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Monday, 3 December 2018
Page: 12388


Ms SWANSON (Paterson) (19:01): Tonight I wish to speak on behalf of the 12,462 people in my electorate who have been affected by cuts to their penalty rates under this coalition government. One in five people who live in Paterson work in retail, hospitality, accommodation and other industries that are affected by these cuts. These are some of the most vulnerable members of our community. 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 mortgages—that's if they can afford to have a mortgage—pay electricity bills, buy food and pay the many other bills that are going up and up under this government.

As of 1 July this year, the second round of penalty rate cuts has impacted some of the lowest paid and most vulnerable workers in Paterson. On average, those in this group of over 12,000 people lost $77 a week. While on the surface that might not seem like much to some people, it can be the difference between living above or below the poverty line. Seventy-seven dollars a week, or $4,004 a year, is not a small sum of money to many people in my electorate; in fact, it's a big sum of money, especially coming into Christmas. It's the price of filling up the car with petrol every week, or buying some of the groceries for the family, or paying a child's sporting fees for the week. Fundamentally, many of my constituents rely on this sum of money to survive.

The cost of living is going up but workers' pay rates have been stagnating, and the Abbot-Turnbull-Morrison government doesn't seem to care. The 2017 Universities Australia Student Finances Survey showed that one in five students in regional areas, like my electorate of Paterson, regularly go without food and other necessities because of financial hardship. The same survey revealed that the majority of students, 83 per cent, support themselves through work—and that's a good thing. Students from regional areas, like those in my electorate, face significant shortfalls between their income and their expenses, yet the coalition government is doing absolutely nothing about it. While the Prime Minister may never know what it's like to rely on $77 a week just to get by, he should be ashamed of himself for imposing it on families, who know the pain very well. Seven hundred thousand workers in Australia are affected by cuts to penalty rates. And while this private member's bill was introduced by the Leader of the Opposition quite some time ago, it remains increasingly evident how important this bill is. Unlike the Morrison government, Labor understands that penalty rates are not a luxury—they are very much a necessity. I am proud to stand with the Leader of the Opposition as part of a really united team that is committed to restoring penalty rates in the first 100 days of a Labor Shorten government.

In real terms, this is what these cuts mean. It is actually interesting. I was at the airport last night coming to Canberra. There were big lines in the security queue because of the weather. The wind had delayed flights, and there were people all over the airport. There were queues, big waits, and people were frustrated. I overheard one of the security people who was at the X-ray machine looking at the luggage. She said to the other one, 'I think we'll be here to well beyond 10.30 or 11.00 tonight,' with a tone that implied that they had been there for many hours and they would be working overtime. She said to her colleague, 'Thank goodness it's a Sunday,' also implying they were being paid penalty rates. That's the difference—when people really are being put upon to change their lives, to work outside what most of us would consider a normal working week.

One of the other reference points I often make in this argument is that when children stop going to school, Monday to Friday, generally 9 to 3, then maybe we will be able to say there is no such thing as penalty hours or penalty rates. But I hope that never happens, and I would suggest that Monday to Friday, roughly 9 to 5, is still regarded as the working week. People that operate largely outside of those hours should be remunerated for the effort and the disadvantage that that causes for some of them and their families. To the 700,000 Australians who have been affected, I say to you: your voice matters, your living conditions matter, your vote counts and so do your penalty rates.

Debate adjourned.

Federation Chamber adjourned at 19:07