Parliament Question Time - Flexible Workplaces

12 February 2013

Mr CHEESEMAN (Corangamite) (14:14): My question is to the Minister for Employment, Workplace Relations, Financial Services and Superannuation. Will the minister update the house on the government's plans to improve flexibility and fairness for working families? Are there any obstacles to these plans?

Mr SHORTEN (Maribyrnong—Minister for Financial Services and Superannuation and Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations) (14:14): I thank the member for Corangamite for his question, because he knows, as everyone on this side of the House knows, that Labor are always upfront about what we are going to do in workplace relations. On this side of the House, we believe in work-life-family balance. On this side of the House, we believe in cooperation between employees and employers. On this side of the House, we believe in flexible workplaces; we believe in productive workplaces. That is why I am pleased to advise the member for Corangamite that Labor will extend the National Employment Standards, which provide the right to request flexible work arrangements, to more Australian workers. The sorts of workers who are going to benefit from what we have just announced are carers, parents of school-age children, mature age workers, victims of domestic violence and those who seek to help them.

We also announced yesterday that we intend to provide better roster protection for people who experience sudden changes to their rosters which upset family arrangements, which cause great harm at home. The reason why we are doing these things is that Labor understands that we live in a changing world. We know that the Menzies-DLP vision—of Dad going to work nine to five, of a pipe at home, of Mum not working—does not describe most modern families anymore. We understand that the world has changed, unlike the policy of those opposite. We know that women are participating in the workforce more than ever. We know that fathers want to spend more time with their families. We know that people with disabilities and carers want into the workforce. We understand that families come in all shapes and sizes. This is a positive view of encouraging people to participate and creating good jobs in the future.

But the problem is that there is only one side of Australian politics that wants to be positive about workplace relations. Whenever we talk about workplace relations, someone in the central bunker of Liberal headquarters presses the alarm button and says: 'Quick; we'd better get out and bash unions. We'd better disguise the fact that we do not have a policy for Australian workplaces.' Even better, someone in Liberal Party headquarters presses the button and says: 'Quick, let's rake over something from 20 years ago as a revenge against our Prime Minister.' At least we talk about workplace relations. I will tell you about Liberal flexibility—because they will not. Under Liberals, it is more flexible to sack someone. It is more flexible to cut their pay. It is more flexible, but they do not have job security. Under Labor, our definition of flexibility is productivity; it is modern families getting a decent go in the workplace. I love it when the Leader of the Opposition reminds everyone, as he did today, that he is the worker's best friend. With friends like him, you don't need enemies!

Mr Robb interjecting—

The SPEAKER: Yes, and I'm not very happy with the member for Goldstein.

Mr CHEESEMAN (Corangamite) (14:17): Speaker, I ask a supplementary question. In what other ways is the government supporting working Australians to build their prosperity, and what level of support is there for the government's plans?

Opposition members interjecting—

The SPEAKER: The Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations has the call and will be heard in silence.

Mr SHORTEN (Maribyrnong—Minister for Financial Services and Superannuation and Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations) (14:18): Labor is doing a lot to promote prosperity in this country. That is why we have seen, while Labor has been in office, the creation of 850,000 jobs. But we know that there is a group of people in Australia who want to hold our prosperity back. Who would these people be? They would be people who do not support the automotive industry. They would be people who do not support the National Broadband Network. They would be people who have never met a public servant they did not want to sack. There is a clear choice in prosperity.

Ms Julie Bishop interjecting—

Mr SHORTEN: It's your policies, Julie; it's not personal.

The SPEAKER: The Deputy Leader of the Opposition is warned! The minister will not take interjections and will refer to people by their correct titles.

Mr SHORTEN: The next challenge to prosperity, of course, is the crazy idea to reintroduce a tax on the superannuation of 3.6 million low-paid Australians. Whoever dreamed that up in the opposition should get a one-way ticket out of the joint. We are the people who want to cut the tax of low-paid working people by cutting their superannuation tax, and only one group in Australian politics—

Opposition members interjecting—

Mr SHORTEN: You might not like the truth over there, but you should have it.

Finally, when we talk about prosperity and threats to it, I love a good Leader of the Opposition quote. Talking about Work Choices, Mr Abbott said:

The Howard government's industrial legislation, it was good for wages, it was good for jobs and it was good for workers. And let’s never forget that.

I will tell you one thing: we'll never forget about it, but I don't agree with the rest of that quote.