MIGRATION AMENDMENT (EMPLOYER SANCTIONS) BILL 2006 – In Committee Comments

I will put on the record the Democrats support for this amendment. It is very much consistent with the longstanding Democrat policy and approach on this issue. A few of the comments that have been made do need a response, I think, and we need to do that in the context of recognising the reality of what this amendment goes to. A significant number of people including people with children are in the Australian community lawfully for very long periods of time with absolutely no support at all. That is the context and that is the reality today. This amendment seeks to ameliorate that situation and I think it should be supported.

We have had comments that this is not the right bill for it, that the Migration Amendment (Employer Sanctions) Bill 2006 does not really address that matter. There is a point to be made there, although I think that it is also able to be linked, frankly. This legislation goes to employers being sanctioned if they employ people without work rights. The reality and the inevitability of forcing people to live in the Australian community for years with zero support is that some of them will by necessity end up having to work illegally to survive.

I suggest that goes right to the core of what this legislation is about. We do not want employers employing people who do not have work rights. We do not want people being employed illegally. But we also do not want people left to starve in the Australian community for years and forced to work illegally. And we do not want people to be put in a situation where they might know somebody in that circumstance who is in absolutely desperate straits, who provides them with some sort of casual workeven a very small amount, cash-in-the-hand stuffwhich could put them within reach of this legislation.

So I think that it does link. It may seem tenuous but it is a genuine linkage. People who consciously and knowingly work illegally whilst they are in the community unlawfully or people who are here as tourists, for example, who then work when they do not have entitlements to, are the problem. But it should not be a circumstance that people who are lawfully resident in Australia for an indefinite period of timesometimes a very long period of timeare being forced to work just for survival. That is not an appropriate circumstance for a nation like Australia.

As I said in my second reading contribution, there are issues to be balanced here, and I think this amendment seeks to go to those. It does seek to bring in work rights if people have been in possession of the bridging visa E for more than 28 days without work rights and that goes some way to addressing the problem of people seeking to get onto these visas and then stretching out their time here consciously and working the whole time. That is a valid concern. It is one of the reasons some of these restrictions were brought in. But I think that if those concerns are balanced against families, particularly asylum seeker families, left in the community without support or living on charity and in penury for years at a time, then certainly from the Democrats point of view it is very clear what the balance should tilt towards. It should be to ensuring that children are not raised in poverty and that people are not left in penury particularly if they are asylum seekers.

I think that it is insufficient to reason that this should not be supported because it is the wrong bill or that we do not tag bills with amendments to deal with other matters. Labor has just spent a number of hours in the second reading stage continuing their campaign on the 457 visa. Again, this has some linkage with the legislation, although
I suggest that it does not go to its heart. I think they spent the whole time utilising the opportunity of this legislation here to repeat at great length points they wanted to make as part of a broader campaign. So I think it is a bit cute to say that they cannot support this amendment because it is a little bit off topic when we have had a few hours of slightly less than perfect on-topic speeches.

Be that as it may, there is another point that does need to be emphasised. There is a review, and we appreciate that, and I hope that that review does lead to improvements in the current arrangements. The Democrats do not support many aspects of the current arrangements. We opposed the introduction of the 45-day rule, which meant that a number of people who sought protection after they have been in Australia for longer than 45 days got put into the circumstance where they could be without support for prolonged periods of time. We have seen the consequences and they have not been very pretty.

I will also never forget losing a disallowance motion that I moved in this place which put an extra group of people into the category of being without any support once their RRT claim was finaliseda disallowance motion of mine that went down on the vote of then Senator Colston, creating a tied vote and defeating it. I suppose one is not allowed to reflect on a decision of the Senate, even if it is about eight years old, but it is very hard not to when basically a corrupted vote led to this mechanism being in place and many people suffering as a consequence. At least the situation is being reviewed now. I believe this amendment would not circumvent that review; it would address a problem that is real. Certainly, as I said at the start, it is very consistent with the position the Democrats have had for a long time and that we continue to campaign for. It is one that I urge all parties to give consideration to implementing.

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