Mr PASIN (Barker) (10:16): My electorate has, to its eastern boundary, the South Australian and Victorian borders. I grew up in, and live in, the city of Mount Gambier. That’s 18 kilometres from the Victorian border. All along my electorate’s eastern boundary are communities like Mount Gambier that exist in very close proximity to the Victorian border—in many cases much, much closer to the border than Mount Gambier is. Indeed, I have constituents who own property that spans the border. So, when the concept of mutual recognition of licences and registrations was first canvassed in this place, I’ve got to tell you that I got excited.
A bill like this one—the Mutual Recognition Amendment Bill 202—is not the kind of legislation that normally gets members of parliament excited, but, when you live in a community that’s so close to a jurisdictional state border, you understand the kind of rubbish that you have to deal with because of the difference in regulations and red tape spanning those state borders. In effect, in my community, these borders are nothing more than artificial lines on a map. We traverse them daily and, on many occasions, multiple times a day. That was highlighted during the lockdown. It was increasingly clear to me that, during the lockdown phase of the COVID-19 response, decision-makers were making decisions about cross-border travel in circumstances where they’d never lived in a cross-border community. For many of them, travelling across a border is an opportunity to pull the car over and take a happy snap with the family as you’re travelling, for example, into Victoria. In my case, when I had very young children, when they were having trouble sleeping, I would put them in the car and drive them to Victoria because it was a convenient 36-kilometre, two-way trip. Invariably, they’d fall asleep. The joke in our household was that the way we got our children to go to sleep was to drive them to Victoria.
When you live in a community like mine, when you represent a community like mine, stories of frustration experienced by tradesmen and tradeswomen, by real estate agents, by plumbers, by architectures and by others abound. There are examples where an electrician attends a rural property and can work on the homestead but can’t work on the shearing shed. There are examples where a real estate agent can sell one portion of a property but not the other and needs to work in consultation and collaboration with, for example, a Victorian real estate agent.
We don’t have a lot to thank COVID for, but there are some silver linings on the dark COVID cloud, and I’d respectfully suggest to you, Madam Deputy Chair, that this is one of them. COVID forced the Prime Minister and first ministers to work in an expedited and collaborative way like they’ve never had occasion to work before. That model thankfully, through the good agency of the assist minister, means that we can achieve this kind of reform which is eminently sensible, is a great example of common sense, but that could never be achieved in the 120 or so years since Federation.
So what does it mean? Well, it means that if you’re a tradesman in my electorate and you’re qualified in South Australia you don’t need to write off to the requisite authority in Victoria for approval to undertake work in Victoria. You can simply move across the border and do that work. The best example which I can give you is this: when you gain your driver’s licence you don’t then have to register that driver’s licence in Victoria, New South Wales and Tasmania, you’re simply entitled to drive. Your driver’s licence is acknowledged in a mutual way by those other jurisdictions and so it will be for professions that require licences and registrations across the country. That includes builders, electricians, plumbers, architects, real estate agents, security guards and one profession that I don’t think will get a lot of attention in this debate, but is so important, teaching. In my electorate there are very many teachers, very many of whom do occasional and part-time teaching to supplement, perhaps, other incomes or part retirements, who live in Victoria but can’t come to where the population centres are in South Australia and teach without going through the unnecessary regulatory steps to seek approval and these things. That’s a silly circumstance.
I’m very pleased that this sensible change has met with widespread acclaim. I’m not surprised it has met with the approval of many bodies across the nation. I think this is the kind of sensible reform that shows the parliament and parliaments of this nation at their best. Let me quote the Australian Professional Teachers Association who said, ‘Many teachers in one jurisdiction currently do not pursue employment in another jurisdiction because of the red tape and cost involved to simply become registered.’ That will be a thing of the past. The Civil Contractors Federation states: ‘The implementation of reforms that improve worker mobility and enable them to move more seamlessly between projects and at less cost is critical to achieving a more efficient delivery of Australia’s infrastructure pipelines.’ It stands to reason. If workers have to pause the work they’re doing to seek approval through an administrative process that invariably takes time. Not only does it delay that work, but it acts as a dead weight on productivity in this country.
These reforms, according to PwC, will benefit over 124,000 workers—to be honest, I think that number is set conservatively low—who currently work across borders and will no longer have additional fees associated with their licences or registrations. In addition, an additional 44,000 workers are expected to work across borders following these reforms. I can think of many in my communities who speak to me regularly about simply not quoting on work across the border, because they’d never gotten around to being registered. I think about the many border communities in my electorate and what they went through during COVID-19 because of state border restrictions, and I don’t think we have a deep enough appreciation for much of, nor have we seen the full impact of, that psychological sequelae. I’m so pleased that this legislation will provide a direct benefit to them.
I support this bill. It’s a winner for those of us that represent cross-border communities. It’s a win for common sense. Let’s hope we see many more reforms like this because of the architecture that has established itself at the prime ministerial and first-minister levels as a result of COVID. May that be the silver lining on this dark COVID cloud. I commend the bill to the House.