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Thursday, 22 March 2012
Page: 3994


Mr MITCHELL (McEwen) (12:52): I once called the member for Mayo 'the Barbara Cartland of Australian politics' because of his romantic novel writing on the subject, but today we could call him 'the trash mag writer', because he basically spent 15 minutes growing his nose and telling stories that were not true. Remember, this is the member who complained that the TWU was soiling his clothes when he was writing the Work Choices act. That is where he goes back to. Going back to Work Choices is all he considers.

I have to confess that I know a little bit about outworkers. My mother was one. I was also a member of the footwear industry, very proudly, for five years. Those opposite have absolutely no idea about that industry and no idea about the working conditions of outworkers, because, I am tipping, they have never, ever seen one, let alone seen the work of making shoes and understood what has to be done and the hours that people get put on.

I am sure the member for Mayo is going back to have another glass of champagne, but I hope that the speaker is on in his office and that he can listen to the truth. The only time in the history of this country that those opposite ever stood up for workers was at National Textiles. 'What's National Textiles?' you might say. 'Who owned National Textiles?' Of course, it was the brother of John Howard, Stan Howard. That was the only time, when a company went out the door, that the coalition stood up for the workers of that company. Every other time, they wiped their hands. They have absolutely no interest in what happens to workers when companies go broke, unless of course it is the company of the brother of the former Prime Minister John Howard.

As I was listening today, there were two different emotions going through my head. There was laughter at the stories that were being told by the opposition and there was anger at the inability of the opposition to understand what they were talking about. We heard the member for McPherson. The biggest point she made was about the effect on businesses—not one concern for the people who are actually working in them.

Ms O'Dwyer interjecting

Mr MITCHELL: I'm sure you've never worked a day in your life either!

They admit that they look for labels and they do this and they do that, but they never show concern about how the items are made. They are never concerned about the people sitting at home working on them. The member for Higgins is over there yapping away. It is mainly women working in these industries, mainly those with English as a second language, with poor English skills—

Ms O'Dwyer: That's you!

Mr MITCHELL: Oh please, Mr Ed, please!

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. DGH Adams ): Order! The honourable member for McEwen will not respond to interjections. I will deal with the interjections.

Mr MITCHELL: I will do my best, but it is sometimes awkward.

The opposition do not understand that most of the outworkers in the TCF industry are women with English as a second language and they work extremely hard. When I worked at Koala Shoes—it is getting to be a bit long ago now, when I think back to it—there were a large number of people who worked there who had just arrived in Australia. That was back in the days when we welcomed people to come to Australia. That would have been their first job. Quite often such people were treated very shabbily in those sorts of workplaces. I think back to when I was a kid and my mum was an outworker and she was packing shoes and a whole range of other things. She worked for a large automotive component manufacturer and her job was to put needles on speedos—and, let me tell you, that was the most boring thing you could ever do in your life. But that is the kind of thing people do, and they do it for very minimal pay and they work extremely hard.

This legislation is about protecting them, so they know that when they go to work they will get what we would consider a fair and reasonable value—a fair day's pay for a fair day's work. It is not something that we should be mucking around with. We should be ensuring that people get paid properly for the work they do and the contribution they make to the Australian economy. This legislation protects some of our most vulnerable workers. It applies special provisions for TCF workers which ensure that outworkers employed are engaged under a secure, safe and fair system of work. Those words should be on everyone's lips. Our main goal should be to make sure that people have safe workplaces. The member for Mayo was rabbiting on about attacks on truck drivers, because he does not believe that they and their families should be entitled to a fair day's work in a safe and secure workplace. It is absolutely amazing, when the opposition put their silver spoons to the side of their mouths, what they start spouting about. They have never actually experienced these conditions.

There is a large textile and clothing place in Wangaratta. A quick discussion today revealed that the local member had never actually been there. Four hundred people are employed there and she has never walked in the door. Probably for them that is a great thing because they do not get to know her, but it is a sad thing that, while the members opposite spout how much they care and how much they worry about things, they do not go to places and see the people that make things. They are quite happy to sit there in their labels and spout off about their lovely shirts and shoes, but none of them have ever looked at how these things are made, the people that put them together and the conditions they work in. That is why we are very thankful to have people like the TCFU out there protecting people and making sure that their workplaces are safe and making sure that they get a fair day's pay for a fair day's work.

This is an important bill that we should pass very speedily. We should not be mucking around with this. We should get this through and ensure that people who earn as little as $3 to $5 get protected so that, when they do the work and the goods get picked up by a supply chain of subcontractors, they can be assured that they will get paid. That is another big issue that seems to escape those opposite: the people who are doing the work are getting ripped off by not being paid. Usually, if they have got low English skills and they are working from home, it is very difficult to chase that up. They should be given the opportunity to ensure that when they do the work they get paid. That is one of the most important things out there. I am not by any stretch of the imagination saying that all employers are bad. There are many, many good companies that pay their workers fairly and should reap the benefits, but we have always got to make sure that those that do the wrong thing are followed up and workers are protected from them. As we know, with the Liberal government not everyone is a Stan Howard. That is a rare one—National Textiles. That is one of the most important things to remember: when it comes to protection of workers these guys opposite have absolutely no care, no idea and no plan to help them apart from bringing back their Work Choices, the great fabled god they look at when they think about stripping away the wages and conditions of people and trying to make us compete with China. Well, it is not going to happen, because our living standards are higher—and they should be higher. We should ensure that people are paid properly and that they have a safe workplace. With those few comments, I wish this bill a speedy passage.