Tuesday, 19 June 2012
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Senator Ludwig. I refer the minister to recent reports that the Indian-based transnational energy and mining company, the Adani Group—
Mr President, on a point of order: Minister Ludwig does not represent the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship. I assume it is a question to Senator Lundy in her capacity as the minister representing the immigration minister. I want to be clear. Perhaps you could ask the senator to start her question again, Mr President.
Thank you, Mr President. I thank Senator Evans for pointing that out. My question is, indeed, to Senator Lundy. I refer the minister to recent reports that the Indian-based transnational energy and mining company, the Adani Group, has brought a foreign workforce to Australia on incorrect short-stay visas with restricted work rights with the full knowledge of Australian immigration officials. The company was later permitted by the immigration department to transfer this workforce onto the correct 457 work visas without them having to leave the country, as they would under any other circumstance. I ask the minister: when did any official from the department of immigration, or indeed the minister's office, first become aware of the arrival of Adani's foreign workers on incorrect visas?
The Department of Immigration and Citizenship assesses allegations and takes appropriate investigative action where breaches are identified. The department also conducts campaigns across various sectors focusing upon particular sponsorship obligations in order to assess whether sponsors are complying with their obligations. As a matter of course, the government takes any allegation seriously and looks into issues or concerns raised by workers, unions or the community. The government is committed to addressing the skill needs of various employment sectors while maintaining job opportunities for local workers and securing strong investment in domestic training. Importantly, employers are required to employ such workers at market rates and no less than they pay Australian workers, meaning they cannot be used to undercut local wages or labour costs.
We remain committed to strengthening the integrity of Australia's skilled visa programs by identifying and penalising employers who do the wrong thing. For example, a labour agreement for on-hire 457 workers was recently terminated because the company was found to be employing its subclass 457 visa workers on a casual basis, underpaying them, and providing false and misleading information to the immigration department. An ongoing compliance action has resulted in an increase in the number of infringement notices served.
Senior officials from the Department of Immigration and Citizenship met with representatives of the Adani Group on a number of occasions to discuss appropriate visa options and the officials reiterated the importance of complying with visa conditions and employer obligations. I understand that this meeting prompted Adani to commission an Ernst and Young audit to review its business practices, and this is entirely appropriate. The department is meeting with Adani to discuss the audit.
Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. In my original question, I asked when the department was first made aware and, if indeed there were meetings with the Adani, when did they first happen and why was it that Adani was able to shortcut the visa requirements for those workers at that particular time? Minister, could you please also inform the Senate whether a broader audit of these visas being used by companies bringing in foreign workers has been audited— (Time expired)
I do not have additional information available to me in relation to this, but I can reiterate the government's commitment to ensuring that the provisions of the Migration Act are adhered to. I think you would understand very well that this government has an excellent record, having strengthened the Migration Act in the past against breaches that had occurred under the former government, which neglected to make sure that the legislation was of an appropriate strength and structure to prevent this kind of abuse. I am confident that the department has taken the appropriate action. I am not sure if you have placed questions of notice through the estimates process in relation to this, but I am certainly happy to provide those details to you, having taken some of the points of your question on notice.
I have a final supplementary question for the minister. Firstly, if I could confirm that those questions will be taken on notice. Secondly, can the minister advise the Senate whether the Adani group, which has indeed said that they need up to 5,000 workers for the expansion of their Queensland mining project, has applied or indicated an intent to apply for approval of an enterprise migration agreement? If so, is it currently on a positive pathway for approval?
I certainly do not have that information with me but I would like to say once again that this government has a very responsible approach to the way in which we manage our Migration Act. I know of the changes that we made in protecting the provisions of the 457 class visa holders. Again, reflecting on past experience with the former coalition government, there were several instances where there was no regard as to the working conditions of 457 class visa holders in Australia.
Thank you, Mr President. As I was saying, under the former government these provisions in relation to 457 class visa holders and other visa holders were in urgent need of attention. That was done when the Labor government came to office. Of particular importance is, of course, not allowing 457 class visa holders or temporary skilled migrant workers to undercut local wages and conditions. This is an important principle of our labour market, it is one we uphold proudly and one on which we were happy to step in and ensure when we came to office. (Time expired)