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Tuesday, 5 December 2017
Page: 9626

Workplace Relations


Senator O'NEILL (New South Wales) (14:24): My question is to the Minister for Employment, Senator Cash. Yesterday, the government again voted to cut the pay of approximately 700,000 Australian workers who rely on penalty rates. The restaurant and cafe industry employer group has recently decided to drop its penalty rate case—

Government senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order! Senator O'Neill, please. Order on my right! There will be plenty of opportunity for vigorous debate after the question is asked.

Senator Wong interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Senator Wong, I'm calling the right side of the chamber to order. I know you're being very helpful. Senator O'Neill, please continue your question.

Senator O'NEILL: Yesterday, the government again voted to cut the pay of approximately 700,000 Australian workers who rely on penalty rates. The restaurant and cafe industry employer group has recently decided to drop its penalty rates case due to insufficient evidence that cutting penalty rates would create jobs. In light of this action, does the minister stand by the Prime Minister's statement that cutting penalty rates will create hundreds of thousands of jobs?





Senator CASH (Western AustraliaMinister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service, Minister for Employment and Minister for Women) (14:25): Yes. Because, you see, that is what the Fair Work Commission itself found—that there would be an increase in employment. I have to say, though, the hypocrisy of those opposite—

Opposition senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order on my left!

Senator CASH: when there is one person in the parliament who you can clearly label as having a reputation as someone who goes out there and slashes and burns the penalty rates of low-paid workers in Australia. Colleagues, give me a name.

Government senators: Bill Shorten!

Senator CASH: The current Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten. We all know what Mr Shorten did before he entered parliament. As head of the AWU—

The PRESIDENT: Order! Point of order. Senator Cash, please resume your seat. Senator O'Neill, on a point of order?

Senator O'Neill: Thank you, Mr President. I will try to be creative in my request for relevance. There is an entire industry employer group that employs a significant number of Australians—the restaurant and cafe industry.

The PRESIDENT: Senator O'Neill, what is the point of order?

Senator O'Neill: The minister is not answering the question.

The PRESIDENT: Senator O'Neill, your question had a substantial preamble that referred to a number of historic examples and matters of public debate. The minister is being relevant to the entire question, as asked. Senator Cash.

Senator CASH: Thank you. As I was saying, before he entered parliament, Mr Shorten made a living out of slashing and burning the penalty rates of the lowest-paid workers in Australia. I was going to talk about Cleanevent, but we can also talk Chiquita Mushrooms. What Mr Shorten used to do is what those on the other side stand up here and try to defend. They will always come into this place, colleagues, and they will defend until the day they die the right of the union movement—

Opposition senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order! Senator Hinch is on his feet on a point of order. I think I can probably guess what it is, Senator Hinch.

Senator Hinch: You know exactly what it is, Mr President.

The PRESIDENT: In that case, again, we've had another request—I nearly had one earlier from that end of the chamber—that they can't hear the question and, in this case, the answer. Can colleagues please keep that in mind during their disorderly interjections. Senator Cash.

Senator CASH: Thank you, Mr President. Those on the other side and Mr Shorten, in particular, given the stunt yesterday, will always defend the right of unions to enter into deals with big business to suit themselves and to cut the penalty rates of the lowest-paid workers in Australia. But when the independent Fair Work Commission that was set up by those opposite—and Bill Shorten gave them the terms of reference in relation to the penalty rates case—brings down a decision that gives small businesses in Australia a small break, those on the other side revert exactly to type. They back big business and big unions doing deals to cut penalty rates over small business any day of the week.

The PRESIDENT: Senator O'Neill, a supplementary question.

Senator Cameron interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Senator Cameron! Your colleague is on her feet.

















Senator O'NEILL (New South Wales) (14:29): Isn't it true that the Turnbull government's cuts to penalty rates will hurt up to 10,800 retail and hospitality workers in Bennelong?

Senator Abetz interjecting


Senator CASH (Western AustraliaMinister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service, Minister for Employment and Minister for Women) (14:29): I have a very succinct answer to the question, colleagues—and thank you, Senator Abetz. The answer to the question is: no. You see, if anyone is responsible for the penalty rates cut, it is you on the other side. You set up the independent Fair Work Commission, you chose the head of the commission, you gave the commission the terms of reference to actually look at whether or not penalty rates should be reduced.

Opposition senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order on my left! Senator Cash, please resume your seat. On a point of order, Senator Cameron?

Senator Cameron: A point of order on relevance.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Cameron, the minister was being directly relevant to the question asked.

Senator Cameron: You have not even heard my point of order.

The PRESIDENT: It would be a stretch to define what the minister was saying as not relevant. I will hear you. Go ahead, Senator Cameron.

Senator CAMERON: This is a point of order on relevance. The minister was asked about Bennelong. This serial misleader in the Senate—

The PRESIDENT: Senator Cameron, resume your seat! The question, as asked, referred to a policy, as stated by the opposition, about the government. The minister was addressing that policy and is directly relevant to the question. It is not appropriate to make such an allegation or claim about another colleague in a point of order.

Senator CASH: Colleagues, those on the other side support a bed and breakfast having to pay $10 more an hour than a five-star hotel. I'm going to back the small business. Those opposite support a family chicken shop having to pay $8 more an hour than KFC. I'm going to support the small business. They support a family-owned takeaway business having to pay $8 more an hour than McDonald's. We're going to support the small business. Those on the other side support a family greengrocer having to pay $5 more an hour than Woolworths. John Alexander, I think, is going to stand up for small business every time. (Time expired)

The PRESIDENT: Senator O'Neill, a final supplementary question.











Senator O'NEILL (New South Wales) (14:31): Given that this minister's behaviour has included misleading the Senate at least five times in the last month, is it fair to say she is more concerned about safeguarding her own job than protecting the jobs of Australian workers?


Senator CASH (Western AustraliaMinister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service, Minister for Employment and Minister for Women) (14:31): Absolutely not, and I'm not even going to dignify that with an answer.

Opposition senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order on my left!

Senator CASH: You know that I corrected the record as soon as I could. But let me tell you about the jobs—

Opposition senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order! Senator Cash, please resume your seat. I am struggling to hear Senator Cash, who has a very powerful voice. On my left, can I have a little less noise so I can hear the minister?

Senator CASH: We, on this side, want to ensure—

The PRESIDENT: Order! Point of order, Senator Farrell?

Senator Farrell: Point of order. The minister has already said she's not going to answer the question, so she should then sit down.

The PRESIDENT: I actually couldn't hear the minister, a point I made only moments ago when I was calling the chamber to order. I'll ask the minister to continue the answer, and I'll remind the minister of the question. I could not hear the first part of the minister's answer.

Senator CASH: Small business is the biggest employer in Australia. We proudly stand here on this side and say, 'Big business and big unions doing deals to cut penalty rates is wrong.' We will stand here every day of the week and go into bat for small business. We want to see small business prosper and grow. We want to see small business on a level playing field with big business. What we don't want to see is big businesses and big unions, time and time again, being able to do dirty little deals that take penalty rates away from workers—something which continues to be condoned by those on the other side.