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Monday, 20 March 2017
Page: 1363

Workplace Relations


Senator CAMERON (New South Wales) (14:10): My question is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Brandis. Last Friday, the Prime Minister said, in relation to the cuts to penalty rates:

Well we do support it …

Why did it take over three weeks for the Prime Minister to come clean with Australians and admit that his government supports a pay cut to some of Australia's lowest paid workers?


Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandAttorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:11): Mr President, through you: I am astonished, Senator Cameron, by the stupidity of your question. Of course any Australian government will respect the decisions of independent bodies. Any Australian government will do so. And it was you, Senator Cameron—the political party that you represent, when in government, established the Fair Work Commission as an independent arbiter. You established the Fair Work Commission as an independent arbiter, and, when you established it, you said—

The PRESIDENT: Order! Senator Cameron, a point of order?

Senator Cameron: Yes, a point of order on relevance. There is one question, and that is: why did it take over three weeks for the Prime Minister to come clean?

The PRESIDENT: The Attorney-General is being directly relevant to the question.

Senator BRANDIS: Lest it be lost on you—through you, Mr President—Senator Cameron, it has been the position of the Prime Minister and of every member of the government, and it ought to be your position, quite frankly, to respect the decisions of independent arbiters; particularly, I might say, an independent arbiter which your side of politics when in government established to be an independent arbiter. This, Senator Cameron, is essentially an issue of the rule of law. Whether you agree with the determination or you disagree with the determination, whether you might wish that the determination had been otherwise, the fact remains that this is a determination made by an independent body—established by your side of politics to be an independent body—as a result of a transparent process on the basis of arguments put before it, and that decision by an independent body ought to be respected by everyone. It certainly is by the government.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Cameron, a supplementary question.







Senator CAMERON (New South Wales) (14:13): Attorney-General, why is the government abandoning the up to 700,000 Australians who will lose up to $77 a week as a result of this decision?


Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandAttorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:13): Senator Cameron, I am sorry to have to repeat what I said to your colleague Senator Moore, but the fact is that the trading away of the conditions of lowly paid workers relying on penalty rates is not something that is the result of any determination of the Fair Work Commission; it is a result of deals done behind the scenes by trade union officials. We know, infamously—infamously, it was revealed during the Heydon royal commission—

The PRESIDENT: Order! Pause the clock. A point of order, Senator Cameron?

Senator Cameron: Again, a point of order on relevance. Unions cannot trade anything away behind the scenes, Mr President. There are democratic processes—

The PRESIDENT: That is a debating point, Senator Cameron.

Senator Cameron: that have to be undertaken. The question was: why have 700,000 workers who will lose $77 a week been abandoned? The minister has not gone anywhere near that question.

The PRESIDENT: Thank you, Senator Cameron. On the point of order: firstly, Senator Cameron, and to all senators, when raising a point of order, it is not the time to raise debating issues, which you did in the commencement of your point of order. Secondly, I remind the Attorney-General of the question.

Senator BRANDIS: Thank you very much, Mr President. Senator Cameron, when an independent tribunal makes a decision then all political interests in this chamber—not just the government but all of us—are bound to respect the independence and the integrity of that decision, and the government does. When it comes to the decisions to lower the benefits to workers who rely on penalty rates— (Time expired)

The PRESIDENT: Senator Cameron, a final supplementary question?









Senator CAMERON (New South Wales) (14:15): Minister, why is the government supporting a pay cut for some of Australia's lowest-paid workers whilst at the same time proposing a $50 billion tax cut to big business, including the big four banks?


Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandAttorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:15): We always hear the echoes of the old class war from you, Senator Doug Cameron, don't we, in that inimitable accent of yours from the shipyards of Glasgow. Senator Cameron, the facts are against you. The person who, more than anyone else, has traded away the rights, benefits, pay and conditions of workers is Mr Bill Shorten, as the Heydon royal commission found out in the case of the workers of Chiquita Mushrooms, in the case of the workers at Clean Event and, as we have seen more recently, in the case of workers in the food industry, where even—

The PRESIDENT: A point of order, Senator Cameron?

Senator Cameron: The question went to the issue of a $50 billion tax cut whilst cutting the wages of the lowest-paid workers in this country. The minister again has not addressed that. He should be drawn to the question.

The PRESIDENT: Thank you, Senator Cameron. The question commenced with 'Why is the government supporting' and the Attorney-General has been answering the question.

Senator BRANDIS: Lest it was lost on Senator Cameron, we respect the decisions of the Fair Work Commission as an independent arbiter. If anyone has sold low-paid workers down the river, just look at your own leader, Senator. Look at what he did to the workers of Chiquita Mushrooms. Look at what he did to the workers at Clean Event. Look at what he did to so many other Australian workers whose terms and conditions he sold down the river for his dirty deals. (Time expired)