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Monday, 20 March 2017
Page: 1384


Senator MARSHALL (Victoria) (15:27): George Orwell would be very proud of that contribution from Senator James Paterson. It was an extraordinary distortion of the facts and the truth. Here we have a situation where, all of a sudden, it is the Labor Party's position, that it was the Labor Party's intention to do this. I say to Senator Paterson, Mr President, that he will have an opportunity to vote against these cuts when they come before the Senate. If he actually believes that we wanted the penalty rate cuts and those on the other side of the chamber did not want them, he will have an opportunity to vote against them, to oppose them. If he also says that employers and unions should not be able to jointly negotiate overall wages and salaries that pass the better-off-overall test, that pass the independent umpire, I would be very happy to see an amendment from senator Paterson that actually outlaws that. I would be happy to support an amendment enshrining penalty rates when the bill comes before the Senate. If he wants to attach an amendment to that bill to say that you cannot trade penalty rates in any form, absorb them into overall rates, annualise salaries or even-out those salaries over a period of time, I would be more than happy to support it. Let us take penalty rates completely out. If that is what he is saying to business, that we do not want the opportunity to be able to do that, that is fine. Let him say that. But let him actually say that in the form of an amendment, not by just mouthing it over there. Let him actually move an amendment. I would be happy to support that and I would encourage my party to support that 100 per cent. That would actually clean up some of that.

What he misses completely is that no-one in this place relies on penalty rates. The people who rely on penalty rates are some of the people who are doing it the toughest in our community. They are people who often are not full-time people. They are people on casual rates, people on part-time rates, people who in many instances want more work but are not given that opportunity. Instead, they have to rely on penalty rates to make ends meet. We are talking about people who the commission itself identified as suffering hardship from their decision. That is what was missing from that debate. When I heard Senator Paterson and Senator Back talk about these issues I noticed they missed the point. Senator Paterson says, 'Well, why is Sunday any different from Saturday?' Well, let us support a proposition where penalty rates are moved to the Sunday level. That would alleviate some of the hardship that is going to be applied to the people who rely on penalty rates. It is no hardship for me, and it is no hardship for the people on the other side of the chamber. We do not get paid penalty rates. We certainly do not rely on penalty rates and we do not need those rates to put food on the table, to send our kids on excursions, to pay the electricity and gas bill and to pay our rent—let alone a mortgage. People in those circumstances rarely have mortgages as well. This is the other Orwellian proposition that Senator Paterson made and that I will just touch on. Senator Paterson talked about how it was, in fact, the Labor Party's Fair Work Commission and how it was stacked with all our people. He then went on to criticise us for not supporting the independent commission's decision. Well, of course, he cannot have it both ways in that respect either.

It took the Prime Minister three weeks of flipping and flopping around, wanting to work out where public opinion was going to land, before he would decide whether he wanted to say that, yes, he and his government supported the penalty rates cut, or, no, they did not. He wanted to hide behind the independent commission's decision. It took him three weeks to work it out. And remember that they never abide by independent tribunals' decisions, unless it suits them. When the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal handed down a decision they did not like, not only did they immediately overturn the decision but they also abolished the tribunal. That was their response to the independent tribunal: to abolish it.

Let us ask Professor Triggs how she gets treated as a statutory officer when some decisions come out which they do not like. They 'lose confidence' in the professor and they 'lose confidence' in the commission. We have seen the actions of some senators in Senate estimates in respect to that—absolutely appalling behaviour. This is a terrible decision by the commission and it needs to be overturned. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.