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Monday, 25 June 2018
Page: 6143


Mr WALLACE (Fisher) (13:11): I'm delighted to have the opportunity to rise again today to speak on the Treasury Laws Amendment (2018 Measures No. 4) Bill 2018, the latest in a series that the Turnbull government has introduced over the past 18 months, which shows so clearly that working Australians and retirees have only one true friend in this 45th Parliament: the coalition government. Our side of politics in Australia today is fighting to secure a job for everyone, ensuring workers do not have their pay stolen by employers or by their unions, ensuring that they get to keep as much of that pay as possible with lower taxes and ensuring that they are defended from threats and intimidation in the workplace. The Leader of the Opposition and the Labor Party members are fighting tooth and nail to protect the privileged sectional interests of the lawless unions against the workers they claim to represent, resisting every job-creating measure and trying to take hundreds of billions of dollars more out of peoples' pay packets.

Our side of politics in Australia today is working hard to ensure that workers can save for their retirement, that retirees' pensions are protected and that they can earn some extra money on the side through meaningful employment. The Leader of the Opposition and the Labor Party members, in contrast, simply want to slug our older Australians with a massive new retiree tax and make them pay for Labor's addiction to spending other peoples' money.

This bill is all about young people like those up in the gallery today. This bill is all about the young people of Australia. We were all young once—even you, Mr Deputy Speaker Georganas, all that time ago! We all know that young people in particular are at their most vulnerable in relation to the nonpayment of superannuation. Young people up in the gallery, listen to this because this is very important for your future. You might think superannuation is so far off into the future that you don't have to worry about it, but let me tell you those 30 or 40 years creep up on you very, very quickly. Trust me on this.

The bill before the House today is part of a consistent and coherent strategy from the Turnbull government to protect workers' pay and conditions. The bill's place in that strategy is to protect workers' superannuation benefits especially and ensure that workers are paid the super that they are entitled to. It will do this by first introducing tough new penalties for employers who are breaking the law and ripping off their employees and by providing new enforcement tools to the ATO. Schedule 1 of the bill gives the ATO the power to direct employers to pay unpaid and overdue superannuation amounts where that has been identified. Employers who do not pay the superannuation guarantee are already breaking the law, but with this bill the ATO will be given the proper power to direct employers to comply. Where they don't, it will back up this power with new criminal penalties. If an employer fails to comply with the ATO's direction to pay, they will have committed an offence under this bill with a maximum penalty of 50 penalty units, up to 12 months imprisonment or both. These are substantial penalties that are in line with how seriously this government takes the issue of underpayment of workers.

In schedule 5, this bill introduces new debt collection powers for the ATO on behalf of employees. It will minimise directors' ability to take advantage of the gap in timing between estimates of the superannuation guarantee charge and withholding liabilities and of the underlying liability to which the estimates relate in order to avoid paying their obligations. It will also prevent directors using the penalty notices regime to buy time, and allow the ATO to apply for a court order to compel employers to provide security for outstanding amounts.

These provisions are complementary to the government's Fair Work Amendment (Protecting Vulnerable Workers) Act 2017 as part of the government's comprehensive strategy. Where this bill seeks to stamp out the underpayment of workers' superannuation benefits, the central object of that act was to stamp out the practice of underpaying workers. When it was confirmed to the government through the Fair Work Ombudsman's inquiry into 7-Eleven that there is systemic underpayment of migrants and other vulnerable workers in Australia, this government acted to protect them. We found that underpayment had been in some cases straightforward and direct; in others, it had been done through the creation of false pay slips and employment records and, most worryingly, it'd been done by coercing workers by way of threats or intimidation to wrongly give money back where they were rightly paid.

Like today's bill, the Turnbull government's Fair Work Amendment (Protecting Vulnerable Workers) Act helped to stop these practices by imposing stiff penalties on offenders and by giving the Fair Work Ombudsman the power it needed to find and punish unscrupulous employers. The bill before us today and its counterpart in the protecting vulnerable workers act make it clear in no uncertain terms that the coalition considers exploiting workers to be entirely and utterly unacceptable. It makes it clear that this government will ensure that unscrupulous employers who engage in this type of conduct are punished. This government is steadfast in supporting small businesses that are doing the right thing, and the vast majority of employers do the right thing. But we believe in fairness and the rule of law, so we are also very tough on any business that is failing to respect its employees' rights.

