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Wednesday, 19 September 2012
Page: 7404


Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Opposition in the Senate) (17:10): by leave—I rise to speak to the ministerial statement by the Hon. Bill Shorten entitled 'Future of workers penalty rates and public holidays', and I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

That ministerial statement was an abuse of the facility afforded by the parliament for ministerial statements. Over 15 pages the minister desperately sought to make his bid for the leadership of the ALP, pretending empathy for low-paid workers. It is just a pity he did not show such empathy for the low-paid workers and members of his mate's, the member for Dobell Mr Craig Thomson's, trade union, the Health Services Union.

Here we have a minister who says he cannot survive and live off his $300,000-plus salary and package, and who uses his spare time to abuse pie shop workers and trying to give the opposition a lecture on the plight of the low paid. If ever there was an example of Tartuffery it is Minister Shorten. The minister's immature attempt at stereotyping the opposition in his highly charged political statement shows he still has not made the transition from union boss to minister of the Crown, where higher standards are expected. In a confused, clumsy, cobbled together diatribe the ministerial statement told us absolutely nothing other than that he has written to state and territory governments. That is not worthy of a ministerial statement of half a page, let alone 15 pages. Can we expect a ministerial statement each time the minister stops from whingeing about how hard it is to live on his $300,000-plus package and signs eight letters? This ministerial statement was just a ruse to make a highly charged political speech in which he demeaned Fair Work Australia and its role as the so-called independent umpire.

Currently, and to put this into context, Fair Work Australia is undertaking a review of modern awards. Part of that review is considering submissions in relation to penalty rates. The minister has indicated that the government would not countenance any reduction in penalty rates. Therefore, if Fair Work Australia rules, as the minister has signalled, it will be perceived that Fair Work Australia has been monstered by the minister.

Why this bizarre outburst by the minister asserting that the coalition needs to make its position clear on penalty rates? In case there is any doubt, our position is clear and has been stated in the number of occasions, and I will state it again: the umpire, Fair Work Australia, after hearing all submissions should make the decision balancing all considerations. After all, that is their task. After all, that is why Labor established Fair Work Australia. After all, that is why they have filled Fair Work Australia with ex-trade union official after ex-trade union official, appointing a 'tribe'—to use Kevin Rudd's term—of ex-trade union officials. This is something we were promised by Mr Rudd would not happen but which, of course, has occurred.

We should not be surprised. Just as their carbon tax promise was thrown out the window, so that promise has been thrown out the window as well.

Our position is absolutely clear, so it begs the question: why does the minister go down this track to politically attack the opposition? I wonder who said the following about penalty rates in the tourism industry. It might just give us a clue as to the minister's regrettable intervention:

I hope the bench of Fair Work Australia has given proper regard to the input of the tourism industry in this context—

the context being penalty rates—

because I understand that is the key issue to industry at this point in time.

I will give you a clue, Madam Acting President and other senators. No, it was not a coalition spokesman. No, it was not an industry spokesman. Guess what? It was a former ACTU president and cabinet colleague of Mr Shorten. It was none other than Minister Ferguson, who, might I add, actually knows how to behave as a minister of the Crown and not just as a trumped-up ex-union official as Mr Shorten does.

What is clearly at play here is a battle between that which Minister Ferguson has said on the public record and that which Mr Shorten is trying to achieve. Clearly, Mr Shorten is trying to get the backing of trade union bosses for another position that he hopes to achieve. But one cabinet minister is saying to Fair Work Australia, 'Please take into account the key issue of the tourism industry', whilst the other minister, Mr Shorten, is saying to Fair Work Australia, 'Don't you dare change anything.' If ever you have seen a shambolic government, this is it. It is a government where cabinet ministers cannot even get their submissions correct. You have one minister saying one thing and another minister saying the exact opposite.

This is a minister for workplace relations who has time to play politics but fails to answers questions on time. I have had answers to my questions outstanding not for 30 days, as allowed by the rules of the Senate, not 40 days, not 50 days, not 60 days, not 70 days or even 80 days, but 90 days—three times the time allocated by the rules of this Senate. Signing eight letters becomes worthy of a ministerial statement, but he cannot answer questions. When I say 'questions', I should correct myself. It was one question, and it was simple: can a list be provided detailing all payments and grants made to unions or employee organisations since 1 January 2008? I wonder why the minister might be hesitant and reticent about answering such a question and why should it take more than three months to be able to collate all that information?

It is clear that this minister has his priorities wrong. He is playing all sorts of other agendas and he is not sticking to the core business of his ministerial duties of—namely, ensuring that questions are answered and that the independent umpire can go about its job without the sort of clumsy interference in which he engaged in. I would encourage the minister to devote himself to his genuine duties and desist from these very clumsy attempts at playing politics and distracting attention from the clear internal ALP ructions.

Let us be absolutely clear on this issue of penalty rates. The coalition have always believed in a fair day's pay for a fair day's work. We believe in reward for effort. Like the former Labor Treasurer Mr Frank Crean noted, most Australians believe—and the coalition is included—that one man's pay rise can be another man's job is something that should be taken into account. Therefore, balance is needed in these decisions. Minister Shorten says, 'No worker should be worse off.' The coalition agree. But, if a person loses their job because wages are too high, Mr Frank Crean's injunction should be heeded. Whether job losses are likely is for Fair Work Australia to determine, as stated by the Minister for Tourism, Mr Ferguson.

In concluding my remarks, can I simply say that the coalition's position on penalty rates is perfectly clear. It is the ALP that is unclear, with one minister urging Fair Work Australia to go down one path and Minister Shorten advocating a completely different approach. Therefore, instead of Mr Shorten asking the coalition to clarify its position, can I remind him that our position is clear. Is it the Shorten view or the Ferguson view that is actually ALP policy?

Question agreed to.