15 July 2014


SUBJECT/S: Abbott Government axing the non-contributory and other family visa category; Abbott Government’s attempt to undermine legislation protecting workers employed in offshore resource projects; Scott Morrison’s refusal to update the Australian public on reported asylum seeker vessels

RICHARD MARLES, SHADOW MINISTER FOR IMMIGRATION AND BORDER PROTECTION: Today Labor has stood up for the ethnic communities of Australia. The decision by the Liberal Government to axe the non-contributory parent visa has brought enormous damage to the ethnic communities of this country. This prevents people from being able to bring members of their family, often elderly parents, to spend the last years of their life with them in this country unless they have up to a reported $120,000 to provide for them through the contributory parent visa category. Unless you’ve got the money, you’re not going to be able to bring your elderly parents to this country. That is the message that is being sent by this government. Looking after elderly parents is, for many communities, a deeply ingrained cultural tradition. And it is a traditional which is rooted in respect. Respect is the last thing that has been shown by Scott Morrison and Tony Abbott towards the immigrant communities of this country. This is a government which has failed to show any care or any compassion to the multicultural communities of Australia. Today we gave every member of the Liberal team in the House of Representatives the opportunity to stand up for their communities. The opportunity to stand up against the bullying of their Minister. And this is a challenge which they wholeheartedly failed. What we’ve seen today is the Liberal Government cut loose the multicultural communities of this country. I might pass on to Michelle Rowland to make some comments and then we’ll also take some questions.

MICHELLE ROWLAND, SHADOW MINISTER FOR CITIZENSHIP AND MULTICULTURALISM: This Government does not understand the needs of multicultural Australia. And that is evident by the fact today they voted against our disallowance motion to make sure that these regulations did not proceed. We were unsuccessful in that, but we did what the multicultural communities of Australia asked us to do. They asked us to stand up for them, to stand up for the right of them to bring out parents, to bring out carers and age dependant relatives. We did that. However, many members of the House of Representatives on the government’s side, those who directly appealed to many ethnic communities before the last election, let their communities down. People such as the Members for Reid, Banks and Barton. Each of them directly appealed to these communities and they let them down today. This government seriously underestimates how important these visa categories have been for Australians. For people to have the right to bring their relatives, especially their elderly parents out to see out the last years of their lives with their families in Australia. And these people contribute vastly to Australian society. They perform a variety of functions. They spend money in our communities, they use local services, they assist with childcare and homemaking. So the notion that they are a drain on society is absolutely wrong. They are tremendous contributors to our Australian community and our economy. So this decision today to vote down this disallowance motion is an absolute disgrace and all of those Members who voted with the Government today will be held to account by their local communities.

MARLES: Are there any questions?

JOURNALIST: Yeah, can I just ask on another issue – Labor has said they’re going to vote tomorrow with the Greens to disallow some visa regulations around maritime [inaudible]. The Government is saying if this goes through then everyone on an offshore vessel, who isn’t a permanent citizen will be in breach of their visa. Is that the case?

MARLES: Lets be completely clear about what’s going on here. At the end of our time in government, Labor sought to bring the activities of offshore work, within the migration zone, so people working in these facilities would be paid Australian conditions. That’s what we sought to do. What we’ve seen is this government’s attempt to repeal that legislation and now introduce regulations that fundamentally undermine it. This is a visa class which would utterly undermine the intent of the legislation to ensure that Australian conditions of employment apply to these workplaces. I have written to the Government, last night, and this morning again making it clear to the Government that what we want to see is regulations which enact the legislation that was passed through this parliament and provides Australian standards of employment to apply in these areas. We’ve made it clear that in the event they do not do that, we will seek to disallow and we will vote to disallow these regulations. That is what we are seeking to do. The Minister has a whole lot of powers to deal with this situation, but the most important step that the Assistant Minister can take here, and the Minister, is to put in place, regulations which honour the intent of the legislations that were put through this Parliament.

Is that your understanding that if you vote out those regulations effectively every offshore vessel will be in breach of their visa?

MARLES: That will be a matter for the Government –

JOURNALIST: That’s a pretty major thing isn’t it?

MARLES: No, it’s a matter for the Government as to how they handle this situation. They have options. For the Government to wash its hands of this, as implied in your question and to suggest that the passage of a disallowance motion through the Senate leaves that situation with them having no options is completely wrong. The government can deal with this situation but the significant way in which it could deal with it right now is to put in place regulations which do not contain within them the maritime crew visa which they know was put in these regulations specifically to undermine the intent of the legislation which was passed through this Parliament. 

JOURNALIST: The industry is warning this move could bring the entire industry to a halt. Is that the case?

MARLES: I don’t accept that. This is a matter for the Government. The Government has options available to it in order to deal with it. But the circumstances that we find ourselves in now are absolutely of the Government’s making. All we did in government was seek to create a situation where people working on these facilities would be protected by Australian standard conditions of employment. This Government has gone out of its way to undermine that. The circumstances that the Government finds itself in now are all of its own making. It can rectify it today or it can rectify it tomorrow. It has options available to it and this is them once again seeking to pass the buck.

JOURNALIST: The Government says Labor is doing the bidding here. Is that true?

MARLES: Labor is standing up for Australian conditions of employment and we have done that throughout our history. And I don’t think there is a better thing to do than to ensure that workplaces operating within this country and certainly within the vicinity of this country are operated on the basis of Australian conditions of employment. That is the only thing we sought to do with the legislation when we were in government, and that is the only thing we are seeking to do in terms of the disallowance of these regulations if in fact the Government does not come to its senses and do what is the sensible thing and that is to remove those parts of the regulations which seek to undermine the legislation that is being passed by this parliament.

JOURNALIST: During Question Time, Scott Morrison said the asylum seekers being held at sea were being treated with compassion. Do you believe that they can be treated with compassion if they’re still at sea?

MARLES: Well we’re talking about people who have been at sea now for more than a month. The conditions under which these people are existing, albeit on an Australian customs vessel, could not be flash. But what we need to be hearing from the Minister today is what’s actually going on. The fog of secrecy that we have seen from this Minister in relation to the Australian Customs vessel, presumably somewhere in the Indian Ocean, is a disgrace. We need to hear from him now. Where is this vessel? What is the state of those onboard? Both the asylum seekers and the Australian personnel who are there. We actually need to be hearing from our Minister about what he is doing. That is the fundamental step which this Minister has to take right now. Every minute that goes by that he does not give this information to the Australian people is another moment where he is treating the Australian people with total contempt.

JOURNALIST: Just saying that [inaudible] compassion isn’t [inaudible]

MARLES: It’s not good enough to throw out easy words like that without backing them up with any substance. We know that these people have been at sea for more than a month. We know that from the information that was provided from the government to the High Court. And it took the High Court to get any kind of information out of this government. The situation in which personnel and the asylum seekers on board this vessel might find themselves in now cannot be flash. But we actually need to hear, from the Government, what are their plans. And we should never forget that the mess that the Government is in, in relation to this issue. The fact that they are at risk of throwing out the humanitarian handbook is all because they are seeking to protect Scott Morrison’s political scoreboard and that is a disgrace.