Bill's Speeches

SPEECH - MOTION TO SUSPEND STANDING ORDERS – PROTECTING AUSTRALIANS’ PENALTY RATES - CANBERRA - MONDAY, 27 FEBRUARY 2017

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I move that so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent the Leader of the Opposition introducing immediately the Fair Work Amendment (Protecting Take Home Pay) Bill 2017, the bill being given priority over all other business for passage through all stages, and if consideration of the bill has not concluded by 4:30pm on Monday, 27 February 2017, any necessary questions to complete consideration of the bill being put without delay. 

Today, I am offering the Prime Minister the chance to work with us to protect penalty rates and the take-home pay of hard working Australians. 

I am offering the Prime Minister the opportunity to fix penalty rates on a bipartisan basis, with no political rancour. 

I know the Government is busy worrying about each other but Labor is here because we are concerned for the conditions of up to 700,000 of our fellow Australians who are having their take-home pay cut. 

We believe that standing orders should be suspended so we can vote to stop the cut to hundreds of thousands of Australians' take home pay going ahead and we want to prevent it from ever happening again in the future. 

This is a chance for the Prime Minister to show some leadership. 

I remind him of what he said at the National Press Club only this month, and I quote: 

“We keenly understand how many families are just managing right now; the cost of everything seems to be going up much more than wages.” 

So this is a test of the Prime Minister and the Government. Cooperate with Labor to protect the conditions of ordinary people, or vote to cut their pay. 

The Government can stand up for hard working Australians, or it can choose to attack us. 

I've got a feeling I know what this government will do; they will attack us rather than deal with the substantive issues. 

And let's be clear, a decision to not act, a decision to not remedy this decision of the Fair Work Commission is a decision to support it. 

There is no playing in the traffic on this issue. There is no fence that this government can sit on, no table to hide under, there is no Tony Abbott to blame for this one. 

This is an important issue. 

It is an important issue for up to 700,000 Australians in retail, hospitality, pharmacy and fast-food who will cop a pay cut. 

Ironically, the only circumstance they will not cop a pay cut is if they're covered by a union agreement for the time being. 

Let's be clear about the consequences of what we're talking about, just the facts: 

- A full time or part-time retail worker, who will work a full 8-hour shift on a Sunday will lose up to $77 a week. 

- A part-time retail employee who earns $30,000 a year; this will be the equivalent of cutting 11 per cent of their annual income.

This is a bad, bad, bad decision. 

It is bad for: 

- women workers

- young people

- lower and middle-income earners

- the regions

- enterprise bargaining and productivity

- confidence

- consumer spending 

It is actually bad for the economy. 

It is bad for jobs and it is certainly bad for growth. 

This cut to penalty rates is straight out of Liberal Economics 101. 

If you have a choice between giving the banks and the biggest corporations in Australia a $50 billion tax cut, or going after carers, or people relying on Medicare, or now, low-paid workers - the Government always chooses the big end of town over the rest of Australia. 

And this couldn't be a wage cut at a more inauspicious or poor time. 

Our economy is wallowing in mediocrity: 

-          57,000 full time jobs have been lost in the last 12 months.

-          We have record low wages growth

-          We have inequality at a 75 year high.

-          The top 20 per cent of households in Australia now earn 12 times more than the bottom 20 per cent. 

The Government has policies which are effectively rewarding people for speculating on housing - but punish working people with cuts to their wages. 

The questions the Government should answer are: 

Why should the lowest paid Australians pay the price for economic change? 

Why should the most vulnerable bear the burden of this Government's economic failures? 

Now, the Fair Work Commission acknowledged that the cut in pay would not be matched by more hours. It says: 

…most existing employees would probably face reduced earnings. 

As it is improbable that, as a group, existing workers’ hours on Sundays would rise sufficiently to offset the income effects of penalty rate reductions. 

They describe the people who would be most affected as:

Many of these employees earn just enough to cover weekly living expenses, saving money is difficult and unexpected expenses produce considerable financial distress. 

This Government is itching to give the big end of town a tax cut, yet they want to give a pay cut to people, or stand by and do nothing as the people who serve them in the shops get a pay cut. 

