10 December 2020


ED HUSIC MP, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE AND RESOURCES: Good morning, everyone. Well, it looks like there is no problem in this country that cannot be sorted out with a good old ad campaign; that's the Coalition's approach to any major issue is to send in the ad managers. And today we've seen that in spite of deep concerns within the agricultural sector, and horticultural sector, about a lack of people to help them with their work, despite the fact that state Agriculture Ministers have been calling on the federal Government to get their act together in dealing with labour shortages that are hurting farmers, the big response out of the Coalition is to announce an ad campaign to lure Kiwis to come over.
Don't get me wrong, backpackers have played an important part in helping out in the sector. But there have been some issues that need to be tackled in terms of the conditions and the way in which backpackers have been paid and remunerated. And there's been a need to get more Australians in to do the work.
Now, no tourism ad campaign is going to get the fruit picked for the Christmas pavlova, let's be clear about that. We need to be able to get people on the ground, particularly unemployed Australians who need to get that work, or who came to find work to pay the bills in, you know, one of the worst recessions that we've had in living memory. And so it's completely staggering that at this point in time, the best that you can find out of the Coalition is an ad campaign to sort out what is needed. Instead of getting people to work.
The state Ministers, I might add, put forward ideas, for instance, like getting people who are currently on JobSeeker, to go out onto farms, to be able to retain their JobSeeker payments, plus whatever they're paid, to help clean the workload and to work with farmers on this because the pressure is on right now before March to get all this work done. David Littleproud instead of working with his colleagues, labels them as petulant children, which he has done in just in recent times, not answered their questions, not given a signal about what ideas they've put forward, the merit or otherwise and the ability to deliver it. We don't need we don't need David Littleproud chucking a tanti, we need him to come up with solutions, no ad campaigns, stuff that will work.
And again, it's an issue that we have been thinking a lot about in terms of labour shortages and trying to get people here. I'll be interested to see, and I'll just end on this point, if David Littleproud or, if the Coalition Government can't get stranded Aussies home, I'll be interested to see how many people he gets from overseas to help deal with the labour shortages that are present in the agriculture sector. And I might hand over to my colleague Kristina Keneally, just to add further on the visa issue.
KRISTINA KENEALLY, DEPUTY LABOR LEADER IN THE SENATE AND SHADOW MINISTER FOR HOME AFFAIRS: Thank you. Well, Scott Morrison is all about the headline and not about the delivery. You remember before the election campaign, he promised an agriculture visa. That was his big commitment to the National Party. And then, after the election, quietly walked away from it. The guy likes a headline. He doesn't like a plan and delivery. What are we seeing here today when it comes to people who are going to help pick the fruit and vegetables in Australia's ag sector? Well, we got an advertising campaign.
You know the thing Scott Morrison has called this advertising campaign? Pick in Paradise. Pick in Paradise. The conditions that backpackers and temporary visa holders have been working in on farms is far from Paradise. People are paid as little as $3 an hour. People are exploited. Shocking stories of sexual exploitation, physical abuse, withholding passports, withholding wages, that's not paradise. That existed before the pandemic.
Labor has been highlighting these issues before the pandemic. Labor instituted an Inquiry in the Senate which is currently ongoing into temporary migration looking at the shocking exploitation of temporary visa holders, particularly in the agriculture sector. The shocking exploitation that exists there would horrify many Australians.
I think many Australian parents would be horrified to learn that the fruit they put in their kids' lunchbox has been picked often by a 19-year old backpacker who is sexually exploited and having her wages stolen. It's not paradise, Scott Morrison, and no advertising campaign is going to turn it into paradise.
Now my colleague, Ed Husic, made the observation that we've got 40,000 stranded Australians overseas, Scott Morrison promised they'd be home by Christmas. He promised on the 18th of September they would be home by Christmas, the 26,000 people on that day that were registered with DFAT.
Today is the last day they can get home and be with their families by Christmas. 9,000 of them are still stranded, of the 26,000 Scott Morrison promised would be home for Christmas, 9,000 are still overseas and stranded—another promise without delivery. Another promise from this marketing-obsessed Prime Minister without delivery. Now there are 40,000 stranded Australians overseas.
Today, Penny Wong, Tanya Plibersek and I wrote to the Prime Minister and made this point: you need to come up with the plan, Scott Morrison, to ensure that stranded Australians can cross the border. That workers can get the skilled and unskilled visa holders they need to cross the border. And that universities can get the international students they need to cross the border.
