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Tuesday, 30 July 2019
Page: 1129


Senator SHELDON (New South Wales) (15:21): This is not my first speech. In 2015, as reported by the SMH's article '7-Eleven: a sweatshop on every corner', 7-Eleven underpaid by substantial amounts of money. They were paying as little as $10 an hour. A student from India with three degrees, Mr Pendem came to Australia in 2011 and worked at three different stores under four franchisees in the Gold Coast region. Pendem still has nightmares from his time working at 7-Eleven, as reported. He worked long shifts of up to 16 hours without a proper break. He was robbed twice in the space of 18 hours by a man in a balaclava brandishing a long, serrated knife. Both times his boss scolded him for not fighting back to stop the robber taking $180. He says he recalls his boss saying: 'You should fight or throw the till at him—something, punch him. Why did you give him the money?'

Pendem was paid $10 an hour at one store and $14 an hour at another store—which was well below the award rate of $24 an hour—including not being paid penalty rates. At the time, the employment minister Senator Cash said that this was 'a deplorable act' in the Sydney Morning Herald. On 13 June 2017, she said that the Turnbull government was providing the necessary resourcing and policies to ensure that it was not repeated. Again, today, she said that there was no tolerance for exploitation, yet we've seen $25 million stolen by Michael Hill jewellers. We've seen celebrity chefs steal $8 million. Another celebrity chef stole nearly $1.6 million in just one year.

Wage theft is rampant under this government. They have one law for everybody else and another law for workers. If you walked into your business and went to the safe or the till that Mr Pendem talked about and stole $10 or $20 or $50 or $25 million, you would be in jail. You would not be allowed to run a business. You would not be allowed to work. You'd be taken out of society. You'd be held to account. After time and time again declaring it was serious about wage theft, including today, this government has done so little. It is rampant. Under this government, it is now a business model.

Poverty in this country is on the increase—insecure jobs, poorly paid job, jobs without rights. In this country, $6 billion in superannuation is owed. In New South Wales alone, over $2 billion is owed to people in underpayments and nonpayments of superannuation. It's billions upon billions of dollars. Where's the ensuring integrity bill for wage theft? Where's the ensuring integrity bill for Michael Hill jewellers? Where's the ensuring integrity bill for Caltex? For Domino's? Where are our billions of dollars that have been stolen out of this economy by people that are thieving and stealing from people in this economy?

Australians work hard in this country. Those on the other side mightn't think that, because they're worried about the people that turn around and steal the money. They're the ones that are turning around and saying they are not going to hold them to account. They're the ones saying, 'The business model won't be broken under our watch.' Quite clearly, this government is about a culture war.

To be lectured about a class war—what sort of class war is it when you take billions upon billions of dollars away from people in this country? That's the class war. What's the class war when you turn around and say to working Australians, 'Your representatives are the ones that are the problem,' not us, not the people we're defending, not the business community, those ones in the business community that are stealing. They are also robbing from decent businesses, from the many hardworking business people out there that pay the right money, that turn around and pay superannuation. What's happening on their watch? (Time expired)

Question agreed to.