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Monday, 25 June 2018
Page: 6096


Mr SHORTEN (MaribyrnongLeader of the Opposition) (10:03): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

One of the great frustrations that Australians have with the state of politics in this country is that so often the parliament seems consumed by arguments that are not relevant to their daily lives.

But this legislation is not one of those moments.

This legislation is as real, as practical and as urgent as it gets. This is not some esoteric matter.

This legislation will restore the Sunday penalty rates of up to 700,000 Australian working people. It will protect their take-home pay into the future. For tens of thousands of Australians, cutting penalty rates means ripping money out of people's pay. Those on the other side of the House don't just think this is acceptable; they actually think it is commendable. It is their version of how they think this country should be run—that you can take money off the vulnerable, yet at the same time provide $80 billion this week in legislation to those at the top end of town and the big banks. We will in this legislation protect the take-home pay of Australian workers.

We will protect a principle as old as the Labor Party and the trade union movement: a fair day's pay for a fair day's work.

Every single member of my Labor team supports this legislation. Because we support penalty rates.

We support working Australians.

We support fair reward for the sacrifices that people who work the uncomfortable hours make, so that they can be paid properly.

We know that penalty rates are not a bit extra. They're not just the cream on the cake.

Penalty rates help people put food on the table and petrol in the car.

That $70 extra on a Sunday might not mean much to the frontbench of this coalition government, but it does mean that your child can go on that school excursion.

It means that you can pay the rent on time or your utilities bills, which keep going up and up under this government.

We understand that this is a broader economic question too, because cutting penalty rates hurts our economy.

Cutting penalty rates means that working people have less money to spend in small businesses, in the shops and in the cafes.

Cutting penalty rates dampens confidence and it deepens inequality.

Cutting penalty rates is also bad news for young people, and it's bad news for Australian women.

On current pace, under this government, Australia is 150 years away from closing the gender pay gap.

When the government cuts pay in industries where the majority of employees are women—such as retail and such as hospitality—it is the cause of working women that gets further put to the back of the queue.

Cutting penalty rates is a shocker for the regions too. It takes millions of dollars out of the pockets of regional workers and the economies of those regional towns.

I say to those National Party MPs who proudly boast about a great record of achievement: why are you so proud of representing electorates that are persistently the most disadvantaged? When does the National Party get with the program of lifting working people's conditions? When we talk about lifting people's conditions, what the government refuses to admit—or, indeed, they just lie about—is that when working people have an increase in their penalty rates and when those penalty rates are not arbitrarily cut away for weekends and public holidays, what it means is that these people spend the money they earn. When you live on $40,000, $50,000 and $60,000 a year, you don't have the option to invest your money in beautiful schemes to minimise your tax. You spend every dollar you get.

When this government engages in policies that advance wage stagnation and restrict the growth of workers' wages, what they are actually doing is starving the economy. They are starving the economy not just of expenditure but of confidence.

We know that, under this government, power bills are through the roof. We know that out-of-pocket healthcare costs that have gone up, up and still further up under this government.

And they have the lowest wages growth on record.

What the Liberals and Nationals have been doing in the last week is talking about putting money back in people's pockets.

Well, I say to them: here's your chance, right here and right now. If you want to do something that actually helps people, then vote for this legislation to restore penalty rates.

This isn't a proposition on the never-never. If this legislation is passed, we can save people's incomes on 1 July this year.

And the only way to prevent these cuts to penalty from going ahead is to bring this legislation on for a vote and vote for it.

And the only way to protect hairdressers and workers in clubs around Australia, who are next on the chopping block if cutting penalty rates becomes the norm, is to vote for this legislation.

This is not the first time that Labor has put this case forward. Honourable members will recall that, in March of last year, I moved legislation in this parliament seeking to overturn the first round of cuts to penalty rates. We predicted then that the cuts to penalty rates would stagnate and lead to the stagnation of wages growth. The evidence is in, but the stubbornness of the government and their wage-cutting agenda for working people in this country defies the evidence and the negative consequences to families and households.

When you look at the legislation this government brought on last week, they are providing $7,000 tax cuts for people on $200,000 a year and yet they can't support restoring $70 a week for shop assistants, retail workers and people in hospitality.

It screams much about their values.

When they had a chance to help the union of barristers and the association of investment bankers, they brought the vote on in record time.

When they had the opportunity to write a taxpayer cheque for the club of millionaires and the top end of town, they moved at lightning speed. Never get between a Liberal and a tax cut for a millionaire. The Prime Minister tours the country, demanding applause and confetti and doing those proof-of-life videos showing that he can actually speak to Australians, where he obviates the need to talk to them by going through his selfie proposition—'I'll have a selfie as that avoids my talking to you and listening to you, and deals with any awkwardness, because I haven't got a clue about your life!'—and then he goes on to expect praise for his $10 a week tax refund.

I say that he'll get a lot more praise if he comes to the dispatch box, instead of hiding in his office, and says, 'Yes, I will support restoring penalty rates arbitrarily cut.'

What we have seen from the government propaganda machine is that they say Labor supports cutting penalty rates because we endorse enterprise bargaining. There is a world of difference between workers consenting to and bargaining for improvements in their overall rates of pay, and arbitrary penalty-rate cutting, with no compensation, any hour of the day, any day of the week.

When we listen to their ministers carry on, always remember when you hear their ministers and the Prime Minister talking about workers that the reality is they get the microscope out but they have no knowledge of how people really construct their lives. Next time, ask them: 'Have you ever negotiated a pay rise for a worker? Have you ever sat there and bargained constructively with business, but always on the side of workers? Have you ever stood up to improve their redundancy pay? Have you ever stood up to give them a greater say in their rosters and their shifts?' Of course not. This government likes to talk about life experience—no life experience, ever, representing workers and getting them better, safer, more reliable and secure jobs in their lives.

Of course, we'll hear the other argument about penalty rates—the second argument, which is that we're now in a 24/7 economy, that somehow penalty rates are a thing of the past, because somehow we now live 24 hours a day, seven days a week, as if we never did before penalty rates. The point is that if we want a seven day a week, 24 hour economy, there's always a worker making that happen. We believe, and we make no apology for saying it, that when you're on $40,000, $50,000 and $100,000 a year we actually want to see you do better. We appreciate the work you put in for our economy.

Fundamentally, this legislation about penalty rates goes to the heart of the national priorities of this parliament and to the values of the two competing parties and movements that seek to form a government in this country. We think that if you earn penalty rates you're not selfish or greedy, you're not an inconvenience to business, you're not just another loaf of bread for which we should try to find the lowest unit price, as the Prime Minister once famously said of the exchange of labour for pay.

We respect the contribution of working people and we honour it. If you work unsociable hours away from your family and the opportunity to have quality family time, we think you should be paid something for this. We do not, and never have and never will, support the arbitrary cutting of penalty rates. There is no economic theory that backs this up, other than if you have an addiction to increasing inequality in this country.

The fight for people's penalty rates is not some esoteric matter. This is a critically important week in the life of this parliament. This week, the Australian people will find out whether its parliament is prepared to back-in legislation giving away $80 billion, principally to the top end of town, whilst at the same time refusing to protect the penalty rates of hundreds of thousands of Australian workers. It is the starkest test of the priorities of the government and the opposition. This government's attitude to penalty rates sums up its attitudes to the priorities of the nation. In parliament this week will we tell 700,000 Australians that they'll have to have a cut in their living standards? At the same time, will we tell the top end of town that we have $80 billion we want to give you? Labor will always back working people in this country.

The SPEAKER: Is the motion seconded?

Mr Brendan O'Connor: I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.

Debate adjourned.