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Thursday, 13 February 2020
Page: 993


Senator BROCKMAN (Western AustraliaDeputy Government Whip in the Senate) (12:49): I rise to make a very brief contribution on the Treasury Laws Amendment (Recovering Unpaid Superannuation) Bill 2019 and to acknowledge the contributions of those that came before me. The point I want to quickly make, following on the point made by my colleague Senator Dean Smith, is that this is about recognising the fact that money earned by employees is their money. Whether it's wages or super, it is their money. Reuniting them with that money in circumstances where businesses have not complied with the law is an important step forward. The government has been working on this over a period of time. With the advent of the Single Touch Payroll and real-time reporting to the ATO by super funds, there is nowhere to hide for employers who don't do the right thing by their employees. It is the employee's money. However, those measures are forward looking and they don't address historical issues. So this bill is a one-off opportunity for businesses to come forward, do the right thing, wipe the slate clean, get the money and reunite it with the people who earned it.

But, as Senator Smith pointed out, when those opposite talk about wage theft and super theft, they have a tendency to—I cite the example of Senator Sheldon's contribution. He listed a long list of companies who have been found to have underpaid workers in their wages. That is absolutely true, and those companies need to do the right thing. But who is always left off that list when those opposite read out the list of businesses? Who's always left off? Do they ever raise the fact that the Labor aligned law firm Maurice Blackburn short-changed over 400 staff by $1 million? They always leave that one out. Do they recognise the fact that the ABC admitted that it underpaid 2½ thousand staff $22 million over six years? That's a larger amount than many of the businesses that are read out by those opposite. Maybe this should tell us that we have a systemic problem here. This is not wage theft; this is businesses operating in a significantly complex environment where they are trying to do the right thing and, because of the complexity of the systems involved, they sometimes fail.

As Senator Smith pointed out—and this is a really key issue—often the businesses, the companies and the entities we talk about in this place are the larger ones, like the ABC, Maurice Blackburn, Woolworths. What about the small businesses, who employ the majority of people in this country and who have to operate under the same rules—and so they should—and who have to operate in the same legal environment with the same legal obligations towards their staff but with also that same level of complexity? This is an excellent bill, and I commend it to the house.