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Tuesday, 8 November 2016
Page: 3205

Ms LAMB (Longman) (19:20): It was about six months ago now that I was sitting at home, on budget night, tuning in and listening to the Treasurer and, like so many others, I expected the Treasurer to deliver for more Australians. The fact is, instead of there being lots of winners on budget night it became apparent, really quickly, that there were many losers from that budget.

Of those groups were young people looking for a job, because while this piece of legislation is pitched—in a bit of a glossy flyer—as giving young people a pathway to a career, it risks giving big business cheap labour to exploit. We know this because when it comes to creating jobs and growing the economy you just have to look at the coalition's track record of delivering. From goading our car manufacturers to leave our shores, to their underhanded attempts to cut penalty rates, the coalition has never had the interests of working Australians at heart. But what can we expect when there is no doubt that the Treasurer goes to sleep every night dreaming about his endless pursuit of workplace flexibility, which, for the Liberals, has always been code for stripping away the rights of hardworking Australians.

This proposal highlights the reality that those opposite continually fail to do their due diligence when it comes to developing a social policy. Labor has always supported meaningful investment and initiatives that give young people a pathway towards long-term sustainable and fulfilling employment. We understand that there is dignity in work and that young people should be given every opportunity to find a job. In my electorate of Longman, making sure young people have a job was the crucial message I heard on the doorsteps, on the telephones or at the school gates.

The point I would like to make about this proposal is that while the bill appears to be noncontroversial and well-intentioned there are several elements of the government's broader program that have the potential to undermine our country's hard-fought workforce standards. The first issue is that we all should be alarmed by any proposal that allows a business to pay workers below the award rate. I am sure many of you will remember Gina Rinehart's vision for the Australian workforce—an agile, flexible workforce, with workers being paid $2 an hour. While this proposal is not as extreme, it has the same irreversible effects of stripping away after our social safety net for low paid and vulnerable Australians.

Under this proposal 17 to 24-year-olds will participate in internships of four to 12 weeks, working up to 25 hours a week, while receiving $200 a fortnight. Theoretically, an intern under this scheme could be paid as little as $4 an hour, no matter what work they were performing. To me, this is wrong. I have always believed in the idea of a fair day's pay for a fair day's work. We have minimum wage and award rates in this country because as a society we believe that low-paid workers should have economic security and be protected from exploitation. This proposal contradicts that.

It is not just Labor that sees the risks of worker exploitation under this proposal. We have Dr Amanda Elliot, an academic at the University of Sydney's Department of Sociology and Social Policy, who said this program was 'unlikely to be a good introduction to work for young people'. We have the head of Interns Australia, Dimity Mannering, who said the program would create 'huge opportunities for exploitation'.

As a parent it is concerning to think that my own sons could be working in any industry, no matter how dangerous, for as little as $4 an hour. I know those opposite will say that this scheme is voluntary but, regardless of that, we should not punish hardworking young Australians by allowing them to be exploited and paid wages that are below the standard of even a third-world nation. This is at a time when vigilance for ensuring that we protect the interests of young Australians going to work should be paramount.

We have all heard stories of worker exploitation within 7-Eleven, a company that thousands of Australians have probably visited at some time in their lives. It is a company that is marketed as a 'good call'. Today we know that many 7-Eleven franchise owners systematically exploited desperate young workers who were just trying to survive, and many of them had young families. They were underpaid, forced to perform weeks of so-called training and some were bullied and harassed. Yet, against this background, we have a government that wants to allow private sector internships that, in the 7-Eleven style, rob workers of the dignity of getting paid a fair wage equal to other workers performing the same work. I speak in such strong terms about the risks of worker exploitation under this proposal because I believe that it could potentially have the reverse of the outcome that is sought by the government. Instead of creating job opportunities, I can envisage that this scheme, were it to come into operation with no regulation, could potentially turn young vulnerable Australians away from work for life.

My second concern about this proposal is the very real risk of companies cycling through young workers and simply using them as cheap labour. Under this proposal, businesses will be paid $1,000 to take on an intern before receiving a wage subsidy of up to $10,000 if they hire the intern when the internship concludes. Those opposite consistently talk about business acumen and the need to keep government out of the way of business and individual enterprise. Yet you have to wonder whether any of them have any life experience actually running a business. When I look at this policy, I see the potential for rorting of dodgy employers out of cheap labour. What is stop a large company from simply employing an intern, using the wage subsidy until it is exhausted and then sacking the intern to replace them with another intern and attract more government subsidies? The fact is that, when you introduce schemes such as this, it creates a power imbalance between the employee and the employer. It takes way basic workplace rights and workplace conditions and you run the risk of companies and businesses exploiting young Australians in pursuit of profit.

I know better than most that there are many very good businesses around Australia. My family owns one of them—a small cafe at Brendale, which is just south of my electorate. Labor understands the challenges that businesses and business owners face. But, equally, we understand that, to run a small business, you have to invest in your staff, you have to give your staff appropriate training. That is what being a good employer is all about. Ronald Reagan said that nine of the most terrifying words in the English language were 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help.' The reality is that, for businesses in Australia, the 10 most terrifying words are 'I'm from the Turnbull government and I'm here to help.'

If those opposite really believed in the virtues of individual enterprise and entrepreneurship, they would recognise that training and paying for staff wages is fundamentally the responsibility of every business, because, ultimately, it is the business that will prosper from the skills and the hard work of their staff. But, instead, this proposal takes away the responsibility of businesses investing in their staff and moves that impost onto the Australian taxpayer, which can only be regarded as another example of Turnbullism corporate welfare.

My fear is that, while many good and honest businesses might use this program to hire a young employee who they may intend to keep for the long term, there is nothing to stop many other companies and businesses from churning through interns at the taxpayers' expense. This in turn risks placing young jobseekers in a continuous cycle of uncertainty, exploitation and poverty. If an Australian business wants to hire more staff, it should be encouraged to do so, but not through a thought-bubble scheme that creates a two-tier system of employment. Labor and I want to see more businesses hiring young people but we believe these positions need to be real jobs, and we will work with the business community and unions to make sure that our kids are given real jobs, real training and real security.

Another concern that I have with this proposal is that, while it is designed to give young people a job, it could in fact negate the need for existing employees to work at certain times in industry, like retail, hospitality or construction. In 2013 the Fair Work Ombudsman presented a report entitled Experience or exploitation.

Debate interrupted.