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Wednesday, 31 October 2012
Page: 12811

Workplace Relations

Ms LIVERMORE (Capricornia) (14:49): My question is to the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations. Will the minister outline how the government is committed to fair wages, good conditions and decent entitlements for working people? Are there any risks to this?

Mr SHORTEN ( Maribyrnong —Minister for Financial Services and Superannuation and Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations) ( 14:49 ): I thank the member for Capricornia for her question. I know that she is very committed to ensuring that workers get a fair deal at work.

I can report to her that the government has done a range of measures, and there are four that come to mind immediately. First, after the long, dreary years of the Howard government's industrial relations, we introduced a bargaining system that has now seen 2.2 million Australian workers covered by over 16,000 agreements. That is one tick. The next tick is that we extended unfair dismissal protections to cover seven million Australian workers so that people at least have some remedy against unfair dismissal. That is another tick. Indeed, since Labor was elected at the end of 2007, we have seen 800,000-plus jobs created. That is good news for workers and another tick. The fourth provision is that we increased compulsory superannuation from nine to 12 per cent, which means that Australians will have more money to retire on than they would have if the coalition had been in power.

But I can report to the member for Capricornia that last night there was a further development to improve the protections for Australian workers. I am referring to legislation that was passed called the Fair Entitlements Guarantee. Last night this Labor government put into statute the existing protections that exist in an administrative scheme known as GEERS.

Mr Hockey: Set up by Tony Abbott.

Mr SHORTEN: Spot on. As the member for North Sydney says, it was set up by the opposition. This is why what happened last night is so mind-numbingly perplexing, by the opposition. This was a scheme that we have improved—

Mr Hockey interjecting

The SPEAKER: The member for North Sydney has previously been warned, and provocation is not a defence. The minister has the call.

Mr SHORTEN: This is a scheme that we have improved. We have polished and improved it, because we always do better for workers than those opposite. But what is interesting is that this is a scheme to protect workers who are at risk of losing their entitlement. It is a scheme of last resort to help bail out workers who risk losing entitlements. So, even though the member for North Sydney says, 'Hang on, don't take credit; that is our idea,' why did you vote against it last night? What happened last night is that they decided to lower it because they have never seen a worker's condition they do not want to cut, and, when they could not get their amendment up, what did they do? They threw their toys out of the cot and said they would vote against the whole lot.

So the 14,000 workers in the last financial year who have benefited from the GEER Scheme should be grateful that there is a Labor government. The 64,000 workers who have benefited from the GEER Scheme since we were elected should be grateful for a Labor government. And I tell you who else should be grateful: all those workers in the future, because if the opposition had their way they would do over—they would further injure—workers who lost their entitlements courtesy of insolvency. Those opposite showed their real form on industrial relations last night: cut, slash and burn.

Ms LIVERMORE (Capricornia) (14:52): Madam Speaker, I ask a supplementary question. Can the minister tell the House if any further entitlements for workers are planned by the government?

Mr SHORTEN (MaribyrnongMinister for Financial Services and Superannuation and Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations) (14:52): I thank the member for Capricornia for her question. As I know, she is very interested in what happens to workers' conditions. That is why she voted for increasing compulsory superannuation, in modest increases over the next seven years, from nine to 12 per cent. So that electors in her electorate who work every day do not retire poor, she has backed a measure that will back 48½ thousand voters in Capricornia. So voters in Capricornia know she is on their side.

I can report to her that there are further measures that this government is going to put in place to help look after Australian workers—sensible measures, moderate measures—one of which is that, when harsh, cutting, slashing, burning, conservative governments go after state public sector entitlements, we will support making sure that, under transmission of business laws, public sector workers, who work hard and are not well remunerated, will be covered. When a callous, conservative government comes in to cut their conditions, we want them to be covered by the same national laws that everyone else in the Australian national system is covered by.

But it does not stop there. We have more good things for Australian workers. Another one—and we are currently engaging in consultations—is extending the right to request leave in certain circumstances. This will be a challenge for those opposite. Whenever they see industrial relations they scream as if it is a brown snake in the kitchen. When we talk about what we want to do for workers, those opposite need to do some policy work, because we want to extend the right to request leave to victims of domestic violence, and we want to extend it to people with disabilities and carers. I know there are good people opposite who will— (Time expired)