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Tuesday, 29 November 2005
Page: 83

Senator POLLEY (7:30 PM) —I reiterate, Australian families will lose 150 years of hard fought for and hard-earned wages and conditions because of one man’s obsessions. Mr Howard’s view of the Australian work force is an offence and smacks of Scrooge. Like Scrooge, employers will be able to have the power to change employees’ work hours without reasonable notice. There are plenty of Australians alive today who remember what their working life was like during the 1960s. They remember, John Howard, what it was like to be called in to work with 30 minutes notice. This government’s attack on living standards and working conditions is an offence to all Australian workers. Whose agenda is this arrogant and extreme government serving when it acts to undermine the foundations of our great society by attacking family life? John Howard has fought to keep wages down since he was elected. These nasty ‘survival of the fittest’ politics have no place in Australian society. Leave them where they belong—in America.

If Prime Minister Howard had his way, workers on the minimum wage would be $50 a week worse off. In four of those nine very long years the Howard government has proposed a minimum wage increase less than its own inflation forecast. Workers will be asked to wait another six months for any increase from Mr Howard’s so-called Fair Pay Commission. Australia’s lowest paid workers will have to wait at least 18 months until they see any increase. How much do these people earn? $484.40 per week. Of course the flow-on to Australia’s pensioners waiting patiently for their indexed increases will not be good news. Some 1.6 million battlers will have to wait at least 18 months for a miserly increase to help make ends meet.

On 21 June we saw 17 leading Australian academics, led by University of Sydney’s Professor Russell Lansbury, release a report card on the government’s proposed changes. That report card concluded that the government’s changes were likely to have no positive impact on economic productivity or jobs growth. We have had the Australian Catholic Commission for Employment Relations, the National Council of Churches, His Eminence Cardinal Pell, Archbishop Aspinall of Brisbane, the new Primate of the Anglican Church, and Dr Peter Jensen, the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, all voicing their concern over these changes. Our church leaders know the type of pressure these changes will put on Australian families. Our church leaders know that these changes remove parents from children as families try to juggle weekend shifts with home life. Our church leaders are at the face of Australia’s poverty, its debt traps and its homeless people.

This legislation is a horrifying restructure of Australian society and a disgraceful attack on Australian family life. The fair go will be lost forever. It will be replaced by fair game. Mr Howard and his arrogant government are socially engineering a country of haves and have-nots. No wonder the churches are speaking out. They know they will be left to pick up the pieces.

We know Mr Howard is a master of verbal disguise. Under this legislation Australians will have no guarantee of starting or finishing times. They will have no guarantee of minimum or maximum hours. They will have no certainty of rosters. They will have no entitlement to a stable income week by week, even for permanent full-time employees, and no entitlement to higher rates of pay for overtime or family unfriendly hours. This legislation will make balancing work and family tougher than ever before. Family budgets and family timetables depend on predictable hours of work and predictable take-home pay. Twenty years of workplace reform have given Australian employees confidence in the workplace. After Mr Howard’s mean attack on the Australian family, maintaining home life, arranging child care and scheduling children’s sporting commitments will now become a nightmare.

The Work Choices legislation is designed to allow employers to require workers to work irregular and family unfriendly hours, including early mornings, nights, weekends and public holidays, without adequate compensation. How many child-care centres are open early in the morning, nights, weekends and public holidays? What types of arrangements does this government expect Australian families to make to care for their kids when the bosses expect them to work all hours and at short notice? Trust Mr Howard? Have faith? Thank you, senators, but I would rather put my faith in Father Christmas. Scrooge, Mr Howard, Scrooge!