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Monday, 20 March 2017
Page: 8


Mr SHORTEN (MaribyrnongLeader of the Opposition) (10:02): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

There are some issues in this parliament which are complex and there are some which are dead simple. This parliament has never had a more straightforward choice than it does today. This parliament can vote with Labor to protect the conditions of up to 700,000 of our fellow Australians and to protect the take-home pay of up to 700,000 of our working Australians. That is what it can do—it can vote with Labor, or it can vote to cut wages in retail, hospitality, pharmacy and fast food. This is the choice. There is no wiggle room, there is no fence to sit on, there is no hole to go and hide in and there is no playing in the traffic on this issue.

This is not the time for another lecture from a party who knows nothing about industrial relations—'It's not our fault and leave it to someone else.' This place, and this issue, is not the jurisdiction of bystanders or spectators. It is where decisions get made. There is a very clear decision to be made here. You can either vote to save the penalty rates—the Sunday pay rates—of young people, of women, of people in the regions and of workers who depend upon these penalty rates. You can vote to do that, or you can vote to endorse cutting them.

In the past fortnight, my Labor team has been out speaking with hardworking Australians right around the country; people who rely upon these extra rates of pay to make ends meet. There are people in Australia, it may surprise the government to learn, who do not think that being cut in wages up to $77 on a Sunday is a gift. There are people who do not believe that these cuts are minor, that they are moderate or that they are marginal. This sort of money is the weekly tank of petrol. This sort of money is the pair of new school shoes for your primary school-aged children. It is what helps you pay the water bill. It is the cost of a trip to the doctor. It is paying the rent on time, or falling behind.

Make no mistake, they are the Prime Minister's cuts, the coalition's cuts, to penalty rates. And they hate us calling it their cuts, but when you vote not to reverse the cuts, you own the cuts. What they do not understand is how Australians live from pay cheque to pay cheque. This is not good news for people who budget on a weekly basis or on a fortnightly basis. People who earn their penalty rates do so on the basis that it is how they make their ends meet. People who earn penalty rates are not greedy people. They are not holding the economy back. What they are is hardworking Australians who deserve a reward, not a punishment.

This is a punishment to hardworking Australians yet we have a Prime Minister who thinks that it is okay to punish the low paid and the vulnerable, but then reward millionaires. It is an absolute travesty. It is a shame. Courtesy of this government, on 1 July, a millionaire will get a $17,000 tax cut, but a retail worker will get a $77 a week pay cut. A retail worker on up to $40,000 will lose 10 per cent of their income. When someone on $1 million is getting $17,000 in tax cuts, yet this government votes for pay cuts, this is a government not fit to be a government.

At the heart of the Liberal-Nationals economic plan is a tax cut for corporations of $50 billion, a $7.4 billion bonus for the big banks and, at the same time, a pay cut for working families. It is all because of a flawed, sterile, failed view that somehow the only worthwhile economic plan for this country is that if you look after the very rich and big business the benefits of that will somehow miraculously trickle down to the less well off. That theory is wrong and that is why these pay cuts are most definitely wrong.

No doubt, as we debate this issue during the coming week, the Prime Minister will do what he always does. He will talk about Labor, he will talk about the unions and he will talk about me. Indeed, in the last four days of question time the Liberals mentioned Labor or myself 225 times. This is not a strategy; this is an obsession. We do not know on this side whether to be flattered or frightened. On the issue of penalty rate cuts, the Prime Minister is either dishonest or ignorant, as he is on many other policy issues. He likes to take every available opportunity to hurl personal abuse and bag Labor and the unions and myself. But what I say to the Prime Minister is: use whatever distraction that you think is necessary, use every possible dishonest distraction you have in your book, put up whatever story you want. But, on this this issue, when it comes to defending working families in this country and the living standards of working families, we will not be deterred or put off. He knows in his heart of hearts that the Australian people expect the Prime Minister of the nation to defend the people of the nation. We know that it is our obligation and we will not be deterred, put off or distracted. We will fight every day for this legislation. The government can vote for it now or they can watch us vote it up when we form the next government, because this is a very important issue.

At a time when corporate profits are at record highs and wages growth are at record lows, this is exactly the wrong time to give multinationals a tax cut and workers a pay cut. The legislation that we introduce today will prevent any pay cuts in the future. It is a simple piece of legislation and it is a straightforward decision. But what has the Prime Minister, the member for Wentworth, been saying? He says, 'Don't blame me; I'm just the Prime Minister.' He walks around with his stunned surprise that in planet Australia people depend upon penalty rates. We know every day this Prime Minister is fighting a rearguard action. He knows what he should do on penalty rates, but he does not believe in standing up to the right wing of his party. Nor does he believe in the role of penalty rates in this country. Why is it that the only thing he will fight for is his job? Why is it that this Prime Minister is so on survival mode that whenever it comes to fighting for himself he shows passion, interest, commitment, Turnbullian brilliance. But when it comes to fighting for millions of Australians who depend upon penalty rates, he is MIA. He could not care; do not bother him; and, by the way, he actually supports these cuts. What is the point of being Prime Minister if you are not willing to do the job that you are paid to do?

The other day the Prime Minister said that opposing the cut to penalty rates was overturning 100 years of Labor history. Well, it was very lucky that he did not actually join the Labor Party when he was weighing it up! Let me say this to him: standing up for working people and their industrial conditions is Labor history. It is why we come to this parliament; it is what motivates every one of my team. We believe that if we can do nothing else but make sure that working people get a fair go all round at work then that is a day well spent and that is a cause this party will never deter from no matter what the government says or whatever lies the government tells. We respect the Fair Work Commission—we absolutely do. But they got this decision wrong. It is a very wrong decision. We are going to reverse the decision, as this party should do. And we ask the government to support us.

As for the dishonest propaganda of those opposite who seek to feed misinformation to journalists, when unions negotiate on behalf of workers it is about making them better off overall. Taking the example of Sunday penalty rates in isolation completely ignores the benefit of the higher base rates of pay and better conditions. They love to talk about McDonald's. At McDonald's, full-time senior weekly wages are up to $70 better than the award—$70 better every week—because of union negotiations. That EBA also delivers minimum hourly shifts, family violence leave, compassionate leave and study leave. But the cut to penalty rates is just a pay cut. There is no compensating benefit in terms of lifting the overall rate—no compensation, no compromise. The Prime Minister either does not understand industrial relations or does not care about industrial relations. The point about it is: this decision, this pay cut, is just a pay cut.

When the Liberal-National MPs talk tough in their electorate we will hold them to account in their electorate for this vote. We will make the government wear this decision to cut penalty rates each and every day up to the election. We will fight this issue of penalty rates because it is the right thing to do. We will never support a cut to the living standards of ordinary Australians.

The SPEAKER: Is the motion seconded?

Mr Brendan O'Connor: Yes, I second the bill and I reserve my right to speak.

The SPEAKER: The time allotted for this debate has expired. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.