House debates

Monday, 3 June 2013

Private Members' Business

Penalty Rates

10:56 am

Photo of Nick ChampionNick Champion (Wakefield, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

It is just lucky I am prepared today, because we have one Labor speaker followed by another Labor speaker because the other side of the House, sadly, have not shown up for the debate. But I guess that is something we have come to expect on this. It used to be that they were like dragons. They were like monsters with Work Choices. We could not keep them under control, could we? In 2007 they were all for cutting penalty rates and people's job security. They were all for getting out there and giving the employer 100 per cent of what they wanted. But, of course, now they have gone completely silent. The proof is that, here in the chamber today, they do not even show up for the debate.

We know what happened under Work Choices, and I saw it first under the Reith legislation and then under the Work Choices legislation. It was a slow progression in the destruction of people's penalty rate clauses under awards, and the trade-off for that was sometimes pay rises in the order of 1c an hour. That was the trade-off: give up all your penalty rates for 1c an hour—hardly fair.

People in this building talk about cost of living. On both sides people talk about cost of living, and it is always an issue in the minds of our constituents. But, of course, the best defence against the cost of living is growing wages and a decent pay packet. We know that many people in retail, in hospitality and in cleaning who work unsociable hours do so to get the penalty rate. They work those unsocial hours so that they can pay the bills and keep up with the cost of living. We know how critically important penalty rates and growing wages are to that process of coping with the cost of living. Indeed, it is the only way of coping with the cost of living, because, sadly, we know that inflation is a fact of life.

We know that penalty rates are important to protecting people's community life. My state of South Australia is one of two places in the world to protect Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve. That was put in this year in a deal between unions and business. They came to the state government and said, 'We want to make sure that these two days are protected for community life,' and in exchange there were some trade-offs to work on public holidays for the retail industry. It was a very innovative and cooperative approach and the sort of approach that we would seek with business—that is, sensibly protecting community life while making sure we have a productive economy. The two things can be done at the same time. It is not the either-or proposition that is put by those opposite.

We know that so many people struggle with work-life balance. It is certainly a challenge for anybody in politics, but it is also a challenge for fly-in fly-out workers, for people in the defence community and for anybody who has to travel for work, such as truck drivers and people in transport and storage. Anybody who works antisocial hours struggles, I think, with the challenges of work-life balance. Sometimes that is spending time with your partner, or your wife or husband; sometimes that is, very importantly, spending time with children; sometimes that is spending time in the community, at the footy game, with your mates. I think a critical aspect of people's holistic lives is that we do not just spend time at work. Australians are some of the hardest working people on the face of the planet, but we want to make sure that we have the best community life as well.

There is a whole army of Liberals in the chamber now, lined up to tell us what their plans are, but we basically know what their plans are. They will go after the unions and, once they have finished with the unions, they will go after workers' wages. They will not be so, I guess, honest this time and say, 'We're going to take away your penalty rates.' What they will do this time is they will not say a word, they will just come for them in the dead of night and slowly but surely, using that cutting approach, whittle away all the things that have made this country fair, made this country decent and protected it, and protected working people in the process. (Time expired)


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