Parliament Question Time - Low Paid Workers

19 March 2013

Mr SHORTEN (Maribyrnong—Minister for Financial Services and Superannuation and Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations) (14:55):  I would like to thank the member for Bass for his question. This government really respects low-paid workers. We understand that there are a lot of Australians who go to work who do not earn the average wage. In fact, members of the House may be interested to know that one in seven of every Australians that goes to work receives the minimum wage. Members of the House may or may not be aware that the minimum wage in Australia is $15.96 an hour. We know that these Australians who work so hard are paying taxes and delivering profits for their companies. We also know they are raising families, they are building communities and they are making Australia a better country. That is why it is important that this government stands and supports low-paid workers with a strong safety net. The sort of people I am talking about work in accommodation and they work in retail. They drive through the night doing part-time work in the trucking industry and they work in administration. Many of them did not get the chance to finish school. Many of them are from migrant backgrounds. Some are single and many are young.

What we are doing to support low-paid Australians, the people who help make this country, is we are lifting superannuation from nine per cent to 12 per cent. Only we voted for that. We are ensuring that truck drivers have safe rates of pay. We are increasing the tax-free threshold to $18,000 and we are abolishing the tax that people who earn less than $37,000 a year pay on their superannuation. We are making sure that community sector workers, an industry predominantly worked in by women, get some pay equity. Today, we are making sure there is a down payment for Australia's childcare workers with whom we entrust our children for their development and safety. So our government absolutely stands up every time for low-paid workers.

The member for Bass asked: are there any obstacles? I am afraid there are. It is an obstacle when one side of Australian politics refuses to ever talk about their workplace relations policy. There is a problem in this country in politics when the opposition complain on one hand—they say there is a flexibility problem—yet on the other hand they never actually say what they mean. When you are on the minimum wage, you have no flexibility between balancing your family budget and going to work. When you are on the minimum wage—

Mr Briggs:  What about the pie shop owners?

The SPEAKER:  The member for Mayo will leave the chamber under 94(a).

Mr SHORTEN:  Up goes the IQ of the chamber.

The SPEAKER:  The minister will withdraw.

Mr SHORTEN:  I withdraw.

The SPEAKER:  The member for Mayo had better leave quickly and quietly. I am not in the mood.

Mr SHORTEN:  When you are on the minimum wage, you need those penalty rates on the weekend to be able to pay your petrol bills to get to and from work. When you are on the minimum wage you do not always have the choice of prioritising family over work. People on the minimum wage in this country—one in seven of Australians—who work hard deserve better from the opposition than the opposition's complete refusal to engage in workplace relations policy in this country.