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Monday, 22 July 2019
Page: 600


Ms SWANSON (Paterson) (12:12): I move:

That this House:

(1) notes that:

(a) on 1 July 2019, 700,000 Australians had their penalty rates cut again;

(b) according to the Council of Small Business Australia, cuts to penalty rates have not created one single job;

(c) penalty rates are not a luxury, they are a necessity for millions of Australians to cope with the rising cost of living;

(d) cuts to penalty rates disproportionally effect women, young people and those without a tertiary education; and

(e) reinstating penalty rates would allow low income and highly casualised industries to invest more money into the economy;

(2) condemns:

(a) the Government's failure to protect penalty rates and the millions of Australians who rely on them; and

(b) Government members and senators who called for, or supported, cuts to penalty rates; and

(3) calls on the Government to:

(a) join with the Opposition in making a submission to the Fair Work Commission, arguing that penalty rates should be reinstated; and

(b) exercise some economic leadership and stand up for low paid workers.

I'm pleased to propose this private member's business about penalty rates. On 1 July 2017, penalty rates across several casualised industries were cut for the first of many times. This included industries like hospitality, pharmacy, fast food and retail. The following year, on 1 November 2018, casual workers had more cuts to their wages, leaving them around $77 per week worse off. On 1 July 2019, just weeks ago, the next round of penalty rate cuts were introduced, and on 1 July next year it will be the same story. By the time these cuts are fully implemented, on 1 July next year, some workers will be up to $26,000 worse off. Just let that sink in—$26,000. The Prime Minister probably doesn't know what it's like to be $77 a week worse off, but many people do. First as Treasurer and now as leader of our country, the Prime Minister has presided over the lowest wage growth since records began. That's an astounding claim, and it's true. Yet he and the Liberals and Nationals voted eight times in parliament to cut workers' take-home pay.

When the Fair Work Commission recommended the parliament cut penalty rates in 2017, they did so under the belief and impression that it would create jobs, and that's a fair enough assumption. While recognising these cuts would affect low-paid workers and vulnerable workers, the Fair Work Commission stated the decision would 'increase employment and have a number of positive effects on business'. Like a lot of my colleagues, I disagreed with that. Although the national unemployment rate is alarming—and even more so in regional areas like my seat of Paterson and the Hunter region more broadly—the solution to this crisis should not and cannot be at the expense of our lowest-paid workers. After countless attempts to stop them, the Turnbull-Morrison government again voted to introduce penalty rate cuts in full.

According to the Council of Small Business Organisations Australia and reported in The Australian on 26 April this year, not one single job has been created. And there's the real rub. We thought that, yes, as a trade-off, there might be some jobs created if the penalty rates were cut. We doubted it, and we were right to doubt it. Not one single job has been created. Two years and three penalty rate cuts later there is not one single job. The Liberal-National government has got it so wrong, and low-paid people are suffering and paying because of it.

At last count there were 12,462 people in my electorate who had been affected by cuts to these penalty rates. Across the Hunter region more broadly, that number rises to a staggering 34,900 people. Contrary to what the government might believe, these are real people with real families who rely on their penalty rates to raise their families; pay their mortgage, if they can afford to have one; pay their rent; pay their electricity bills, which are crippling because of the government's inaction; buy food and pay every other cost that needs to be covered. And we know that those costs go up; you just need to go to the supermarket to see things randomly going up and up and up. People in my community rely on that sum—that penalty rate—to pay for the things they need to survive. When everything's going up except for your wages, the last thing that people need is another cut to their take-home pay.

I want to point out one exception to this. I want to thank those employers and businesses who see fit to pay higher penalty rates. They understand the value of those employees and they turn their backs on these cuts and say, 'No, no. We understand the value of these employees and we want to remunerate them according to that important value.' I want to thank those employers who are doing that, because that is such an important thing. But I want to condemn this government. You've failed to protect our most vulnerable. You want to make a dollar by taking from those who can least afford it. It is a sham. You've not injected anything into the economy for at least the last six years, and we really need that injection. It's time that this government exercised some economic leadership and stood up for the low-paid and vulnerable people who are really relying on them to govern and not just wedge.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms Bird ): Is the motion seconded?

Mr Thistlethwaite: I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.