Labour Hire Licensing Bill 2017

I take great pleasure in joining the debate on the Labour Hire Licensing Bill 2017. ‘Call me a cynic’ — quelle surprise! The National Party do not support anything to do with the safety of workers — not one thing. They do not support a fair rate of pay or anything to do with safety. Do you know what it reminds me of? No-one in this place could possibly be unaware of that awful, awful exposé by Four Corners showing the exploitation of overseas workers in our fresh food and poultry industries. If the member for Murray Plains does not know about that, he must have been living under a rock. But no, he does not want to refer to that. He wants to cast aspersions and say we are the party of the old and looking over our shoulders. Give me a break, National Party.

What it reminds me of is when a previous Attorney-General, the former member for Niddrie, Rob Hulls, introduced working with children checks and the National Party were opposed to those: ‘It’ll be the end of the world. It’ll be terrible for people on farms’. But what we now know is that we need even better protection for children.

It is up to us as legislators to protect the most vulnerable, and what that Four Corners program showed was that overseas workers are vulnerable and they are being exploited. The member for Murray Plains said he had been a producer — a fruit grower. I believe he grew tomatoes. I lived in Mildura, and I picked my fair share of fruit. It was what every teenager did to get a bit of extra money, and I did it just as I left school too. I picked wine grapes. I worked with vegetables. I picked zucchinis. I picked rockmelons. I picked watermelons, button squash and oranges. It was tough, backbreaking work.

As the member for Murray Plains would know, it is the norm in summertime that you start pre-dawn, when it is still dark — so you do not want to be having the curtains faded. You get up because you try to get as much work done as you can before that hot Mallee sun starts burning the bejesus out of you. I worked for a grower in McCracken Street, Red Cliffs. This grower was such a tightwad, and she did not actually want to get up early — she was a bit lazy — but she did not trust us to get out there and do the work without her having a look at us. We were not just picking; we were actually weeding and all of that. She was such a tightwad that she would not let us start until 8 o’clock because she wanted to see us. A number of people had heat-related stress. She was a tightwad in bringing the water around. She would count out the biscuits at morning tea. But that is absolutely nothing — that was a grower. Some of these unscrupulous labour hire firms have taken worker exploitation to a new degree.

I think the member for Murray Plains was probably educated in the same faith as me. I actually recall a papal encyclical called Rerum Novarum, the right of workers to organise. Late in the 19th century Pope Leo XIII said it was important to organise the workforce to protect against the excesses of capitalism. In what we have before us here — and it is our responsibility to protect the most vulnerable — we are protecting against the excesses of capitalism. We are actually protecting growers as well because there is going to be a framework so there will not be cowboys in the industry.

Mr Walsh — How much does that cost?

Ms Green – ‘How much does that cost?’, from the architect of the Office of Living It Up, money that —

Mr Walsh — You’re getting desperate.

Ms Green – No, I am not desperate at all. It is always, ‘Do as I say, not as I do’. The other thing I do remember is that the National Party always opposed safety. Anytime we brought forward any occupational health and safety bills or anything to do with training for Country Fire Authority (CFA) volunteers — I recall numerous bills in this place, numerous volunteers —

Mr Walsh interjected.

Ms Green – I am not biting. I am proud to have been awarded 10 years service in the CFA, but anyway, it is not about me; it is actually about the National Party and the Liberal Party never standing up for the most vulnerable. They never stand up for the most vulnerable.

I recall that when I was in the Office of Rural Affairs we proposed to the Labor government — I was a public servant in those times — that we introduce rollover protection for tractors to protect farmers and to address the fact that people working on farms, who are generally the owners and the families, were the most likely to be killed and injured in a workplace accident. Did the National Party support it then? Constantly they say that safety is about excess regulation. I go back to the CFA. They would say, ‘We don’t want accredited training for volunteers’. Well, since the Linton bushfire we have lost one firefighter on the job during a fire. But after those firefighters died at Linton they opposed the introduction of national accredited training. They could not care less whether it is people being paid for work or not being paid for work, they are not interested in safety and they are not interested in protecting the most vulnerable.

The member for Williamstown mentioned the workers at the airport. I have many people living in my electorate who work at the airport. The idea that you would have baggage handlers working on four-hour split shifts and have them sleeping on hessian bags in rat-infested situations because they cannot afford to go home — why on earth would anyone cut workers pay and safety in this situation of security issues that we have across the world in aviation? If you have got an unhappy workforce — I mean, seriously? If you are getting slack on letting people in and out, is that really what we should be doing in the 21st century?

I also want to talk about Les Butterworth, who was a constituent of mine. He was the most beautiful, beautiful man. He was well respected across football circles throughout the northern suburbs. He was a plasterer. He had his own business. He came to see me and said, Danielle, I’m the president of this plasterers association. We’re all small business owners. I’m devastated by what I’m seeing happening in safety in plastering and in cladding, and I’m devastated seeing the overseas workers being exploited and the undercutting that is going on’. It is just like when we needed working with children checks to be stronger after we discovered that there had been childhood exploitation going on for generations: 10 years after Les Butterworth was blowing the whistle on poor cladding practices, exploitation of workers and lack of safety, we had the case of the Lacrosse building and we had the Grenfell Tower tragedy.

But if you are on the other side, you will always deny that there is any problem — ‘It’s about union power’. It is not; it is about treating with respect the most vulnerable when they go to work to earn a living. They have portrayed us as anti-labour hire — we are not — and as though we do not understand seasonal work. Of course we do — many of us have done it. The minister has done an awesome job, those involved with the inquiry have done a great job and I commend the bill to the house.