House debates

Monday, 3 June 2013

Private Members' Business

Penalty Rates

10:51 am

Photo of Laurie FergusonLaurie Ferguson (Werriwa, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

Whilst the actual resolution deals with penalty rates, the previous speaker had recourse to significant bombast and rhetoric about the state of the overall economy. Therefore it is necessary to put on the public record a few realities. In fact, unemployment in this country, for instance, at 5.6 per cent, is strongly at variance with the Europe-wide average of 12 per cent and the United States rate of 7.6. He talked about inflation in this country and the pressures that is creating. He did not seem too concerned when the rate of inflation under the Howard government was 6.75 per cent, in contrast to the 2.75 per cent today. He did not say that the economy is 13 times larger than it was overall when this government came to power. He did not refer to the reality that the overall tax impost in this country is 22.2 per cent of GDP, as opposed to 24 per cent under Howard. Those are a few realities out there.

But the main axiom he came against was the question of the carbon tax, trying to somehow imply that the thing that really does affect people in this country, energy cost increases, is something overwhelmingly to do with the carbon tax. The fact of political life, the truth, is that the reason that energy prices are moving significantly in this country is that state governments, Labor and Liberal, disregarded the need to build infrastructure for decades, pretending to the Australian people that cheap energy could occur forever. Unfortunately, it has come home to roost. Infrastructure has to be renewed, it has to be replaced, and it is costing people a significant amount of money these days.

But the resolution before us today deals with the question of penalty rates. When I go to the Liverpool Titans football games or go to the South-West Sydney Tigers Aussie rules or the Campbelltown City rugby league games, I see a reality of this society: people working on weekends to keep society going, to keep the community having the option for people to play sports. When I go to the Country Women's Association, I see organisations that are struggling. In regard to RSL service organisations, Rotary and Lions around this country, we all know the truth that they are struggling because people have no confidence that each week they will be available, that they will be able to be there, that they will not be on call 24 hours a day for work and that they will not be required to work every weekend. That is a reality.

Penalty rates are about compensating people for the loss of family life, the fact that they cannot be with their children going to sport on Saturdays and Sundays, that they cannot be sure that they can do those sidelines, that they cannot be referees and umpires and people on the grounds, that they cannot help the ethnic school on the weekend at the local public school, that they cannot be involved in community radio because of the impact of the workforce changes in this country. That is what penalty rates are about. They are about compensating people for the loss of family life, for the loss of networks with their friends, their community, their society, their suburb.

And for those opposite, quite frankly, despite the attempt to be a small target before the next election, to pretend that nothing is going to change, the reality is as we have seen in Queensland. They came to power against an unpopular government that people wanted to throw out, and, once again, they were a small target; nothing was going to change, but we have seen in Queensland very significant attacks on society by the new state government. In New South Wales we have seen significant attacks upon the Public Service and also on workers compensation.

Of course, despite the fact that they are trying to pretend that not much is going to change—'We're going to be the same as Labor on industrial relations; don't worry'—the employers and the big end of town know what the reality is. We have seen it from two industries that the previous government speaker spoke about: the retail sector and the hospitality sector. These are places where there are very low-paid workers, earning a lot less than the people opposite who will be speaking in support of, basically, attacking penalty rates. Those people desperately need these penalty rates not only to compensate them for their loss of lifestyle but also to actually live. We have seen those industries come out in the last few weeks, after the opposition leader's budget reply, and they have said: 'We can see a way through. Even though you're saying that your industrial relations policy is not much at variance with the current government, we are sure that we can use your measures to attack penalty rates.' We know, of course, that the hospitality industry have joined retailers in enthusiastically embracing Tony Abbott's proposed workplace changes as a mechanism to extend trading hours without penalty rates. So what we see there is that despite Tony Abbott saying, 'Look, I love John Howard but I disagree with him so greatly in industrial relations. I found it hard to sit in the cabinet room. I was so opposed to my hero's moves on industrial relations. I won't resign; I'll be part of it'— (Time expired)


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