BILLS - Fair Work Amendment (Restoring Penalty Rates) Bill 2018 - Second Reading

13 August 2018

I rise to support the Fair Work Amendment (Restoring Penalty Rates) Bill. I am constantly surprised and amused by the government's sudden respect for independent umpires, with regards to the Fair Work Commission, when we know that they unilaterally abolished the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal, which was an independent umpire that would have meant that truck drivers would not have to drive themselves to death under unfair conditions. The government simply show ignorance; they do not know the difference between the bargaining regime and what is a unilateral cut to people's pay by the Fair Work Commission. These are two very different things. Being elected to parliament is a great privilege—one beyond belief—and I intend to use this time, as I come to it very late, to make a difference. That is what we should be doing here. That is why I joined the Labor Party. It was to be in a party that formed governments and has, as its objective, the great challenge laid down by Ben Chifley: to make people's lives better.

We on this side of the House often wonder what the Prime Minister strives to do each day for everyday Australians. Does he ever get out of bed and think, 'Today, I want to make a single mum's life easier. I want to shore up jobs for kids in Townsville. I want to find a way to meet the challenges facing Indigenous families in remote areas. I want to help the homeless and fix the scourge of insecure work'? Does he even worry about people struggling on low incomes? If he does, he doesn't show it. All he shows us is that he is about helping the wealthy stay wealthy and pretending that he believes in trickle-down economics while he watches the IPA froth at the mouth when he talks about tax cuts for incredibly powerful and wealthy corporations. I don't normally harp on about individuals, but today—as hundreds of thousands of workers on low incomes face losing wages—I find it incomprehensible that the Prime Minister and his government refuse to admit that cutting penalty rates will adversely affect people on low incomes. They refuse outright to stop it happening. They could stop this happening, right here, by supporting this bill. I am sorry, but this is inexcusable. We have heard over and over the damage this will do to families, to individuals and to the economy.

Penalty rates have existed for decades—around 70 years, in fact—and the economy has continued to grow and the hospitality and retail sectors continue to employ more and more people. No-one believes jobs will increase dramatically with wage cuts. In fact, the opposite is true. In those depressed economies in the US, raising wages has resulted in stronger, better economic conditions. There are those who will say that when wages are out of control the economy suffers. The only wages out of control are those of CEOs of multinational corporations. Wages growth for ordinary Australians is at an all-time low. In fact, people in this country are working harder and making more profit for companies but their pay is going backwards.

Unlike the Prime Minister, I know the Leader of the Opposition worries every day about those who are struggling to make ends meet. He worries deeply about the effect of cutting already low wages, and that is why he has introduced this bill. He, and those of us on this side of the House, knows that penalty rates make a real difference. The $70 on a Sunday wouldn't be a drop in the ocean for the member for Wentworth, but for so many people it puts food on the table and pays the bills. We on this side of the House want working mums to have time to care and earn a decent part-time, secure wage. Penalty rates are part of that. We want young people away from home combining study and work not to have to couch surf. Penalty rates are part of that. We want low-paid older people to be able to afford to buy their grandkids Christmas presents. Penalty rates are part of that. We want families to afford a simple holiday or pay their energy bills. Penalty rates are part of that.

We respect the contribution of working people. In fact, we honour it. If you work unsociable hours, we actually think that you should be paid something for this—for missing out on those times with your family and friends. This legislation is as real, as practical and as urgent as it gets. I want people to have better lives and, yes, that is everyone from asylum seekers, migrant workers, nurses, hairdressers and cleaners to truck drivers and so on. I want something better for people everywhere. Saving penalty rates is part of that.

Workers in Australia need a pay rise. Everybody is arguing that, from the Reserve Bank of Australia right through to every economist that has written on this issue. Australians need a pay rise, a decent pay rise, but we have a weak and mean-minded, bank-loving, corporate-kowtowing Prime Minister who still wants to cut the lowest-paid people's pay packets. This is a disgrace.