MUA member Matt Lawrence on ABC Q&A

A great question by MUA member Matt Lawrence on the ABC QandA program:

ABC's Q&A Program, aired March 7, 2016

Panel Discussion about 457 visa holders working on domestic shipping routes.

Interviewees:

Josh Zepps, TV and Radio Presenter
Michaelia Cash, Federal Minister for Employment, Minister for Women, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service
Penny Wong, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Shadow Minister for Trade and Investment
Alan Jones, Broadcaster
Mia Freedman, mamamia.com.au


FULL TRANSCRIPT

TONY JONES:
We're going to go from foreign ownership to foreign jobs. The next question is from Matthew Lawrence. Go ahead.

 

QUESTION:
Yeah good evening. I'm an unemployed Australian merchant seafarer. Why would any government in their right mind replace tax-paying Australian seafarers with exploited foreign seafarers working on 457 visas, working for as low as $2 an hour?

 

PENNY WONG:
Good question.

 

TONY JONES:
Alan Jones, I will start you off on that.

 

ALAN JONES:
Well, it's obvious. I mean, there is no answer to your question. Absolutely ludicrous. Absolutely ridiculous. I mean, we were talking earlier on about gender equality, what about employment equality? Where is someone actually supporting Australian jobs? We pretend we're about it, and at the first snap that we get a chance, the opposite happens. The man's got an unanswerable question.

 

TONY JONES:
So you're essentially backing the MUA's campaign?

 

ALAN JONES:
Look, I don't care whose the campaign is. If someone is right, you back- if I think someone's right I back them, I don't whether they are unionists or what they are. And I think in this instance, that bloke's supporting Australian jobs and the capacity to take home a pay packet for his wife and kids, and he is being gazumped by someone who comes in more cheaply. I mean, the thing is happening all the time, in a sense. Free trade agreements are fine, you know, but how does an Australian company compete when it's rightly paying good wages so that people can have a dignity and a decent style of life in this country, and yet competing with countries who are importing stuff into Australia where they are paying their workers nothing?

 

TONY JONES:
Michaelia Cash.

 

MICHAELIA CASH:
Thank you very much for the question. Just ... to be, sort of, sure here, everything that you are referring to is currently happening under the legislation that the Labor Party brought in in 2012. Any of those licences that have been granted ...

 

PENNY WONG:
[Talks over] With the licences that you've rorted.

 

MICHAELIA CASH:
... are allowed to be granted under Labor's legislation.

 

PENNY WONG:
Which you have granted.

 

MICHAELIA CASH:
The Coalition Government has made no changes to the coastal shipping laws So everything you are referring to is happening under ...

 

TONY JONES:
[Interrupts] Would you like to, do you think you should?

 

MICHAELIA CASH:
Yes we would, absolutely.

 

TONY JONES:
Okay.

 

MICHAELIA CASH:
... because we believe that shipping needs to be competitive. Can I just give you some statistics ...

 

TONY JONES:
[Interrupts] Sorry, do you - just to pick up Alan Jones' point and our questioner's - do you think it should be Australian seamen on these vessels? People who lost their jobs ...

 

MICHAELIA CASH:
[Talks over] I think that we need to ensure that we are internationally competitive, because if we are not you will see far more jobs lost in Australia. Coastal shipping in Australia is on the decline, and it's on the decline because of the legislation that the Labor Party brought in. The number of vessels has gone from 30 down to 15. I'd be worried about that as well. But everything that is occurring is occurring under the 2012 legislation.

 

TONY JONES:
Okay I'm just [indistinct] ...

 

MICHAELIA CASH:
[Talks over] I want to see coastal shipping in Australia competitive.

 

TONY JONES:
Michaelia I'll just pause you for a sec. No I'll come back to you, because we don't want people yelling out, but you can quickly respond to that. Go ahead.

 

QUESTION:
Thank you. How can we compete with $2 an hour? It's impossible. What ...

 

PENNY WONG:
That's right.

 

QUESTION:
... can you pay a mortgage, your child's education, hospitals, on $2 an hour? Can you compete with 2- and the- you know, the 457 visa, that was supposed to be brought in to pull up a slack in a shortage of labour, not to replace Australian workers. It was here to replace a skill shortage, so if there was no workers available in Australia, yeah, sure, but as long as they are paid Australian rates and conditions, not to be brought in on ...

 

MICHAELIA CASH:
[Interrupts] Just with 457 workers, they have to be paid Australian rates and conditions, and in fact they're actually- by law they have to be paid above that.

 

QUESTION:
They're not. Some are not even getting paid.

 

MICHAELIA CASH:
[Talks over] 457 workers account for less than 1 per cent of Australia's workforce. Under the Coalition Government, the number of 457 people coming to Australia has declined from that under Labor, where it effectively doubled when Labor was in office.

 

TONY JONES:
Minister, I'm just going to - because you did mention the Labor Party before, in fact ...

 

PENNY WONG:
A few times.

 

TONY JONES:
... blame them for the situation. [Laughter] So, Penny Wong.

 

MICHAELIA CASH:
It's your legislation! It's your legislation.

 

PENNY WONG:
Let's be clear, what is happening on the MV Portland, what is happening in terms of coastal shipping under this Government is a deliberate government policy; it is a deliberate decision to not prioritise Australian jobs but to enable foreign workers on foreign crewed vessels to operate domestic routes. Now, our view is - and Michaelia says oh it is your act, the truth behind that everyone is that they couldn't get the numbers in the Senate to change the legislation, so they've done it via the back door, via licences that they are issuing.
So let's be really clear ...

 

MICHAELIA CASH:
[Talks over] The licences that are issued are allowed to be issued under Labor's legislation.

 

PENNY WONG:
Well it is a change of pol- which we never issued under us. Which were never issued under us, so let's be clear. Now, our view is we should think about domestic shipping in the way we think about the Hume Highway or our railway drivers, you to have an Australian licence, they're crewed by Australian workers on Australian wages and conditions. Why we would allow a situation where we have people, foreign crews, when Australians are available, who are not required to observe the same conditions that Australian seafarers are employed under, why we would voluntarily say we have to have them in the system because we have to be internationally competitive ,when the US doesn't do it and a number of other countries don't do to.

 

ALAN JONES:
[Talks over] Who is going to give this bloke a job tomorrow? This is the issue. Who gets this bloke a job tomorrow? This bloke has been run out of town by cheap labour, that's the issue. I mean we can talk until the cows come home.