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Tuesday, 30 July 2019
Page: 1119

Workplace Relations

Senator SHELDON (New South Wales) (14:43): My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Industrial Relations, Senator Payne. In 2016 the Fair Work Ombudsman report on the widespread theft of wages at 7-Eleven found that the level of penalties and limited investigative powers contributed to an environment of noncompliance. How much has the government reduced wage theft since the ombudsman's report three years ago?

Senator PAYNE (New South WalesMinister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Women) (14:44): I have some information from the minister here, and those aspects of Senator Sheldon's question which I can't answer directly I'll take on notice and return to the Senate with further information. But it is fair to say that the coalition government has made it quite clear that we don't have any tolerance for exploitation in Australian workplaces, and we have taken definitive action to protect vulnerable workers.

For example, we accepted, in principle, all 22 recommendations of the Migrant Workers' Taskforce, and are building in measures already introduced to protect vulnerable workers. In our 2019-20 budget, the government also committed over $10 million, almost $11 million, to enhance the capability of the Fair Work Ombudsman to crack down on law-breaking by unscrupulous businesses, and that's on top of the coalition having provided the Fair Work Ombudsman with greater powers and over $34 million in funding over the past couple of years to focus on protecting vulnerable workers. That increase in funding will allow the Fair Work Ombudsman to continue to level the playing field for law-abiding employers by taking strong action against those who exploit their workers. It also means the Fair Work Ombudsman will be better able to meet the information and education needs of both migrant workers and employers, ensuring the migrant worker community also better understands their workplace rights.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Sheldon, a supplementary question.

Senator SHELDON (New South Wales) (14:45): This month it has been revealed that jewellery chain Michael Hill has underpaid workers by up to $25 million over the last six years. Why has the government allowed continued wage theft from Australian workers?

Senator PAYNE (New South WalesMinister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Women) (14:46): The government would of course reject that sort of exploitation of workers, as I said right at the beginning of my first answer. We continue to work with the Fair Work Ombudsman, and encourage and support the Fair Work Ombudsman, in their efforts to address these very serious issues. It is actually worth noting that the point at which the Labor Party left office in 2013 saw the Fair Work Ombudsman's funding cut by 17 per cent and their staffing by 20 per cent. We have increased that, as I said in my answer to the first question. We have increased that to enable the ombudsman to continue to level the playing field, as I said, for law-abiding employers, to ensure that we can take strong action against employers who do exploit their workers, like the example that Senator Sheldon gave.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Sheldon, final supplementary question.

Senator SHELDON (New South Wales) (14:47): Why aren't addressing stagnant wages, decreasing median household income and rampant wage theft priorities for this government?

Senator Cash interjecting

Senator PAYNE (New South WalesMinister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Women) (14:47): I agree with Senator Cash. I absolutely reject the premise of Senator Sheldon's question, because it is ridiculous to suggest that. In delivering a stronger economy, as this government is doing; delivering the level of job creation that this government is doing; and delivering the personal income tax benefits, as this government is doing, we are absolutely focused on supporting the workers in this country. I reject the premise of Senator Sheldon's question.