Right now we have a system that Scott Morrison's own handpicked expert Jane Halton told him does not work: 14 days’ hotel quarantine for everyone is unsustainable, said Jane Halton. Now, it's been 265 days since the borders were closed. It's been 153 days since international caps were put on at our airports. And it's been 125 days since Scott Morrison got a report from Jane Halton telling him how to improve quarantine safely. And today is the last day stranded Australians can get home the way Scott Morrison promised they would be: in time for Christmas.
This is a Prime Minister that loves a headline but doesn't deliver. And it's going to have significant negative impacts for our farmers, many of whom are trying to do the right thing, by the way, by their workers. It's often the unscrupulous labour hire companies that are creating the conditions for exploitation, not the farmers themselves. But it is also the case that Scott Morrison has had many recommendations about how to get Australians engaged in fruit picking, how to get Australians in there.
My colleague, Ed Husic, mentioned state and territory Ministers. I'd also point you to the Joint Committee on Migration which issued a report, a Government-control Committee, which issued report a few weeks ago that made clear recommendations about how to get more Australians engaged in fruit picking. We might start by paying people properly and not exploiting them. I'll stop there. And we'll go to questions.
JOURNALIST: Can I just confirm on those numbers? The 9,000 of the 26,000? Is that 9,000 from that original 26,000 group?
KENEALLY: That's correct. And that has been confirmed by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade in Senate Question Time.
JOURNALIST: Ed, what's the Government's response been to the idea of allowing people to keep their JobSeeker and pick fruit, have they given a response to that idea?
HUSIC: When the idea has been put forward, particularly by state Agriculture Ministers, for people to keep the JobSeeker payments, plus whatever wages they're paid to help on farms, we've heard nothing that silence out of the Agriculture Minister, David Littleproud. On paper, it's got a lot of merit. And I also understand to cut them some slack. I also understand there are a lot of moving parts that need to be coordinated on this.
But you would think that they would apply some degree of urgency and energy to going: okay, the idea's been put on the table, we've got to coordinate amongst different Departments; and let's see if we can make it happen.
Their existing schemes, for example, and Senator Keneally referenced them a few moments ago, of providing the $6,000 incentives to get people to relocate and move, I think there's been a shade over, or shade under 160 people who may have taken that up, I could be wrong. But it's in that, that quantum. So clearly the other initiatives they've tried haven't worked.
The state Agriculture Ministers in good faith have put forward these ideas to see what can get things moving. And we really just need to see delivery, we need to see some energy applied, and some delivery achieved, because the sector is under huge pressure, not just in terms of trying to get product. But you know, at this point in time as well, I might add, with all the trade issues that the sector is facing, they really do need a Government that is working full time on sorting these problems out.
And the other thing if I can just add, which is a bit of a merge away, or sort of diversion away from what you've raised, and I'm happy to answer any further questions. I just want to make another observation. We've had in the Senate, a former Agriculture Minister, and senior National in Bridget McKenzie announced a forestry bill that apparently her colleagues within the Coalition were completely unaware of.
Now, we're absolutely prepared to work with the Government on protecting forestry jobs, and I look forward to Senator McKenzie actually briefing us on what she intends with this legislation. But I want to make this point, at a time where the sector is crying out for leadership, effective leadership, getting things done, sorting out problems, the last thing they need is chaos and confusion within the Coalition when people in the sector want answers to the serious issues that are confronting their livelihoods, their jobs and the nation's wealth.
JOURNALIST: Do you think that the fruit is going to rot? If this isn't sorted out?
HUSIC: This is the big thing that stakeholders are concerned about. They've been saying that they are genuinely worried that in a year that they've already had to contend with drought and bushfires, they've had some good rains and they've seen some positive signs...right at the point that they've got that they're concerned that they won't have people to help them get product moving. And that's that should you know, signal or ring alarm bells in the Coalition. But it doesn't seem to be something that they're interested in. They think that the solution is an ad campaign to pick fruit. And I don't think that's necessarily going to work. But again, it's up to them to demonstrate if their great ideas are actually going to deliver.
JOURNALIST: Another day, another trade sanction from China, this time on cotton. What's your message to the Government; do they need to keep resisting the pressure?
HUSIC: I think the big thing is this: we, as our colleague, Senator Wong has pointed out, this is a time where calm, calm heads prevail. And we saw it through the diplomatic issues. On the trade side, we're very clear: the Government should be working with exporters to identify new markets and get them there. This is not going to be an easy thing to do.
As much as I make that point, I also recognise the challenges in finding new markets that deliver at the same price and the same volume as what we have in China, because we have delivered a heck of a lot of product there. It's been our top market for 10 years, and some of our big products—was it something I said?
