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Monday, 12 October 2015
Page: 7277


Senator CAMERON (New South Wales) (13:19): Labor will be opposing these amendments. Labor do acknowledge the rising incidence of insecure work and we are, as a party, carefully considering our options to address these issues. We understand that with insecure work comes financial and emotional instability as people do not know where their next shift will come from, but we do not believe that by standing up in the Senate and putting forward a raft of amendments to this bill that deals with some specific issues that it will be a silver bullet, or a magic bullet, that changes work-life balance or changes job security for Australian workers. We take the view that to ensure job security and to ensure work-life balance you need a whole raft of complementary measures. You need a whole raft of sophisticated policy measures that come into effect to ensure that not only are there changes in industrial relations policy but also there are changes in other policy areas that support those changes in the industrial relations area.

We all know that insecure work can have an adverse effect on superannuation balances, for instance. So superannuation is another area that we have been very concerned about, to make sure that lower paid workers can have access to superannuation that give them a quality of retirement—that provides them with security in retirement. These are other issues that have to be addressed.

To address insecure work you require a multitude of policy responses, including investing in skills and training. I know, early in my career when I was a union official, the whole approach of employers was to simply deskill, was to simply seek to get the lowest pay you could for an individual skill. But over the period many employers have matured in their approach to this. They have adopted sophisticated skills approaches and sophisticated training approaches. I must say, over a period of time government has dropped the ball in that area, yet skills and training are absolutely essential to ensure that we do deal with job security and work-life balance. They focused on only one response to addressing insecure work. It is too simplistic and will not achieve better results for Australian workers.

Fairness in the workplace is fundamental to Labor values. Adapting to change must never be an excuse to erode hard-won working conditions. Insecure work is a particular threat to those conditions. Protecting the rights of working people to ensure every worker has access to decent wages and working conditions will always be an essential purpose for the Labor Party. Working people have to be able to join together, to bargain collectively to improve their working lives. Labor will ensure that the workplace relations system reduces the incidence of under employment and insecure work. Labor will strengthen the laws that prohibit sham contracting. Labor will set an objective test for determining when a worker is a casual. Labor will protect labour-hire workers.

Labor recognises the deleterious impact of poor quality and insecure employment on the immediate health and safety of workers and the overall negative effects on their health, including the mental health of the community. Labor is committed to making job quality an essential social policy objective, including improvements in Labor market control and social protections and services. Unlike the Greens, Labor will work with all stakeholders, including employers and unions, on the best overall way to combat the challenges of insecure work.

If the Greens were genuinely interested in reforms of this nature, they would have consulted with Labor or they would have briefed us on this proposal. Simply coming forward with these amendments without proper consultation, without creating a basis for some kind of unanimity at least on the opposition benches and on the cross benches is a recipe for disaster. Determining policy in isolation, determining policy on the basis of not consulting, determining policy and amendments to bills without dealing with the broader issues in our view is not sufficient to protect workers' entitlements, to protect their job security and to protect them in a range of other ways.

We would say to the Greens that we are genuine about dealing with job insecurity and we are genuine about dealing with work-life balance. We simply do not believe you can do it through the amendments the Greens have put forward because they go to a narrow aspect of these two issues and do not cover the wide range of issues that a properly-thought-through policy requires.

We do want to deal with these issues. We would agree with many of the comments Senator Rice has made but we do not agree with the specific policy issues she has put forward this morning. We call on the Greens—and I have done this many times in this chamber—when looking for support for amendments in this place, to at least consult with the Labor Party, to at least consult with us and to go through the process of trying to maximise the capacity to get bills through this Senate.

Labor will oppose these amendments. We certainly agree with some of the rhetorical issues that Senator Rice has raised. We certainly agree about the problems workers face in this country. We just do not believe that what Senator Rice has put forward is the way to deal with them at the moment and that is why we oppose the amendments.

While I am on my feet, I congratulate you, Senator Cash, for your elevation up that slippery poll of the coalition hierarchy. I do not know that congratulating you is going to be a great thing for working people in this country, given that your hero is Margaret Thatcher. There are going to be some good ideological debates in this place. If the ideology you bring forward goes back to the Thatcher era, we are going to have some crackers because Thatcher was not good for Britain, Thatcher was not good for industrial relations, Thatcher was not good for the economy and Thatcher was not a very good politician in the end. So do not base yourself on Margaret Thatcher. Do not base yourself on the 'Iron Lady'. Let us get some decency back into politics in this country. You can sit down with the opposition. You can talk about the issues that are important in terms of industrial relations. You can negotiate with us when it comes to improving workers' lives in this country, but definitely do not talk to us about Thatcherite policies because we are not interested.