03 February 2021

 I have spent a career standing up for workers' rights, from the time I was a job rep as a young nurse at the local public hospital. I led the nurses union and I had the great privilege of being the president of that great institution, the ACTU. I can tell you that right through all of those years—I'm getting on now!—I have, time after time, seen Liberal governments do nothing but attack the take-home pay, the wages, of hardworking Australians.

 

So this bill is absolutely no surprise. I could say it's deja vu, but it's not, because it's been a constant attack for eight years. Who would have thunk it—a Liberal government cutting the wages and conditions of workers? It couldn't be, could it? We all know and Australians know that cutting workers' pay and conditions is in the Liberal government's DNA, whether it was Work Choices—remember that?—or whether it was cutting low-paid people's penalty rates; whether it was the weasel-word titled 'ensuring integrity bill', which tried to cut the right to organise to maintain pay and conditions; whether it was leaving workers in key industries out of JobKeeper; or whether it was cutting superannuation. And that's just a shortlist. I could go on forever, but I've only got a few minutes.

 

We know that this new bill drafted by those opposite has again failed one very simple test: will it deliver secure jobs and decent pay? It won't. It has failed. It will allow wages to be cut and it will not effectively fix the scourge of insecure work. Asking for a decent job is not a big ask. A job is not a job if it doesn't give you the dignity of a decent wage and the security of a pay cheque coming in week after week that you can rely on. It means you can pay the mortgage or you can pay the rent. You might even have the joy of a holiday with the kids at the end of the year. It means you can actually go to the bank and get a car loan, because you have proof of ongoing employment and income. It means you can plan for life's unexpected events and it certainly means you don't have to work three jobs all at once just to get by.

 

The Attorney-General stands in this House and denies this bill will indeed do the things that we say it's going to do. This is extraordinary. We know the employers know what this will do. They know what they'll be able to do. They're getting ready—don't you worry about that. We had the shadow minister outline very, very well exactly what this bill will do, so I don't need to go through it. But, if the Attorney-General is denying it will do any of this, why have clauses in this legislation that mean they can cut the better-off-overall test? Why would you not want a better-off-overall test if you don't want people not to be better off? It makes absolute sense: get rid of that bit if you don't want that to happen. Why allow an employer to negotiate with their workers that they can lose penalty rates, lose shift allowances and lose entitlements? Why have something in there if you don't want them to lose that? It's because they do actually want workers' pay to go backwards. The Attorney-General knows that and the Prime Minister knows that. They talk about flexibility. Well, I know that workers say that flexibility is the other F-word, because whenever they hear that they know it's going to be easier to sack them, it's going to stop them organising for better wages and conditions, and it means their wages will be cut.

 

We know wages have been flatlining since before COVID. We know that it was a deliberate strategy of this government to keep wages low; it was admitted by their very own. Yet, this is at a time when everybody, from the Reserve Bank to any economist you would like to name, has been saying the country needs a pay rise. The government can't bring themselves to do that. The thought of raising wages for working people is absolutely beyond them. They want to keep it low. This is despite the fact that, as the shadow IR minister says, increasing people's wages and putting more money in their pockets is the best thing that could happen to our economy.

 

This bill will hurt so many people, including the essential workers who kept us going during the pandemic, who kept us alive, who kept the economy moving. We had a perfect example from my friend and colleague the member for Dobell about a disability worker who could lose up to $14,000 a year. What type of government would introduce legislation that could see that happen to some of the lowest paid and yet most important workers in our economy? I'll tell you what sort of government, Deputy Speaker. It's this government, a Liberal government, where cutting wages is in their pay. It's a prime minister and a Liberal government who simply do not care. They don't care about workers. They never have.