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Wednesday, 17 August 2011
Page: 4668

Workplace Relations


Senator PRATT (Western Australia) (14:29): My question is to the Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Jobs and Workplace Relations, Senator Evans. Can the minister please inform the Senate how the government has protected penalty rates for hardworking Australian families, and how important these rates are in helping families meet the cost-of-living pressures they face?

Opposition senators interjecting


Senator CHRIS EVANS (Western AustraliaMinister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Jobs and Workplace Relations and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:30): I thank the senator for her question and I can assure Senator Abetz I will not be mentioning him six times; he is not that relevant. It is an important question because Labor have delivered on our promise to consign the coalition's Work Choices legislation to the dustbin of history and to put in place the Fair Work Act. That act ensures that workplaces are underpinned by fairness and delivers flexibility and opportunities for employers and employees.

We all know what Work Choices meant for hardworking Australians. Under that legislation workers could be forced to sign a take it or leave it AWA which stripped away basic entitlements without compensation and without the oversight of an independent umpire. The facts speak for themselves. Under Work Choices 64 per cent of AWAs cut annual leave loading and 63 per cent reduced penalty rates for ordinary working people. Women workers were particularly badly hit by those changes.

What the Liberal Party do not understand is that millions of Australian families rely on penalty rates to help meet their everyday costs. Those penalty rates are part of their weekly budgets and help pay for the food, the mortgage and the standard of living that they enjoy. The Liberal Party's intent to undermine penalty rates is fundamentally an attack on the wages and conditions of Australian families. They compensate people for working antisocial hours, but we have put in place the new better off overall test for enterprise agreements which ensures that those conditions are protected. Penalty rates are an important part of the standard of living of millions of Australians and they need to be supported.


Senator PRATT (Western Australia) (14:32): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Could the minister please explain what the key measures are that have been put in place to secure and protect penalty rates from being ripped away from Australian families?


Senator CHRIS EVANS (Western AustraliaMinister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Jobs and Workplace Relations and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:32): I thank the senator for her supple­mentary question. As we promised the Australian people, the government have ended the take it or leave it AWAs that stripped away wages and conditions such as penalty rates. By introducing the Fair Work Act we have established a fair safety net for employees, one part being the modern industry awards. These awards enshrine entitlements tailored to the specific needs of workers in businesses in a particular industry. Importantly, these modern awards contain entitlements like penalty rates for workers who spend time working on week­ends, public holidays or doing shiftwork.

We are proud that our system supports fair compensation for those people working unsociable hours. The Fair Work Act introduced a new better off overall test for new enterprise agreements. That test ensures that Australian workers have their entitle­ments, including penalty rates, protected. We protect their standard of living through our industrial relations legislation. (Time expired)

Senator Cormann interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Senator Cormann, I remind you that constant interjection is completely disorderly.



Senator PRATT (Western Australia) (14:33): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Is the minister aware of any threats to the penalty rates for hardworking Australian families?

Opposition senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: I will give the call when there is silence. The minister.



Senator CHRIS EVANS (Western AustraliaMinister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Jobs and Workplace Relations and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:33): Thank you, Mr President. We all know that the greatest threat to the family budget, of course, is the coalition. Last month Tony Abbott endorsed the extreme Work Choices law of the Howard govern­ment as good policy and made it clear it continued to have his personal support. He said: 'Work Choices didn't fail because it was bad policy. It failed because it had never been put properly to the people.' So Tony Abbott asserts that the failure of Work Choices was merely a failure of salesman­ship not of policy.

We know that the Liberal Party does not change on this question and, despite Senator Abetz trying to keep the talk down and telling people they ought to continue to run the line 'we are working on new policy', we have seen backbencher after backbencher—and of course the return of Peter Reith—arguing the case for abolishing penalty rates and arguing the case to rip Australian families of much needed income. The Liberal Party is a threat to Australian wages. (Time expired)

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: I am waiting for quiet on both sides. If you want to have the debate, it is after three o'clock. Senator Cameron, this does not help question time.