Bill's Speeches

SECOND READING SPEECH: FAIR WORK AMENDMENT (RESTORING PENALTY RATES) BILL 2018 - CANBERRA - MONDAY, 25 JUNE 2018

One of the great frustrations that Australians have with the state of politics in this country is that so often the Parliament seems consumed by arguments that are not relevant to their daily lives.

But this legislation is not one of those moments.
 
This legislation is as real, as practical and as urgent as it gets.
 
This is not some esoteric matter.
 
This legislation will restore the Sunday penalty rates of up to 700,000 working people. It will protect their take-home pay into the future.
 
For tens of thousands of Australians, cutting penalty rates means ripping money out of people's pay.
 
Now, for those on the other side of the House, they don't just think this is acceptable, they actually think it is commendable. 
 
It is their version of how they think this country should be run.
 
That you can take money off the vulnerable, yet at the same time provide $80 billion this week in legislation to those at the top end of town and the big banks.
 
We will, in this legislation, protect the take-home pay of Australian workers.
 
We will protect a principle as old as the Labor Party and the trade union movement: a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.
 
Every single member of my Labor team supports this legislation. Because we support penalty rates.
 
We support working Australians.
 
We support fair reward for the sacrifices that people who work the uncomfortable and hard hours to be paid properly. 
 
We know that penalty rates are not a little bit extra, not just the cream on the cake.
 
Penalty rates help people put food on the table and petrol in the car.
 
The 70 dollars extra on a Sunday might not mean much to the frontbench of this Coalition Government, but it does mean that your child can go on that school excursion.
 
It means that you can pay your rent on time or the utilities bills, which keep going up and up under this government.
 
And we understand that this is a broader economic question too - because cutting penalty rates hurts our economy.
 
Cutting penalty rates means that working people have less money to spend in small businesses, in the shops and the cafes.
 
It dampens confidence and it deepens inequality.
 
Cutting penalty rates is bad news for young people and it’s bad news for Australian women.
 
On current pace, under this government, Australia is 150 years away from closing the gender pay gap.
 
And when the government cuts pay in industries where the majority of employees are women, such as retail, such as hospitality, it is the cause of working women that gets further put to the back of the queue.
 
Cutting penalty rates is a shocker in the regions too. It takes millions of dollars out of the pockets of regional workers and the economies of those regional towns.
 
I say to those National Party MPs who proudly boast of their great record of achievement: why are you so proud of representing electorates which are persistently the most disadvantaged? When does the National Party get with the program of lifting working people's conditions?
 
When we talk about lifting people's conditions, what the Government refuses to admit - or indeed they just lie about - is that when working people have an increase in their penalty rates, when they're not arbitrarily cut away from weekend and public holidays, what it means is that these people spend the money they earn. 
 
When you live on 40 and 50 and 60 thousand dollars a year, you don't have the option to invest your money in beautiful schemes to minimise your tax, you spend every dollar you get. 
 
So when this government engages in policies which advance wage stagnation, which restrict the growth of workers’ wages, what they are doing is starving the economy. Starving the economy not just of expenditure, but starving it of confidence.
 
We know, under this government, that power bills are through the roof, we know that out-of-pocket healthcare costs have gone up and up and up and still further up. And they have the lowest wage growth on record.
 
What the Liberals and Nationals have been doing in the last week is talking about ‘putting money back in people's pockets’.
 
Well I say to you: here is your chance. Right here, right now. 
 
If you want to do something which actually helps people, then vote for this legislation to restore penalty rates.
 
This isn't a proposition on the never-never, if this legislation is passed, we can save people's incomes on the 1st of July this year.
 
And the only way to prevent the cuts to penalty rates is to bring this legislation on for a vote - and to vote for it.
 
The only way to protect hairdressers and workers in clubs around Australia, who are next on the chopping block if cutting penalty rates becomes the norm, is to vote for this legislation.
 
Now, this is not the first time that Labor has put this case forward. Honourable Members will recall that in March of last year, I moved legislation to overturn the first round of cuts to penalty rates.

