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Wednesday, 11 November 2015
Page: 8278

Workplace Relations


Senator KETTER (Queensland) (14:13): My question is to the Minister for Employment, Senator Cash. Is the Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister, Senator McGrath, right to say:

Every weekend in Queensland a mini-cyclone called penalty rates hits our tourism and hospitality ...

Does the minister agree that penalty rates are mini cyclones?


Senator CASH (Western AustraliaMinister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service, Minister for Employment and Minister for Women) (14:13): I thank Senator Ketter for his question. Senator Ketter, I have already been asked a question in this place on penalty rates and I responded that the government's position was that penalty rates are set by the Fair Work Commission. That is and remains the government's position. I would, though, now take the opportunity to remind you that the only time that penalty rates have been changed by the Fair Work Commission—and, in fact, reduced—is as a result of a review commissioned by the now Leader of the Opposition, Mr Shorten. In addition to that—and thank you again for giving me the opportunity to remind those listening—the only person with a history in this place of ensuring that the lowest paid workers in this country have their penalty rates not just reduced but absolutely obliterated, slashed and cut without any compensation at all is, of course, the now Leader of the Opposition, Mr Shorten. This is what happens—

The PRESIDENT: Pause the clock.

Senator Moore: Mr President, I rise on a point of order going to relevance. The question was about comments made by Senator McGrath referring to penalty rates as mini cyclones. Does the minister agree?

The PRESIDENT: The minister has been addressing the issue of penalty rates, but you are correct in that the question was: 'Does the minister consider penalty rates to be mini cyclones?'

Senator CASH: Unlike those on the other side, on this side of politics we actually encourage people to have opinions, because, when you have a discussion and a variety of opinions, you are able to make a good policy. Senator McGrath is entitled to his opinion. I am sure it is based on the fact that he has spoken to people, probably in the hospitality and tourism industries, who would agree with him. There is a reason that the Fair Work Commission did what it did in relation to penalty rates. They reduced the rate of pay on a Sunday to that paid on a Saturday, because they understood that there was an impact on a particular industry—

The PRESIDENT: Pause the clock.

Senator Moore: Mr President, I rise on a point of order going to relevance. Does the minister agree?

The PRESIDENT: I stand to be corrected, but I wrote down: 'Does the minister consider that penalty rates'—

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: In any event, the minister has been dealing with penalty rates. She has seven seconds in which to complete her answer.

Opposition senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order on my left. Whether the question contained 'agree' or 'consider', I will leave it up to the minister to determine how she heard the question. Minister, you have seven seconds in which to answer.

Senator CASH: As I said, the only person in this place with a history in relation to penalty rates and ripping off the workers is Mr Shorten. (Time expired)












Senator KETTER (Queensland) (14:17): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Does the minister agree with the former Treasurer, Mr Hockey, who believes that penalty rates are 'profit murder'?


Senator CASH (Western AustraliaMinister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service, Minister for Employment and Minister for Women) (14:17): As the Minister for Employment in the Turnbull government, our position is very clear. My position is the government's position, and the government's position is that it is for the Fair Work Commission to set penalty rates. The only reason that those on the other side are raising the issue of penalty rates is that they have no plan for employment in this country. We know that because they have spent most of this year playing to the puppet masters in the CFMEU in relation to the implementation of the China free trade agreement. Those on the other side are beholden to their union masters.

The PRESIDENT: Pause the clock.

Senator Conroy interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order, Senator Conroy, you have a colleague on her feet.

Senator Moore: Mr President, I rise on a point of order going to relevance. The only question was: does the minister agree with the former Treasurer, Mr Hockey, who believes penalty rates are profit murder? That was the very straightforward question. I do not believe the minister has come close to that.

The PRESIDENT: I concur on the way the question was structured. Minister, you have 24 seconds in which to answer the question, and I remind you of the question.

Senator CASH: Again, the position of the government—which, as the Minister for Employment, is my position—is that the only body that sets penalty rates in Australia is the Fair Work Commission.







Senator KETTER (Queensland) (14:18): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Can the minister confirm that Australian workers are facing the lowest wages growth in two decades? How much less will Australians have in their pay packets when the Turnbull government also cuts their penalty rates?


Senator CASH (Western AustraliaMinister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service, Minister for Employment and Minister for Women) (14:19): In relation to Senator Ketter's proposition that the Turnbull government is going to cut penalty rates, I again confirm for the chamber that we are not. Our position is very clear: it is for the Fair Work Commission to set penalty rates; it is not for the government. But thank you for giving me the opportunity to once again confirm, for the benefit of this place and for the benefit of those listening, that the only person with form in this parliament—

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Pause the clock. Order on both sides.

Senator Conroy: I know there are a few beginners over there, Mr President, but—

The PRESIDENT: You are on one side too, Senator Conroy. I said both sides.

Senator Wong interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order, Senator Wong, you have your manager on her feet.

Senator Moore: Mr President, I rise on a point of order going to relevance. The minister did come close to the second part of the question, but the first part was clearly: can the minister confirm that Australian workers are facing the lowest wages growth in two decades? I do not believe the minister has gone close to that question.

The PRESIDENT: Yes, the minister was answering the second part. The minister has been relevant, and she has 26 seconds in which to answer the question.

Senator CASH: In relation to those employees of Cleanevent, once Mr Shorten had finished with them their wages were far lower than they would have been if he had not struck a deal, paid the employer 25 grand, and ensured that he was able to add them to his AWU membership list.