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Monday, 10 September 2018
Page: 8474

Ms CLAYDON (Newcastle) (11:08): Last week's national account figures confirmed what millions of working Australians already knew: Australia is in the midst of a wage crisis. While company profits continue to climb, workers' share of GDP has fallen to record lows. In fact, company profits are now growing at five times the rate of pay packets. That's right—five times. Meanwhile, household costs are at near record highs, thanks to the failure of this government to rein in distorted tax concessions, and power prices look set to climb thanks to the gaping void currently sitting where the government's energy policy should be. Unsurprisingly, given all this, household savings are at a decade low. Whatever measure you consider, it is clear that life is getting harder and harder for many Australians.

The government have proven time and time again that they just couldn't care less. A compassionate government, faced with this diabolical set of figures, would have done all they could to boost wages and give working Australians a leg-up. But, no, not this lot. When looking at the acute cost of living pressures and stagnant wages facing millions of Australians, what do they do? They cut penalty rates. They refuse to reverse their opposition to increasing the minimum wage. They reiterate their plan to give people earning $200,000 a year a $7,000 tax break, while a retail worker earning $35,000 gets a measly tax break of $3.85 a week. This tells you everything you need to know about the priorities of the Liberal government. While the personnel may have changed over the last couple of weeks, the antiworker agenda remains exactly the same. Don't be fooled by this new Prime Minister's honeyed promise that he's your best mate and that he's got your back.

The loss of penalty rates at the hands of the Turnbull and Morrison—and whoever might be next—governments has been a vicious blow for some of the lowest-paid workers in Australia. In my community of Newcastle as many as 13,000 people, or one in five workers, work in industries affected by the cuts, and they're losing as much as $77 per week from their pay packets. Penalty rates are a legitimate recognition of time spent working antisocial hours—time that you cannot spend with family and friends. They mean that hundreds of thousands of Australians can afford to pay their power bill, send their kids on a school excursion and fill the tank of the family car with petrol for the week.

The idea that cutting penalty rates will create jobs is just about as senseless as the idea that handing over tax cuts to the multinational companies will somehow do the same. Businesses take on more staff when there's greater demand for their products and services, not just because their coffers are growing. Thanks to this government, workers now have less to spend in local businesses, meaning that there's less money flowing in regional economies, like mine in Newcastle. This is just the thin end of the wedge. Today it's retail, food and accommodation, but we've already seen other industries mobilised to drive down pay for their workers too.

If Mr Morrison is genuine about being on the side of Australians, he needs to stand up and reverse these cuts. I suspect he won't. The recent savage ousting of the member for Wentworth from his job and his seat creates a window of opportunity that means we need only one or two Liberal-National MPs to find some courage, cross the floor and roll back these damaging cuts. Given this, I urge members opposite to think of the working Australians in their electorates who are being slugged with the triple whammy of insecure work, skyrocketing living costs and cuts to their penalty rates.

Whatever happens here today, one thing is crystal clear: Labor will restore the penalty rates of up to 700,000 Australian workers. Not only that but we're going to reform the Fair Work Act to put the bargain back into enterprise bargaining. We will call time on the exploitation of so-called permanent casuals. We'll lead a national crackdown on dodgy labour hire companies and ensure that those who do the same job get the same pay. While the Liberals are determined to back the privileged and the powerful, only Labor looks after Australian workers.