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Monday, 3 June 2013
Page: 4729


Ms LEY (Farrer) (11:01): It gives me pleasure to speak on this private member's motion about penalty rates. People listening to the debate might imagine that it is us as parliamentarians that are deciding right here, right now, what the penalty rates of Australia workers should be; that it is the subjective judgement that we bring to this chamber, the discussion that we are having, the poor quality example that we just heard from the member opposite. But, in fact, there is a body entirely established for this purpose, thankfully, that does not rely on the contributions of members of the government. I want to remind those members, including the member who brought this motion to the House, that it is the Fair Work Commission, as the independent umpire, that has the responsibility for reviewing all modern awards. This process is actually well underway, in line with the requirements in the Fair Work Act 2009 that a review be undertaken two years after the commencement of modern awards.

The Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Minister Shorten, has indicated, however, that the government will not tolerate any reduction in penalty rates, in essence telling the Fair Work Commission that their review must not recommend any reduction to penalty rates, even though we have spotted some dissension in the ranks, with the then tourism minister, the member for Batman, identifying that penalty rates were the bane of the hospitality sector—and we all know this is the truth—acknowledging that penalty rates could well force companies out of business. So we understand there is a balance and we have to find the right balance, but this is the task that the Fair Work Commission has been entrusted with. It is actually their job to consider the cases that are put them and find that happy medium. The government, in turn, should accept the decision of the Fair Work Commission.

We should bear in mind that the Fair Work Commission was a Labor creation. The membership is heavily dotted with former union officials. Those opposite still want to intervene and still want to manipulate the outcome, rather than saying to the Fair Work Commission: 'Examine the landscape in which we are all living, the economic environment that exists in Australia at the moment, the circumstances of businesses, the arguments of business, the arguments of employers, the arguments of unions, the arguments of the workforce, the arguments that come to light in here and in state parliaments and then make an informed decision, and we would then trust that outcome.' No, the minister has already stepped in and said: 'Do all those things, but don't do this.' I do not know why the government does not trust its own creation the Fair Work Commission.

We want to see a fair and balanced system. To this end, if we are elected in September, we have outlined our plan to build a strong and prosperous economy. Under our policy no Australian worker will be worse off and businesses will be supported to grow, contributing more jobs and revenue to the economy. Our plan will see the creation of a million new jobs within five years and two million within 10 years. We will offer real hope to unemployed Australians, helping them realise their dreams of paid employment.

The government is resorting to tired old class-warfare rhetoric—really tired, really outdated, really irrelevant. What the government should be debating is how to reduce unemployment, forecast to rise, and how to decrease welfare dependency in a country with an unacceptably high number of intergenerational unemployed young people, in a country where we cannot seem to get a policy that gets youths into a job. In every part of Australia, youth unemployment is between 20 and 45 per cent.

This is what we should be talking about today. We should be considering how we will give Australians a brighter future and an opportunity for meaningful jobs, and how we will reward them for their hard work. Instead, we are debating something that is clearly the responsibility of the Fair Work Commission to determine. I am disappointed that members of the government cannot come to an agreement on the role of the bodies that they themselves established.

We have to be so very careful that we do not lock out a group of Australian workers who are currently unemployed, losing their jobs and slipping out of the workforce disappointed and disengaged. We have to be careful that we do not create a system that looks after—fantastically well—those who have a job but does not acknowledge those who do not and does not provide a pathway for those outside the labour system to have a real chance in the real economy. That is what we have to be really careful of.

We have said we are happy with the Fair Work Commission. We just would like the minister to stop interfering with the process of that independent quasi-judiciary body and let it do its job.