We predicted then that the cuts to penalty rates would lead to the stagnation of wages growth and the evidence is in.

But the stubbornness of the government and their wage-cutting agenda for working people in this country defies the evidence and the negative consequences to families and households. 

And when you look at the legislation this government brought on last week, to provide $7000 tax cuts for people on $200,000 a year and they can't support restoring $70 a week for shop assistants and retail workers and people in hospitality, it screams much about their values. 

When they had a chance to help the union of barristers and the league of association of investment bankers, they brought the vote on in record time. 

When they had the opportunity to write a taxpayer cheque for the club of millionaires and the top end of town, they moved at lightning speed.
 
Never get between a Liberal and a tax cut for a millionaire. 
 
And before the Prime Minister tours the country demanding applause and confetti and doing those proof-of-life videos that he can actually speak to Australians.

Where he obviates the need to talk to them by going through his selfie proposition: 'I'll have a selfie, that avoids me talking to you and listening to you and deals with any awkwardness because I haven't got a clue about your life'.

Then he goes on, he will expect praise. He'll expect praise for his $10 a week tax refund. 

What I say is he'll get a lot more praise if he comes to the dispatch box, instead of hiding in office, and says:

'Yes I will support restoring penalty rates arbitrarily cut'.

Now of course what we've seen from the government propaganda machine is they say that Labor supports cutting penalty rates because we endorse enterprise bargaining. 

There is a world of difference between workers consenting and bargaining for improvements in their overall rates of pay and arbitrary penalty rate cutting with no compensation any hour of the day, any day of the week. 

This government has never - and when we listen to their Ministers carry on, always remember when you hear their Ministers and their Prime Minister and they talk about workers – reality is they need to get the microscope out, they have no knowledge of how people really construct their lives.

Ask them next time: have you ever negotiated a pay rise for a worker? 
 
Have you ever sat there and bargained - constructively with business - but always on the side of workers?
 
Have you ever stood up to improve their redundancy pay?
 
Have you ever stood up to give them a greater say in their rosters and their shifts?
 
Of course not. 
 
This is a government who loves to talk about life experience - no life experience ever representing workers and getting them a better, safer, more reliable and secure job in their lives.
 
And of course though, we'll hear the other argument about penalty rates.  They have a second argument which is, we're now in a 7-24 economy.

Somehow penalty rates are a thing of the past because somehow we now live 24 hours a day, 7 days a week - as if we never did before penalty rates. 
But the point about it is that if we want to have a seven day a week, 24 hour economy, there's always a worker making that happen.

And we do believe and we make no apology for saying, when you're on 40 and 50and 60 and 100,000 dollars a year - we actually want to see you do better. And we appreciate the work that you put in for our economy.
 
But fundamentally this legislation about penalty rates goes to the heart of the national priorities of this parliament and the values of the two competing parties and movements who seek to form a government in this country. 

We think that if you earn penalty rates, you're not selfish or greedy. You're not an inconvenience to the business. You're not just another loaf of bread which we should try and find the lowest unit price as the Prime Minister once famously said in the exchange of labour for pay.
 
We respect the contribution of working people, we honour it.

If you work unsociable hours away from your family, away from the opportunities to have quality family time, we actually think you should be paid something for this.

And we do not and never have and never will support arbitrary cutting of penalty rates.

There is no economic theory which backs this up other than if you have an addiction to increasing inequality in this country. 

So, as I said, this is not some esoteric matter, fighting for people’s penalty rates.

This is a critically important week in the life of this parliament. 

This week the Australian people will find out whether this parliament is prepared to back-in legislation giving $80 billion away, principally to the top end of town, whilst at the same time refusing to protect the penalty rates of hundreds of thousands of Australian workers. 
 
It is the starkest test of the priorities of the government and the opposition. 

This government's attitude to penalty rates sums up its attitudes to the priorities of the nation.

Will we tell in parliament this week 700,000 Australians that they'll have to have a cut in their living standards, at the same time will we tell the top end of town that we have $80 billion we want to give you?

Labor will always back working people in this country.


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