FEDERAL member for Hinkler Paul Neville reiterated a call for a more aggressive government commitment to combat illegal and disreputable harvesting contractors within the small crop industry.
The call followed concerns expressed at a meeting of representatives from the Bundaberg Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association, and related horticulture agencies.
In a subsequent speech to Parliament, Mr Neville said past investigations into the issue had failed to preventing unscrupulous operators from rorting the system and avoiding effective prosecution.
Workers are not being paid proper wages and superannuation entitlements.
"This inaction is creating fertile ground for illegal immigration, which, in turn, leads to the exploitation of foreign workers, who hide their identities behind the curtain of a paperless regime," Mr Neville said.
Mr Neville said legitimate businesses and workers within the horticulture industry in the Bundaberg and Childers districts were suffering financial and competitive difficulties at the hands of the illegal contractors.
"Undoubtedly there are many legitimate and compliant harvesting contractors operating in this country," he said.
"(But) I am astounded that the relevant departments responsible for maintaining profitable small business and fair work practices have neglected their duties by not stamping out illegal operators.
"As a result of the inaction, workers are not being paid proper wages and superannuation entitlements.
"Australia is not collecting valuable taxation.
"And legitimate operators and contractors are copping public rebuke and departmental flak."
Mr Neville said three significant employers in the Hinkler electorate had gone into receivership in the past 18 months.
He said all three had suffered media attention because of unpaid wages and entitlements.
"The reality is that, in most of these cases, unpaid wages are in fact the responsibility of harvesting contractors," Mr Neville said.
He said such behaviour was having a detrimental impact on regional tourism.
He said it created a negative image of the district among international itinerant workers and backpackers.
Mr Neville said there was a strong case for a cross-departmental agency taskforce to combat the issue.
He also argued for 'flying squads' to combat the issue.
Mr Neville said these should include representatives from the Australian Taxation Office, ASIC, Immigration and Fair Work Australia.
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