We understand that the minimum safety net in penalty rates are an essential part of the Australian safety net: 

-          Unlike the Government, we are not ashamed of having a strong and high minimum wage.

-          Unlike the Government, we are not ashamed that we have strong penalty rates.

-          We have the strongest Medicare in the world, when done properly.

-          We have the best universal retirement income system in the world with superannuation 

We do not believe that when Australia treats its working and middle class people amongst the best in the world - that is not a cause of national shame, it's a cause of national pride. 

Our Opposition put a submission into defending penalty rates. Our Opposition stands ready at the next hearing to again, oppose this decision. 

Now the Government has form on penalty rates - more than 60 Liberals and Nationals from the Prime Minister down, are on the record advocating for penalty rates to be cut. 

I did have the opportunity to study what the Member for Wentworth said in this place when he voted for WorkChoices -  he said: 

You have to free the market to do its work and let the cost of setting the clearing price—be it for labour, shares, home units or loaves of bread—be as low as possible. 

Well, this Government is like the proverbial dog that has caught the truck; it does not know what to do. And instead of doing anything about the decision, all this Government is going to do is attack Labor. 

The problem for the Government is, they are the Government. 

Will they turn up at the hearings in March to support or oppose the decision? 

Will they vote for or against legislation to support the take home pay of workers? 

This is a bad decision for women workers. 

We have a gender pay gap in this country which is roughly 17 per cent. 

But these industries, these awards covering nearly 700,000 people; retail, hospitality and fast-food, are predominately industries that employ women. So this will exacerbate the gender pay-gap. 

We've got young people; many young people work in these industries. 

They're working two jobs, supporting themselves at uni or TAFE. 

They contribute to the economy in ways that previous generations haven't had to. 

Australia's young people pay their HECs, pay their Medicare, they can't get into the housing market because of the policies of this Government and now they face a pay cut when they go to work on weekends. 

And they get no guarantee in return: 

-          for more hours

-          for a pay rise

-          for job security. 

This is bad for the regions - not that we would need to tell the Nationals about that. 

The regions already have a 7 per cent pay-gap. So the average wages in the regions of Australia are 7 per cent lower than in the cities. 

And if penalty rates and lower wages deliver more jobs, why is it that even with lower wages in the regions, unemployment is what it is in the regions? 

Then of course, it is time for the Nationals to stand up. 

And the problem for the Nationals is that they're so scared of One Nation, they can't think clearly about the issues effecting their voters. 

Here is some free advice to the Government from the Prime Minister to the Nationals: 

-          if you want to beat One Nation, you don't do it by joining it.

-          If you want to beat them, you do it not by moving to the right of One Nation - instead, vote with us in a bipartisan fashion to stand up for these rates. 

But of course, the Government instead, when it's got this decision - you could just see them in Liberal Party Headquarters, damage control bunker as it is affectionately known, saying: 'What do we do? Do we back the decision, or oppose the decision?' 

And then of course their default position: 'No, we will just attack Labor. We will just call Labor names instead of dealing with the issue'. 

Well Labor will stand on its record and we have an opportunity here for the Government to stand up for penalty rates. 

The Government think the electorate doesn't like them because Mr Abbott and Mr Turnbull's fighting. 

The real problem here is that the people of Australia don't like the Government because they're so hopelessly out of touch. 

Now the Prime Minister has and his spokespeople have sought to lecture us about the umpire's decision. 

Well remember what they thought about the umpire's decision in the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal? They were so unhappy with that umpire's decision that they sacked the umpire. 

But let us be clear - we are taking this decision on penalty rates to a bigger umpire; the Parliament of Australia. 

And this Parliament of Australia can decide if it agrees or disagrees with the decision of the Fair Work Commission - and we don't. 

But if this Parliament, because the Government has the numbers, decides to defeat protecting the take home pay of workers conditions. If they decide to do this and defeat our legislation, then what we will do is take this decision to the biggest umpire in Australia: the people of Australia. 

We want to fix this with you. But if you won’t join with us, we will go it alone. 

Every day up to the next election, we are happy to put our case to the most important umpire in Australian politics, the people of Australia. 

We are happy to put our case to protect the take home pay of the lowest paid workers in Australia and we will do that every day between now and the election.


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