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Monday, 20 March 2017
Page: 1380


Senator CAMERON (New South Wales) (15:06): I move:

That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Attorney-General (Senator Brandis) to questions without notice asked by Senators Moore and Cameron today relating to penalty rates.

Senator Brandis was his usual self today. His mind was not on the job. We all know he wants to head off somewhere else, whether that is London or Washington, on some job that the Prime Minister gives him. He will not deal with the real issue here. The real issue is that thousands upon thousands of workers in this country will have their pay cut as a result of the penalty rate decision by the Fair Work Commission and the refusal of this government to stand with Labor and ensure that those workers' pay rates are maintained.

Senator Brandis immediately moved to the class-war issue when I raised the question of the lowest paid workers in this country having their take-home pay reduced. I am one of the few—there would be others—blue-collar workers in this place who have actually had to rely on penalty rates in my working life. I did not rely on penalty rates to get myself through university; I relied on penalty rates to feed my family. That is what my penalty rates did. It was not about saving the family trust fund from paying out a bit for the BMW to get me off to university; it was about putting food on the table, getting the kids off to school and putting shoes on their feet. That is what penalty rates did for me and my family, and that is why penalty rates are so important.

The commission has got it so wrong. The commission recognises that this will create hardship for Australian workers. This will create hardship for up to 700,000 Australian workers who stand to lose $77 a week. This is at the same time when this government is prepared to hand over $50 billion to its mates in the big end of town. Tax cuts for the big end of town; wage cuts for ordinary workers—that is what this mob are about. They have got no idea. They are an absolute rabble. They are too busy looking at theoretical arguments on anything other than the issues that are important for Australian workers.

One of the graphs I saw in the fair work decision shows the financial hardship percentage for workers in the fast-food industry. It says 41.5 per cent of workers in the fast-food industry, who stand to lose $77 a week, cannot pay their rent. Some 41½ per cent cannot pay their rent now and yet they are going to get their penalty rates cut. That is absolutely outrageous. It says that 15.6 per cent find difficulty in raising $3,000 in an emergency and 17.6 per cent could not raise $3,000. This is simply a statistic for this lot over here. The same as deaths on building sites are statistics. All they think about is simply a statistic. They do not look at what is behind it. This is another statistic.

They going to run the argument that, if you simply give business more money, they will create more jobs. That trickle-down effect has never worked. You know what is going to happen here? Business profits will increase off the back of the poorest people in the country and they will not employ more people. Workers will only get longer hours at lower rates. This is an outrageous attack by the Fair Work Commission on ordinary workers. It is a bad decision and this mob should be supporting Labor in turning it around.

This is some of the lowest paid, most insecure and most vulnerable workers in Australia having almost 10 per cent of their wages cut. If it were 10 per cent of the wages of a backbencher over there, they would soon be whingeing and screaming about it but, if it is a poor worker, they do not give a damn. (Time expired)