly the government had no intention of actually remedying.

In fact, of all the bills we are dealing with just today and of all the amendments that have been proposed, I do not think there is one amendment even being foreshadowed by the government. Having asked parliamentary counsel to consider this, I have determined that in the circumstances there is little we can do to try to rescue what might be a good direction in this regard and we will oppose the bill.