The Leader of the Opposition's record on protecting workers' pay and conditions is in dramatic contrast. As national secretary of the AWU, he gleefully and repeatedly signed up to agreements that left the workers he supposedly looked after receiving less than their lawful entitlements. The workers at Cleanevent, for example, found themselves stripped of all penalty rates with no compensation. Under a 2006 agreement for which the Leader of the Opposition was responsible and which he approved in 2001 and 2003, the Melbourne and Olympic Parks Trust's agreement stripped workers of almost all penalty rates and overtime. The Leader of the Opposition hasn't given away workers' entitlements alone. For many years, the union movement all over Australia has been hard at work reducing workers' pay and conditions, often in return for benefits for the union itself. It's because of union negotiated enterprise agreements, for example, that workers at many five-star hotels are paid $10.24 an hour less than those on the Fair Work Commission's penalty rates. It's also why workers at David Jones, Dan Murphy's, McDonald's and KFC get $8 less than their counterparts on award rates. We are protecting workers' pay and conditions; those opposite are giving them away.

Another of the central objects of this bill is ensuring that the relevant authorities have the information and the power they need to investigate and catch corporate wrongdoers. Schedule 3 of the bill extends Single Touch Payroll to all employers from 1 July 2019. That is where 70 per cent of noncompliance occurs. This will give the ATO almost real-time information about all employees' superannuation guarantee entitlements, what liabilities have been paid and what liabilities have been withheld. Where before the ATO was dependent on employee complaints in most cases to identify examples of shortfalls and was unable to accurately identify how much super was in fact owed, this extended scheme will give the ATO full visibility over all of the amounts paid and owing which are relevant to the calculation.

The bill will also provide the ATO with timely information from the other end of the transaction by requiring that, from 1 July 2018, superannuation funds provide event based reporting. This will deliver the ATO nearly real-time data about the contributions received by funds on employees' behalf and reduce the burden on employers to report this figure. In combination, the measures will ensure the ATO has up-to-date and complete information, which will allow them to detect underpayment of employees' entitlements quickly without input from the employee. It will facilitate rapid and decisive action against employers who are not paying what they owe.

Schedule 2 of the bill gives the ATO the ability to tell affected employees about the efforts it is making on their behalf to recover unpaid superannuation. As it stands, the ATO's inability to tell employees what action, if any, they are taking to recover their underpaid superannuation guarantee leaves employees completely in the dark as to what their next steps should be. Following the passage of this bill, tax officers will be able to disclose the action they are taking on an employee's behalf. That will not only increase confidence in the system but also ensure employees have the information they need to decide how to pursue their unpaid entitlements further. Real-time reporting and transparency are critically important, as unscrupulous employers will sometimes seek to tailor their records to avoid exposing their misdeeds, while others destroy them when an investigation begins—just as the CFMEU did when under investigation by the Heydon royal commission.

The coalition government is ensuring, through this bill, that the ATO has the power it needs to find the truth and expose wrongdoing. What a contrast this is with the Labor Party's record when it comes to protecting the workers. Given the opportunity, they took key investigative powers away from one of the most important regulators protecting workers today. They abolished the ABCC in 2012 and with it the power for the regulator to compel witnesses to attend in cases of union exploitation of workers. They also took away the power for that regulator to enforce the law if a secret settlement had been reached. In an effort to protect their union mates as they ripped off the workers, Labor replaced the ABCC with a toothless tiger. Evidently, the Labor Party don't like real-time enforcement action.

There is no doubt that the Leader of the Opposition and his colleagues read the same court decisions as the rest of us. When it came to the test for eligibility under section 44 of the Constitution, for instance, they knew as far back as October—like the rest of us, after the Re Canavan decision was handed down—that four of their members of parliament were dual citizens and ineligible to sit in this place, yet for six months the Leader of the Opposition sought to avoid proper scrutiny and swift action by maintaining a self-evidently fallacious interpretation of the law. That was while my colleagues on this side of the House did the right thing by resigning or referring themselves to the High Court immediately.

Members opposite claim that Labor is the party that fights for workers' rights. As real working Australians know, that claim has been nothing less than ludicrous for many, many years. As the Labor Party is led by a man who has dedicated much of his life to trading away workers' pay and conditions for the benefit of his union mates, it is becoming a genuinely nauseating deception.

In contrast, the bill before us today is another important plank in the Turnbull coalition government's coherent strategy to stand up for working Australians and ensure that they get the pay and conditions that they deserve. Along with our industrial relations reforms, our fantastic tax relief just announced successfully last week and legislation like the Fair Work Amendment (Protecting Vulnerable Workers) Act, it will make a big difference to thousands of working people and let them know that the government is ready to protect them. For that, I commend it to the House.