Wednesday, 3 February 2021
Matters of Public Importance
That was a typical contribution from our previous speaker. It was all about the fear and scaremongering that's going on and, again, not about facts. When asked for examples, those opposite are simply unable to produce them, starting with the statement that the current economic problems are somehow or other caused by the government. I think most people in Australia, irrespective of the side of politics they're on, would acknowledge that the government has done a pretty good job when it comes to keeping the economy together and keeping income coming into the family unit to enable them to maintain throughout the pandemic the standard of living they had.
But looking beyond the pandemic is where the government has been able to have the conversations with unions, employers and employee groups in relation to what we are going to do on the way out that's going to encourage greater productivity and the ability of our workers to earn more money. This is where, in the Australian labour situation at the moment, flexibility is so much needed. It is where we have to go and where we want to go. The measures that are in the reform package are going to address some of the known problems with our industrial relations and the Fair Work Act. The reforms will not only support wage growth and help regrow the jobs that have been lost during the pandemic but also tackle the broader issues: underemployment, job security, underpayment, wages and the failure of enterprise bargaining agreements to drive wages and productivity growth. That is something that we all thought might happen, but it hasn't happened.
Every time I go out into the industries and larger companies around the Goulburn Valley, there is a call for flexibility. There is a view that many workers who are currently on casual rates want to go across to permanency, but there doesn't seem to be a pathway across to permanency. I know from talking to the Parmalat workers striking two years ago that this was one of their biggest issues—there was no pathway across to permanency. It's very difficult to go to a bank and ask for a loan if you can't move across. So I think this will give us an opportunity to move forward. There is nothing more frustrating than when you go out to a farm, walk into the packing sheds and find a situation where the workers and the farmers both wish they had more flexibility, with the farmers being able to pay their workers more money for longer hours worked. It is quite an interesting situation.
We know that almost 30 per cent of part-time employees in the retail sector and around 40 per cent of part-time employees in the accommodation and food sector want to work more hours but aren't getting them at the moment. We are pushing as hard as we possibly can to make sure that those workers will no longer be underemployed going forward into the future. We've got a situation where around 80 per cent of all jobs in Australia are in the private sector, so we have to give businesses optimism. To have growth we have to give them the opportunities they need to invest in their businesses, to create more jobs, to take the risks that they take day in, day out. This is something that is paramount. In Australia, as we push to get out of the pandemic, we have to be able to give our businesses the opportunity to grow their business even more than they currently are.
This is going to take innovation and it's going to take us having an understanding of struggling businesses. And we've got to make sure, right at the very core of this, that we always protect and enhance the rights of workers. It is absolutely critical that, as we move forward and we find that pathway to full-time work, at every stage we enhance and protect the rights of workers. It's just disingenuous for the opposition to claim that these reforms are going to do anything but that.