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Monday, 20 March 2017
Page: 1383


Senator PATERSON (Victoria) (15:22): I was going to begin my contribution to this debate by pointing out that the real authors and owners of the Sunday penalty rates decision are those opposite, because of course it was under their legislation, by their hand-picked commissioners, that this decision was made. But, once again, Senator Back has outdone me. I could not possibly match his elaborate metaphor, a simile, as Senator Moore pointed out, so I will not go there. But I do note for the record that the decision was made entirely under legislation authored by those opposite. It was made by people predominantly appointed by those opposite and particularly by the Leader of the Opposition.

I will focus on why the Labor Party has walked away from their support for the independent umpire, when it comes to setting wages. As Senator Moore said in her contribution, they respect the independent umpire, just not when it makes decisions like this, when it makes decisions they disagree with. It occurred to me that that was very similar to an argument that was made in the media last week by another person associated with this debate, the new head of the ACTU, Sally McManus. She said we should abide by the law unless of course we do not agree with the law. Laws should be abided by as long as we agree with them, but if we disagree with them, if we think they are unjust, we should not abide by them. That is the modern union movement. That is the modern Labor Party: 'We will abide by decisions of the independent umpire if we agree by them. We will abide by the law if we agree with it. But if we do not we will go and do our own thing.' Take that into account the next time you hear that they support the independent umpire.

I am looking forward to further contributions in this debate, because one thing I have not heard yet from those opposite is why they think a Sunday is more special than a Saturday. I agree, people who are working on a weekend should be paid more. That is a fair and reasonable thing, and this decision will preserve that. But what is special about a Sunday that differentiates it from a Saturday? Of course, the historical reason that Sundays and Saturdays were treated differently is because Sunday is the Sabbath. Many people of religious faith believe that it is not moral to work on the Sabbath and that it should be prevented, and if it cannot be prevented it should at least be penalised and discouraged, as penalty rates do. Surely, the modern Labor Party in 21st century, multicultural, multi-ethnic, multireligious Australia is not seriously saying that people who have no special religious observance on a Sunday should be penalised if they want to open their small business or if they want to employ someone? I look forward to hearing from them why a Sunday is so special compared to a Saturday.

The Labor Party are not opposed to cutting penalty rates full-stop; they are only opposed to penalty rates being cut when that is being done by the Fair Work Commission. If it is done by a union in negotiation with a business they could actually be quite happy about that. In fact, you will rarely hear them come here and talk about the union deals with big business that trade away penalty rates. As we have seen in the media today, and as Senator Brandis and Senator Cash pointed out in their answers to questions today, there are union negotiated EBAs which do not just cut Sunday penalty rates a little bit—do not just temper them a little bit or bring them into line with Saturday rates—but actually cut them quite radically. The KFC EBA reduces it from $29.16 an hour, which is what is required under the award, to only $21.19—that is an $8-an-hour cut. The McDonald's EBA similarly reduces it from $29.16 an hour to $21.08 an hour—a very significant cut.

I have not yet heard any of those opposite criticise the unions that negotiated those deals. Perhaps that says something, because a modern union leader cares much more about the number of members the union has and the amount of money it has then what its members are paid, because what really matters for a modern union leader is the influence that comes from having more members and more money. It gives you more votes in internal Labor Party forums. It gives you more money to spend on campaigns to ensure your mates are elected to federal parliament and to ensure that perhaps you yourself one day will leave the union and enter federal parliament. So they are willing to do deals with big business that cut workers pay in exchange for—sometimes, that we have heard, in the case of Clean Event and Chiquita Mushrooms—financial payments from those unions or, perhaps, in other cases, in other industries, cosy relationships with big businesses like Woolworths, Coles, McDonald's and KFC, who are very happy to have a cosy relationship with the union that helps facilitate union membership and encourages their employees to join unions in exchange for a favourable deal that allows them to pay those workers less. I do not know why a union that really had at heart the best interests of its members would agree to such a deal. The only reason it would do that is if there was a benefit to them as union officials rather than to their union members. That brings me very neatly to the reforms proposed by Senator Cash today. I commend them in the future to this chamber.