Some of our big products that have been exported there. When you look at wool, barley, beef, you've also got seafood, as well, and including another range of other products that have been affected by the problems that we're having with China, we do need the Government to work quickly on this.
And we certainly don't need an Agriculture Minister who, when confronted with these issues about how he's going to fix the problems that exporters are facing, his solution was to blame the exporters and say: well, you know, it wasn't us telling you to go to one market.
You know, if they're setting up these trade agreements, if they're encouraging exports, they've got to also find a way, if that doesn't work, for new markets to open up, they need to apply a lot more energy.
JOURNALIST: I have a question about cashless welfare for either of you. Keith Pitt was just up and he said, the reason why people on welfare shouldn't be entitled to decide where their money goes is because they don't have a job. What is your response to those comments?
KENEALLY: What we saw from the Liberals and Nationals last night in the Senate was an appalling disregard for the human dignity and the self determination of the Australian people, and particularly of First Nations Australians.
Let's be fundamentally clear - the cashless debit card is a racist measure. It targets Indigenous Australians. It is a Government telling Indigenous Australians you can't be trusted to determine the course of your own lives. It's an attempt to take away their dignity and their self-determination. It was incredibly moving last night to sit in the Australian Senate and watch First Nations Senators from the Labor Party, from the Greens and then an Independent in Jacqui Lambie, challenge Minister Ruston to explain why this Bill wasn't racist; challenge Minister Ruston to explain the justification for this legislation; challenge Minister Ruston to even name some groups that she had consulted in putting this racist legislation together.
I was very proud of the fact that the Australian people had sent so many First Nations Senators to this place, and I was incredibly disappointed and distressed that the Australian Government so easily disregarded them.
JOURNALIST: I just want to ask you a question about IR. The Attorney-General says the IR Bill isn't a take it or leave it situation. The Government is open to discussion and negotiation. Has Labor been negotiating with the Coalition on these changes?
KENEALLY: What do we have in the lead up to Christmas but the Scott Morrison pay cut. Can you believe that Scott Morrison yesterday full throated backed a plan to cut the pay of the very workers who have saved Australia during this this global pandemic and this economic recession. We have had nurses and teachers and aged care workers and police officers all out there putting their own health at risk, putting their own wellbeing at risk and doing it because they know the importance of the work they do and they know the importance of Australia's coming together collectively to ensure that we're all safe from this ravaging global pandemic.
What did Scott Morrison thank them with? A pay cut, the Morison pay cut.
Now we see reports today that the Government is apparently crab walking away from this trying to pretend they never promised this yesterday. Of course they did. They were out there yesterday, the Prime Minister in Question Time, fundamentally backing and defending his own pay cut.
This is the thing about Scott Morrison, he is a guy obsessed with his own spin. Don't be fooled by this. It is in the Coalition's DNA, it is in the Liberal Party's DNA, they did it with Workchoices and they are coming for your paying conditions again.
These are the people that want to take away your super, cut your super this year, they're going to cut your wages. It's in their DNA, they can't help themselves and Labor will fight the Morrison pay cut with every ounce of energy and as long as we draw breath because our fundamental objective is to stand up for working people and to stand up for them to have proper wages, a wage rise and better conditions.
JOURNALIST: Senator, just back on the cashless welfare, are you worried about some of the late night (inaudible) shenanigans that might have gone on to secure the passage of that Bill?
KENEALLY: I’m not aware of what you’re referring to.
JOURNALIST: The Government drops the amendment to…
KENEALLY: Sorry, just so we’re clear, are you referring to the late night shenanigans of Minister Ruston moving an Amendment and cutting a deal with…
KENEALLY:  … or are you talking about a debate that happened in the Chamber?
JOURNALIST: I guess around Centre Alliance.
KENEALLY: Ok, yes I am. I mean last night we had the most extraordinary scene where Senator McCarthy asked Minister Ruston who had she consulted with on her last minute Amendment and she couldn't name one group. When we pointed out she'd only move the Amendment an hour ago, she must have known who she'd spoken to within the last hour. Well then we had the most extraordinary moment where Senator Lambie stood up and belled the cat. She just put it all out there that Senator Ruston had done a deal with Centre Alliance to move some Amendments and thereby Centre Alliance would abstain from their vote.
No, I don't understand Senator Griff here and I like Senator Griff. I've worked with him on a range of issues. But quite frankly, if you are elected by your State to come into the Senate, and cast your vote, then turn up and do it. Last night Senator Griff abstained from a vote. He walked away from his responsibility. Now if he has concerns and he appears to about the cashless debit card, he should have turned up and voted. Instead, the Government cut a dirty deal with Senator Stirling Griff.
