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Tuesday, 11 August 2015
Page: 4935

Workplace Relations


Senator CAMERON (New South Wales) (14:29): My question is to the Minister for Employment, Senator Abetz. I refer to the minister's failure to answer a question yesterday on penalty rates, so I ask again: does the minister support the Productivity Commission's proposal to cut penalty rates for Australian workers on Sundays?


Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Government in the Senate, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service and Minister for Employment) (14:30): The only person I know who has actually engaged in the cutting of penalty rates was a particular union leader, who rejoiced in the name of Bill Shorten, who in 2006 dealt with the Clean Event agreement in which there was no additional weekend or public holiday pay.

The PRESIDENT: Pause the clock. Point of order, Senator Moore.

Senator Moore: Mr President, I rise on a point of order. It is on direct relevance. It was a very clear question. It was about whether the minister agrees with the Productivity Commission's proposal to cut penalty rates. It had no other question asked and I think it is important that we get to the question.

The PRESIDENT: Thank you for your point of order, Senator Moore. I would remind the minister, although he has only just commenced his answer, of the question.

Senator ABETZ: The point I was making was that the now Leader of the Opposition, Mr Shorten, has rolled into this chamber a frontbencher by the name of Senator Cameron to ask questions about penalty rates in circumstances when he was the architect of the removal of penalty rates in EBAs, be it in the cleaning industry, be it in the mushroom-picking industry or, indeed, which is quite apt, be it even in the circus industry—in the Cirque du Soleil—which was entered into—

The PRESIDENT: Pause the clock.

Government senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order on my right! Senator Cameron, on a point of order.

Senator Cameron: Mr President, I rise on a point of order on direct relevance. There was one question asked here: does the minister support the Productivity Commission's proposal to cut penalty rates? He has not got anywhere near that. We are not Cirque du Soleil—could you bring him back to the question.

The PRESIDENT: Thank you, Senator Cameron. I will remind the minister of the question and advise the minister that he has one minute in which to answer the question.

Senator ABETZ: If those opposite were not that anxious they would see the point that I was making, because there was also the Melbourne and Olympic Parks Trust agreement in 2001 and 2003, both signed by Mr Shorten.

The PRESIDENT: Pause the clock.

Government senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order on my right!

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order, Senator Macdonald, and you too, Senator Conroy.

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order, both sides. Senator Wong, on a point of order.

Senator Wong: Mr President, I raise, again, a point of order on direct relevance. There was one question: does the minister support the Productivity Commission's proposal to cut penalty rates for Australian workers on Sundays? There was one question and he has had a minute and 14 seconds. You have already drawn him to the question and he is just completely ignoring your indication from the chair and flouting the standing orders.

The PRESIDENT: Thank you, Senator Wong. I will remind the minister of the question and advise him he has 46 seconds in which to answer the question.

Senator ABETZ: On the basis of that very rich history of Mr Shorten's own activities in cutting penalty rates, it seems that the Productivity Commission may have gleaned something from Mr Shorten's own experiences of cutting penalty rates by making a suggestion, a suggestion which includes—

The PRESIDENT: Pause the clock. Senator Cameron, on a point of order.

Senator Cameron: Mr President, I rise, again, on a point of order on relevance. You have drawn the minister's attention three times to this question. The minister is ignoring your observations about answering the question. He should be brought to the question.

The PRESIDENT: Thank you, Senator Cameron. Again, I will remind the minister of the question and advise him that he has 23 seconds in which to answer.

Senator ABETZ: Based on that rich history provided by Mr Shorten's own activities, the Productivity Commission has made a draft recommendation that suggests that the Fair Work Commission should make that determination. At all times, we have said the Fair Work Commission should make that determination and not union leaders like Mr Shorten— (Time expired)






















Senator CAMERON (New South Wales) (14:35): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I refer the minister to published analysis which shows that workers in regional Australia would lose between $370 million and $691 million a year as a result of cuts to penalty rates. Would cuts to penalty rates further entrench the divide between rural and city workers?


Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Government in the Senate, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service and Minister for Employment) (14:35): As with all these things, these are sensitive matters that impact on the economy on one hand and individual household budgets on the other. That is why in this nation we have an independent umpire, called the Fair Work Commission, to make those determinations. All the Productivity Commission has said is, 'These are matters worthy of consideration, not by government but by the Fair Work Commission.' Can I remind the honourable senator that the three Productivity Commissioners who considered this matter and who made that recommendation were all appointed under the previous Labor government. These matters need to be balanced on the basis of all the information available and I have confidence that the independent umpire will make an appropriate determination when and if these matters are raised before them, unlike the Labor Party who seem to have no confidence in their own commission. (Time expired)


Senator CAMERON (New South Wales) (14:36): Mr President, I ask a final supplementary question. I refer to the recently reported cases of Sharon Eurlings, a New South Wales casino worker, and Maria Versace, a Geelong restaurant worker, who are both mothers relying on penalty rates to help support their families. Won't cutting penalty rates make it harder, not easier, for Australian workers and families who are already doing it tough?


Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Government in the Senate, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service and Minister for Employment) (14:37): The only cuts to penalty rates that have occurred in Australia other than those so shamefully negotiated by Mr Shorten—unknown to the workers at the time—including having the Chiquita mushroom workers sacked and then re-employed without those conditions—

Opposition senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order on my left.

Senator Cameron: Mr President, I rise on a point of order: relevance. The minister is using the same standard answer to run away from direct questions. He really should be dealing with these very important questions that are being put to him and he should be relevant to the standing orders.

The PRESIDENT: I remind the minister of the question. He has 40 seconds in which to answer.

Senator ABETZ: I can understand Senator Cameron's huge embarrassment at the record of Mr Shorten in getting rid of penalty rates. There was one review initiated by Mr Shorten and the Labor Party and that was the modern award review. During that process, Labor's independent umpire decided to cut penalty rates in the casual award. Labor's laws, Labor's independent umpires and the workers got a cut in penalty rates. To try to cover up for that and for Mr Shorten's own personal activities, this subterfuge is being raised. (Time expired)