Monday, 22 February 2021
Fair Work Amendment (Supporting Australia's Jobs and Economic Recovery) Bill 2020; Second Reading
Not for the first time and not for the last time, I agree with the wise words of the member for Solomon, so elegantly and eloquently expressed on behalf of the people of Darwin and Palmerston, who are so well represented in this place by our friend the member for Solomon. The test for the Fair Work Amendment (Supporting Australia’s Jobs and Economic Recovery) Bill 2020, as we've said from the beginning, is exactly the same as the test for this parliament. It's exactly the same as the test for this nation as we emerge from the deepest, most damaging recession in almost a century. The test is this: can we work together to create good well-paid jobs with fair conditions? Can we make job security the defining feature of the recovery in ways that it was not the defining feature of the economy that existed before COVID-19 hit a year or so ago? That is the test for this legislation, it's the test for the parliament and it's the test for the country. How do we get those secure, well-paid jobs with fair conditions so that people who work hard in this country can get ahead and provide for their loved ones? That is the test.
We've said from the very beginning, since this legislation was first put before us, as we worked our way through all of the details, as we consulted widely around the country, that, if this bill creates secure jobs with decent pay, we'll be for it. If it doesn't do that or if it acts against those interests then obviously we will be against it. It's disappointing but not especially surprising that, as we've worked our way through the bill, we've realised that what's happening here is those opposite are using this pandemic as an excuse to come after job security, to cut people's pay and to make people's conditions even less fair. That's why we don't support it.
Those opposite started to come under fire for the obvious ways that this bill was designed to cut people's pay, attack job security and make conditions less fair. So the government over there, on that side of the House, decided that they would drop one element of the bill: the one element which talked about the better off overall test. What those opposite hoped was that all the workers of this country, represented in this place for over a century by this side of the House, the Australian Labor Party, would think, 'Okay, with that part of the legislation gone, the rest of it must be okay.' But what we all know is that even with the junking of that particular part of this legislation—at five minutes to midnight, before it was brought into this place for the debate that we're participating in now; even with that aspect of it removed—there are still some very dangerous parts of this legislation for the workers of this country. That's why, despite the repeated opportunities that the member for Watson, the member for Grayndler and others have given the government to give a guarantee to the workers of Australia that there's no part of this bill that will make them worse off, those opposite have been unable to give that guarantee. That's for the very simple reason that the legislation is designed to make people worse off even with the better off overall test part of the legislation removed. The bill still makes it easier for employers to casualise jobs that would have otherwise been permanent. It still makes bargaining for better pay more difficult than it is now. It still allows people's pay to be cut. It still takes rights off blue-collar workers on big projects. And it still weakens wage theft punishments in jurisdictions where it was already deemed a criminal act. So even with the better off overall test part removed there are a lot of dangerous elements for Australian workers.
This is so important to us and it's so important to the nation. Why this matters so much and why we've been so vocal in opposing the attempts of those opposite to use this pandemic as an excuse to come after workers once again is that, as the dust settles and we emerge from what was the deepest part of the worst recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s, it's now for us to decide—us as in Australians, us as in this parliament, and us as in the political parties which make up this parliament—what kind of recovery we want from that recession. The type of recovery that we have from the recession will be more or less determined by the kinds of jobs that we create in that recovery. On this side on the parliament, we're on the side of good, secure jobs with fair pay and decent conditions. That's what we've been on about since our inception, and that's what we're on about here. We want to create jobs in the care economy. We've made announcements in child care. We want to get cleaner and cheaper energy into the system. We've made announcements on energy transmission. We want to get more Australian apprentices into big government projects, and we've made announcements there as well. These are the sorts of jobs that we want to see created in the recovery from our first recession in almost three decades.
What those opposite would like to see instead is even more casualisation, declining living standards, precarious work—all those issues which more or less defined the economy pre-COVID. They would like to see all that insecurity, all that underemployment, for all those people who just can't find enough hours of work to provide for their loved ones, their families. Those opposite are proposing to go back to that, but worse—to all those issues which were such a contributing factor to the weak growth and the stagnant wages that we had before COVID-19. The member for Fenner is well qualified to understand just how weak the economy was for much of the seven or eight years leading up to COVID. All these issues around stagnant wages, underemployment, precarious work—this bill would be a recipe to go back to that, only worse. We know the consequences of that for ordinary working people in this country and their economy more broadly.
I think what makes people angry about these attempts by those opposite in this legislation is that in all the spin, all the announcements and all the photo ops about the heroes of the pandemic—the workers on the front lines, who are not especially well paid to begin with—the government says to the heroes of the pandemic, 'We think you should be paid less in more precarious ways and have fewer fair conditions.' I think it is disgraceful for those opposite to use this pandemic as an excuse to go after those workers, their wages and their superannuation, and to say to the workers of Australia, 'We don't have enough money or a blank cheque to support employment in this country, but we do have a blank cheque when it comes to doling out airport rorts, sport rorts'—and taxpayer funded executive bonuses, as the member for Fenner has been reminding us.
When it comes to those things, there's a blank cheque. But when it comes to supporting workers and supporting employment in this economy, those opposite talk about the heroes of the pandemic but deliberately go after them with legislation like that which we are debating today. Those opposite can't simultaneously say, 'The economy is going so well that we have to withdraw JobKeeper and other support from the economy,' and, 'The economy is actually going so badly that concessions for business and arrangements in industrial relations need to stay.' They need to choose which of those arguments they are going to make. They can't make both simultaneously, but that's what we've seen them try to do.
As we go towards an election, Australians will have a pretty clear choice. They can choose the more secure work, better pay and fairer conditions that the Leader of the Opposition, the member for Watson and all of us on this side are proposing, with our steps to make work more secure and employment more fair—they can support that or they can support the wage cuts, the super cuts and the budget riddled with rorts being proposed by those opposite. I think all of us understand that when those opposite, as they have before, go after the working conditions and living standards of ordinary Australian people, the workers have the capacity to speak with one voice and to say, 'This recovery can be a good one, can be strong and can be inclusive, but only if we put secure work with fair pay at its core.' Those opposite are incapable of doing that, but we will do it.