Leader of the Victorian Nationals, Peter Walsh, and Member for Mildura Peter Crisp discussed numerous issues facing the region this week.
By VINNIE RODI
LEADER of the Victorian Nationals, and Shadow Minister for Agriculture, Peter Walsh, has labelled the Victorian Government’s impending Labour Hire Licensing Scheme as “a Trojan horse.”
In Mildura this week to catch up with key stakeholders, and familiarise himself with local issues ahead of this November’s Victorian Election, Mr Walsh said the scheme was cause for concern for local labour hire contractors and growers reliant on such a workforce.
The Labour Hire Licensing Bill 2017 is currently before the Victorian Upper House after being passed through the Lower House earlier this year. Under the scheme, providers of labour hire will be required to hold a licence and be listed on a public register, while hosts will be required to use only licensed providers.
To obtain a licence, providers will be required to pass “a fit and proper person test” and show compliance with workplace laws, labour hire laws and minimum accommodation standards. A licensing inspectorate will monitor and investigate compliance with the scheme, and rogue operators who flout the rules will be liable for civil and criminal penalties.
The scheme was devised following the Victorian Inquiry into the Labour Hire Industry and Insecure Work, chaired by Professor Anthony Forsyth, and which uncovered widespread abuse, exploitation and underpayment of workers across Victoria, including here in Mildura.
“This is an example of where ideology has overridden common sense,” Mr Walsh said about the scheme. “My understanding is that the Government has the numbers to get this passed in the Upper House as is.
“Effectively the Government is going to set up this scheme and charge employers to fund it.
“At the moment you have all the Federal industrial laws and the Fair Work Commission in effect, there is a structure that is already there that is proven to work, and now the State Government is going to duplicate it, and do so at the expense of employers.
“That just defies logic for me. This is effectively a Trojan horse to allow unions the right of entry onto properties – particularly the National Union of Workers (NUW).”
Member for Mildura Peter Crisp, who accompanied Mr Walsh on his tour of the region this week, maintained his stance that the scheme is “overkill.” He has also previously flagged concerns about the estimated $8.5million cost to run and maintain the scheme.
“At this stage everyone needs to realise that things in this space are going to be different, and they are going to be more difficult,” Mr Crisp said.
Mr Crisp said that while the scheme will take time to set up once passed, he was worried that it will come into effect in the middle of the 2018/19 table grape season.
Mr Walsh, meanwhile, commented on several issues currently facing the region during his visit, particularly the Victorian Government’s decision to scrap the Greater Sunraysia Pest Free Area Industry Development Committee (GSPFA IDC) at the end of the year.
The decision follows the result of a grower poll, which saw a low 23 percent of eligible growers respond. As a result, Victorian Minister for Agriculture, Jaala Pulford, announced that the IDC will be abandoned, saying she feared the committee did not have the support of industry.
The move has been poorly received in the region, with Mr Crisp leading a chorus of concerned stakeholders calling for a re-think, or another vote. Mr Walsh this week also joined that chorus.
“We have to have another vote,” he said. “It’s imperative that this happens, the timing of the poll was not the best in the sense that it happened in the middle of harvest for a lot of stone fruit and table grape growers, and it should be done again.
“Watching the commentary from industry stakeholders, everyone is concerned about what the ramifications of not having a fruit fly committee are, and it is just too important an issue to drop the ball.
“At the moment the ball is sitting at the Minister’s feet, and she needs to pick it up, and hold another poll. The only way we continue the fight against fruit fly is with a partnership between government, industry and community.
“That’s what the current fruit fly committee has done well, and that is involve the community as well as industry in this. It would be tragic is that structure disappears because of a failure to conduct another poll.”
Mr Walsh also commented on Minister Pulford’s comments this week indicating that support to fight fruit fly in Sunraysia will continue even without the IDC in place.
“There will be no structure and no ownership of it within the community, you have to have that structure driving it,” he said. “The people on that committee have made a real contribution… to actually get buy-in from the community, and we don’t want to see that lost.”
Mr Crisp said the IDC had also helped remove 2500 unwanted or unkept trees from the urban area in the last two years, saying the time was right for Mildura Rural City Council to “step up.”
“They (Council) have by-laws that can enable them to remove feral fruit trees, and that can be done at the owner’s expense,” he said. “People have a choice – remove your feral tree and have the fruit fly committee pay for it, or Council can come in, remove the trees, and you pay for it.
“These feral trees have to go. They are a problem… the carrot has been in place for two years, now it’s time for Council to apply the stick.”
Mr Walsh also commented on Council’s decision last week to seek a $19million election commitment from all sides of politics for the first phase of its Mildura Future Ready (MFR) Plan.
MFR aims to improve employment, health and well-being across the Mildura Local Government Area, while also attracting and retaining jobs and diversity for Mildura’s population, through the delivery of four key projects – the Mildura Motorsport and Community Precinct (MMCP), the Mildura South Regional Sporting Precinct (MSRSP), the second stage of the Mildura Riverfront redevelopment and the return of Mildura’s passenger rail services.
The first phase of MFR focuses on stage one of the MMCP, and the MSRSP, and requires a combination of Federal, State, ratepayer and private funding to proceed.
Council has currently applied for funding under two separate Federal Government grants, and is awaiting confirmation as to whether or not those applications will be successful.
In total Council requires $28.4million in Federal funding, $19million in State funding and $1.4million in private investment to push ahead with the first phase of MFR, while also contributing $8million of its own funds.
Mr Walsh, however, said “these sorts of projects work best when there is a genuine partnership between the three levels of government.”
“At the moment there is not a genuine partnership, it’s about Mildura Council wanting State and Federal Government to effectively fund the whole project,” he said. “While they have $8million on the table, they’re asking for substantially more from the other levels of government.”
Mr Walsh said the Coalition had, however, committed $80million to improve rail crossings across the State if they win office this November.
“Which we see as a big win for industry, but also the first step toward the return of passenger rail in Mildura, which is also part of Mildura Future Ready,” he said.
Mr Walsh said it was his belief that November’s State Election remained “a straight 50/50 bet.”
“Both sides have a lot of work to do, and it’s up for grabs,” he said.
Mr Walsh also added to the recent discussion that Mildura remains a safe Nationals seat.
“There is no such thing as a safe seat, it’s a myth of politics that has been disproved time and time again at elections,” he said. “What’s needed as a local member is to be a champion, and someone who will speak up on the issues that are important to their community, and Peter has done that and will continue to do that if re-elected.
“Peter brings two very important elements to his role as a local member – he has great empathy for those constituents that go to him who seek individual assistance, and more importantly he has a really good understanding of the Sunraysia region, and can articulate the needs of the community at the highest level in Melbourne.”