Monday, 22 February 2021
Fair Work Amendment (Supporting Australia's Jobs and Economic Recovery) Bill 2020; Second Reading
That is why the Prime Minister has sought to make these changes now—the political expediency. But, in short, what we are seeing here is nothing more than a cynical attempt by those opposite, by the Morrison government, to achieve a long-held ideological goal. All of this has come in the wake of what at first appeared to be an open process by this government to work with the union movement to respond to the COVID crisis.
I well remember when, midway through last year, the government announced the formation of five industrial relations working groups. These groups, each consisting of 10 full-time members, brought together representatives of unions and employer groups. At the time it was portrayed as an act of cooperation to help guide the Australian economy out of a crisis. An accord, of sorts, for our day. The Attorney-General, the member for Pearce, was quoted in a press release at the time saying:
On top of those who've lost their jobs, there are millions more who have seen their work hours and pay-packets reduced due to COVID-19, and we owe it to them to work cooperatively through this process to deliver solutions that will get our country working again.
They're fine words, fine sentiments, but how did that all work out? Well, we are here today debating legislation, opposed by the union movement, which will fundamentally change what it means to have a job in this country. That is how the working groups process worked out. Those opposite, particularly when it comes to IR, should be judged on their actions, not on their words.
If you want more evidence of the ideological obsession of this government trampling on the needs of the Australian people, look no further than the looming cut to JobKeeper. The idea behind JobKeeper of wage subsidisation originated on this side of the House and in the labour movement. It was a great plan, helping businesses stay open and keeping Australians in work and connected to their employers. Let's be clear: for entering into JobKeeper, those opposite deserve some recognition. It has worked. But cutting JobKeeper prematurely, as those opposite plan to do next month, is incredibly dangerous. I'm in regular contact with businesses back home in Darwin and Palmerston, and they are telling me that there is a massive lack of confidence about what comes next when JobKeeper is cut for those businesses that are exposed particularly to a drop in tourism. Particularly in the tourism industry, which is very important to the Top End, there's a great deal of concern. A survey of members of Tourism NT and Tourism Top End revealed deep anxieties. Thirty-five per cent of respondents have said that the JobKeeper cut would mean they would likely have to stand down, or make redundant, many of their employees. That will make it so much harder for the employees to come back and for their businesses to bounce back, particularly as we're not in the peak tourism season.
The challenge for businesses gets worse when you think about the rollout of vaccines and a return to something resembling normality in the not-too-distant future. Australians may resume domestic travel with a passion, and hopefully a lot of them come up to the north. But the tourism industry has already lost a lot of its capacity to meet this demand, and, thanks to a looming cut to JobKeeper, it will find it incredibly difficult. So let me be clear: it is too soon to be cutting JobKeeper. Businesses and workers are depending on it, and I will do everything I can to fight this change. My message to businesses and workers in Darwin and Palmerston is: I am on your side, and Labor is on your side. This is not the time to be tinkering with a fundamental basis of work and living standards in Australia. This is not the time for this government to launch an attack driven by its ideological agenda. This is a time for the government to stand with and lift up the Australian people, to protect workers and to protect businesses. It is not a time to cut JobKeeper.
I will make a couple of final reflections. I think it's only fair to share one particular note of caution with those opposite. Every time a sitting prime minister has tried to mess with the living standards and the working standards of working Australian people, it has not ended well. Those opposite often respond to only one thing, and that is self-interest. So my advice to you is: connect with your inner self-interest, as you find it easy to do, and do not support this legislation. Support Australian workers instead. In my final reflection, I echo what the member for Blair said in his contribution a little while ago: the casualisation of the Australian Public Service is a very, very dangerous thing because the services that it provides to the public are vital. One example he gave was the Department of Veterans' Affairs, where 42 per cent of staffing is outsourced, with casualisation and the use of labour hire and contracting. It's blowing out the waiting times of Australian veterans who need support. That is one example of the way that this government operates. You should judge those opposite by their actions, not their words.