They moved their Amendment, they couldn't justify why they were moving except for this, that they cut a deal so that Senator Griff would abstain from a vote. Let's understand, we would not have the cashless debit card if it weren't for Bridget Archer abstaining from the vote in the Lower House and Senator Griff abstaining from the vote in the Senate. If those two people had gone in and voted their conviction and their conscience, we wouldn't have this racist legislation passed by this Parliament. I would invite Miss Archer and Senator Griff to reflect upon their responsibilities as Members of Parliament.
JOURNALIST: Just to clarify if the Government agrees to remove the amendment to the better off overall test in IR Legislation, would you support that?
KENEALLY: Look, I'm not going to start conducting negotiations here. This is for the Shadow Minister Tony Burke, who has spoken extensively about this. I've made clear our position that workers should not suffer a pay cut thanks to Scott Morrison.
Can I just speak on one other issue, if you don't mind? I'm happy to take questions. I'm not trying to end your questioning. But I do want to, while I'm standing here, next to Ed Husic, acknowledge and thank him for his leadership and his hard work over years to bring the issue of Right-Wing Extremism and the threat that it poses to the Australian people and to Australian communities to the forefront of our national security debate. Yesterday we had a significant moment where in a spirit of bipartisanship, Peter Dutton negotiated with me and resolved Terms of Reference to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security on Extremism with a specific look at Far Right Extremism and a clear review of a full range of Government counterterrorism policies, laws and procedures to ensure that our community remains safe from the threat of violence that is posed by Far Right Extremists. Now that didn't just happen overnight that took months and years of work, particularly when Minister Dutton last week said focusing on Right Wing Extremism was quote, ‘petty, stupid and silly’.
I am glad Peter Dutton over the last 48 hours came to see some sense and I am glad that we were able to negotiate Terms of Reference. But that didn't just happen because Labor moved a motion in the House of Representatives. It happened because people like Ed Husic have been standing up, giving voice to the concerns of the people they represent in their electorates and their communities. I want to publicly thank Ed for his leadership.
HUSIC: I appreciate it.
KENEALLY: I also would like to acknowledge that today we are going to see the Government launch the National Stillbirth Action Plan. This will happen in about an hour's time. It is a direct result of the Senate Inquiry into Stillbirth Research Education that was chaired by my colleague Malarndirri McCarthy, and in which I participated. As the mother of a stillborn baby I am overwhelmed by the fact that today we will see for the first time a national action plan to reduce and prevent stillbirth in this country. The Senate Inquiry was the first set of national recommendations.
Six babies a day die in Australia from stillbirth and that's a figure that has not changed for 20 years. We've only been keeping records for 20 years, and it has never gone down. So what I hope with the launch of this National Stillbirth Action Plan, that we will see a reduction in stillbirth, a real reduction in stillbirth. Now I'm a little concerned that the plan may not be ambitious enough. The Senate Committee recommended a 20 per cent reduction in stillbirth over three years, the plan has a 20 per cent reduction in stillbirth after 28 weeks over five years. I think we could have been more ambitious, the experts tell me we could have been more ambitious. But I want to acknowledge States and Territories are already rolling out the Safer Baby Bundle and there's a lot of good work coming. I also hope that this plan contains a clear funding mechanism for autopsies, because we do not fund stillbirth autopsies in this country. That is one of the most fundamental things that we could do to understand why stillbirth occurs to help us learn how to prevent them in future.
JOURNALIST: Senator, have you had any follow up discussions with the Government about funding autopsies since those recommendations and since the Medicare Advisory Board rejected them?
KENEALLY: No, I have not and I raised this issue in Senate Estimates that the Medicare Services Advisory Board looked at the question of funding autopsies for stillbirth and said quote, ‘there was no clinical benefit to any living person’. Well, I'd like to make the point that stillbirth is the death of a baby inside its mother's body.
There is a clear benefit to a living person, there's a clear benefit to the mother to understand why that stillbirth happened and what can be done to prevent it in the future. There's a clear benefit to the subsequent children of that mother and if you doubt that, I'd like to introduce you to my 20-year-old son.
Because I had an autopsy done on my daughter and that told us that we were at significant risk of having another stillborn baby. It told us the steps that I could take to help prevent that from happening and it resulted about a year and a half later in the birth of my third child. I fully believe he owes his life to the autopsy that was performed on his older stillborn sister.
Any other questions? Great. Thanks, everyone.