House debates

Thursday, 10 December 2020

Matters of Public Importance

Morrison Government

4:54 pm

Photo of Tanya PlibersekTanya Plibersek (Sydney, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Education and Training) Share this | Hansard source

Thank you so much, Mr Deputy Speaker Llew O'Brien, and I wish you and your family a happy Christmas. You can imagine the Charles Dickens classic A Christmas Carol retold in the setting of the parliament here with the Prime Minister as the character Scrooge, visited over three successive nights by the Ghost of Christmas Past, the Ghost of Christmas Present and the Ghost of Christmas Future. What would be the nightmare from the Ghost of Christmas Past? It would probably be the Harvester judgement, saying that a worker needed a living wage to raise his family in frugal comfort. What would be the Ghost of Christmas Present? It'd be a strong union movement, standing up, with the Labor Party, against the government's proposals to cut wages. What would be the Ghost of Christmas Future? Well, I think the most terrifying thing that the Prime Minister could drag out of his subconscious would be an enterprise bargain, with year after year of wages growth locked in for the workforce. That's the Ghost of Christmas Past, Present and Future: the fear that our Scrooge of a Prime Minister has, imagining that Australian workers actually keep the pay they're on or—God forbid!—actually increase their pay and their comfort at home after this most difficult of years.

This plan to cut wages we know has been the government's plan for some time, because the former finance minister—the one jetting around Europe at the moment at $4,000 an hour—tipped it out. He didn't mean to, but he tipped it out. He said, 'Low wages are a part of our economic strategy.' Well, we see that in this legislation. This is the embodiment of that. But what's the government trying to do? They're trying to slide it through with nobody noticing. They have used COVID as cover. They're trying to use COVID as cover to do what they have always wanted to do, which is: cut wages and conditions; make work less secure for Australians; make sure their take-home pay is cut or doesn't grow.

They're using COVID as cover, and not just to cut wages. They're using COVID as cover to cut superannuation. So it's not just today's take-home pay that they want to see fall. It's your future comfort. It's your retirement income. The government made 600,000 Australians drain their superannuation to survive the initial weeks of the COVID crisis. They used COVID as cover to smash superannuation, because, from the day that Paul Keating first explained that he wanted to make superannuation something that all workers could benefit from, not just managers—from the day that Paul Keating said he wanted to democratise a comfortable retirement—those opposite have opposed it, and they've used the cover of COVID to smash the superannuation system and to claim that increasing superannuation to 12 per cent, as they promised they would do, would come at the expense of wages. Well, every other time we've cut superannuation, we haven't seen an increase in wages; we've just seen an increase in poverty in retirement.

Universities—here's another battle that the government has been wanting to have for—who knows?—however long. They've always been after the universities, haven't they? Again, they have used COVID as cover to more than double the cost of a university degree. Those opposite cry crocodile tears for the terrible year that year 12 students have had this year. They have had a shocker. It has actually been a year from hell for these kids. They're going to be graduating into an unemployment market—much tougher. They're going to struggle to find work. No gap year; no chance to save a bit of money before they go off to uni—none of that. What they're facing is no job and university fees twice what they should be: a $58,000 debt—an American-sized university debt—when they graduate. And then those opposite will say: 'Oh, isn't it hard that they can't save a deposit for their first home?' No wonder, when they're paying off American-sized university debts!

This government continues to use COVID as cover for the $30 million land deal for land worth $3 million; for the $100 million sports rorts; for the $1.2 billion compensation bill for the illegal robodebt scheme. It doesn't matter—ministerial accountability is gone; it's dead, and those opposite are using COVID as cover for that. (Time expired)


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