Monday, 29 May 2017
Fair Work Amendment (Protecting Take Home Pay) Bill 2017; Second Reading
We have all just recently heard the Treasurer announce his budget, and I am sure many people across Australia were keenly listening to hear how the Turnbull government will help ease their cost of living pressures. Unfortunately, watching the government's decisions and action since the election, many people are not surprised by what was announced in the Treasurer's speech—or, actually, by what was not announced. There were no measures to make day-to-day life easier for any ordinary Australian. For the record, I do not consider millionaires to be ordinary Australians. There were no measures to curb the housing affordability crisis and there was no mention of protecting their take home pay.
I can see that the Treasurer could not make reference to every bill that his party wishes to pass. But you would think that he would not entirely avoid referring to the measures that will leave 700,000 working Australians worse off. In fact, 35,000 of those come from the Moreton Bay region, from places like Strathpine and Redcliffe and Burpengary and Morayfield, where I come from. You might even think we would have heard of measures from this government that look to counter that devastating cut to workers' take-home pay and the loss to their local economy. But no—there is not one single mention. Do you know why? It is because the Treasurer and his government know that the cut to penalty rates is a really bad idea. They know that it is bad for workers. They know that it is bad for the economy. They know that nobody but big business wants these cuts. So they are avoiding bring it up at all.
But what any government should be doing is listening, not avoiding hearing what the country wants. They should be listening. While this government have been sticking their fingers in their ears, Labor has been listening. Labor's Australian Jobs Task Force committee has been listening to workers. They have been listening to unions, employers and stakeholders to hear and see the problems that the Australian jobs environment places on them. We have taken the task force all over Australia to get the most representative view, from metropolitan cities to regional towns, as far north as Cairns and as far south as Launceston, as far east as the Moreton Bay region and, as parliament rose last week, we travelled over to Western Australia. We have heard concerns regarding everything from the exploitation of workers to labour hire companies being used to undermine wages, issues about how apprentices are being treated and how workers are defining themselves as lucky because they get paid the award rate of pay. That is what 'lucky' is to some people.
What stood out most, what we heard people stress over the most, has been their fear of cuts to their take-home pay and what these cuts would do to the lives of people many of whom are already struggling to get by. It is just devastating. We have heard from people who have been at the mercy of a phone call putting their entire lives on hold hoping to secure a shift of work. These are people who need their penalty rates, who rely on them just to pay the bills. We have heard from an oncology nurse in the health sector. She told us that after a weekend of working over Easter—and she lost a patient—she could not walk into her own home and enjoy her family celebrating Easter. Crying, she turned to me and said, 'Why am I having this conversation? Why am I worrying that I'm next?' This is an oncology nurse who just finished doing a shift over a weekend.
People see right through these cuts. They know that there is more at play than simply to bring the Sunday rates in line with what is offered on Saturdays. Otherwise, why aren't Saturday rates being lifted to meet in the middle? It is obvious that this is a ploy to keep the hard-earned take-home pay of Australians, their money, in the pockets of their employers. The Australian people see right through it. It is not hard to see where the government's priorities lie, when they offer big businesses and multinationals a tax cut while cutting penalty rates. They are lowering the HECS payment threshold. They are setting out on a witch-hunt against welfare recipients, raising the cost to attend university and very, very quickly dismissing any call to raise the minimum wage.
So I say, Prime Minister Turnbull, take your fingers out of your ears and listen. Listen to the people of Australia, the people you swore to work for and stand by. Because, Prime Minister, let me tell you something: when you listen you hear things. Listen to these workers and hear their stories. Hear how cruel these cuts are and how tough life will be, when, on 2 July, you are celebrating your anniversary as elected Prime Minister. You are celebrating by cutting their take-home pay.