House debates

Monday, 22 February 2021


Fair Work Amendment (Supporting Australia's Jobs and Economic Recovery) Bill 2020; Second Reading

7:20 pm

Photo of Madeleine KingMadeleine King (Brand, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Trade) Share this | Hansard source

I pay tribute to the words of and thank the member for Lingiari for his contribution today in relation to this bill, the Fair Work Amendment (Supporting Australia's Jobs and Economic Recovery) Bill 2020. The member has been in this House for a number of years and he's seen some terrible things come and go and some terrible people come and go, as he's attested to himself, but this is some pretty awful legislation that seeks only to cut the conditions, cut the pay and cut the super of workers, all led by this ideologically driven Liberal-National coalition.

I speak against the government's fair work amendment bill today and in support of the amendment moved by the member for Watson. This is without doubt the biggest attack on Australian workers since Prime Minister John Howard's infamous Work Choices a number of years ago. This bill would make work less secure and cut the pay packets of hardworking Australians workers who are already under pressure from the pandemic recession. Without measures to create more secure jobs, without a prospect of wage rises, workers will have less capacity and confidence to spend, which will in turn suppress demand and hurt the domestic economy. So, therefore, what is the point of this legislation?

Our sisters and brothers in the union movement have sat down at the bargaining table with the government and employer groups in good faith. It was meant to be heralded as the next accord, the process of these working groups—or it was according to the government. But this bill does not in any way represent a consensus from the working group process. It's just another broken promise from a tired government clinging to the ideology of Howard's Work Choices.

Labor has stated time and time again that measures which reflected agreements from working groups would most likely be supported, but this has manifestly not occurred. The government has turned instead to its habit of ideological dogma, more interested in bowing to unreasonable demands from some employer groups and simply using the COVID crisis as leverage for garnering the support of these groups rather than seeking genuine consensus across the community.

The permanent addition of flexible work directions is proof that changes to the Fair Work Act introduced as temporary by the Liberal-National coalition were never that. This measure was originally introduced as part of the JobKeeper program and limited to employers receiving the wage subsidy. However, since then, it has continued and expanded its application well beyond the original intent.

The government say they support Australian jobs, but we know it's not true. They say it in the title of this bill—'Fair Work Amendment (Supporting Australia's Jobs and Economic Recovery) Bill'. They try to convince you through the name of this bill that they will support Australian jobs. But where is the support for the 650 workers at the BP refinery in my electorate? That's 650 jobs lost in Kwinana during this pandemic. I note the member for Gellibrand sitting near me today has also lost jobs in his electorate with the announced closure of the Altona refinery. That's about 1,000 jobs all up. They said they were going to save 1,000 jobs. They said they support Australian jobs.

This government brought in a fuel security plan. Of the four refineries that it was supposed to be aimed at, only one took up the offer. It was such a poorly planned, badly implemented fuel security package that no-one wanted anything to do with it. It was that bad and that inadequate and had no care for the 650 workers that I represent and the more than 300 workers at Altona that the member for Gellibrand represents. Supporting Australian jobs?

There's no evidence to support the claim. In fact, I think it's in a mere two weeks that the BP refinery will close down. I'm going to go on one of the final tours. I'm not going to enjoy it—I can't. I used to go there as a kid, and I remember it. My dad was one of the first workers. I think this is a community asset, a national asset, one that is in our national interest to provide fuel security for the people of Western Australia, for the farmers of Western Australia and for the countless mining and resources industries that need the diesel fuel that's refined—or will be for about a fortnight to come—at the BP Kwinana refinery since 1956.

This government does not care about Australian jobs. They won't support the 1,000 workers now in an increasingly likely-to-be-lost industrial capacity in this country. What a legacy this government is overseeing from this pandemic! It has failed to introduce a fuel security package that will keep a refining capacity in this country, and it will watch 1,000 people lose their jobs and therefore 1,000 families be affected, along with countless small and larger businesses, including supply chain connections throughout Gellibrand and the Kwinana industrial area: chemical manufacturers, fertiliser manufacturers and shipping contractors—you name it. It's unbelievable. A printing company in my electorate is threatened with closure because BP was its biggest client. These are the ramifications of failing to help what should be a treasured national capacity but has been left to rot. Now off go BP and off go the operators from the refinery at Altona. Fuel security, which this government has touted, is just another one of those announcements it makes with absolutely no follow-up. There is a package that is yet to be used, and in the meantime we've seen 1,000 jobs lost in a quick five or six months since that announcement.

I will turn more directly to the bill at hand. We've heard from a lot of members here, and I note the lack of participation from the government. Clearly, they don't want to support the bill; they certainly won't put their names to it. It's funny what they speak on in this House. I notice the freedom of speech bill that will shut down some freedom of speech on university campuses. They'll muck around with that. They're all too happy to come in and show their ideological dogma on that, but, when it comes to actually saving casual workers and providing people in the gig economy with a minimum wage—something I note the Prime Minister wasn't really willing to support today in question time—they duck for cover. I really wonder why they bother coming. What do you do here? You won't speak on bills. You won't speak to represent workers in your electorates. I guess there must be something going on to keep you here.

I will briefly reflect on the provisions that this government, in this bill, has proposed to introduce for enterprise agreements in long-term projects. This is wage stagnation baked into legislation for eight years in a greenfields agreement, a declaration that's not disallowable in the parliament .In infrastructure terms, the projects it will allow to make such agreements are not particularly large: $250 to $500 million. These provisions will bake pay rises of about 0.01 per cent per annum into eight-year agreements, representing a very real pay cut of an unknown quantity, depending on the CPI over time. As Michele O'Neil, the ACTU president, has warned the tradespeople right across the country, 'You will have fewer rights than any other worker in Australia.' To all the tradies in Australia: you will have fewer rights than any other tradie in Australia if you are in the unfortunate position of this government's bill getting through and projects you happened to get a job on being locked into eight-year agreements. What eight-year construction projects are there? There are not that many. Snowy Hydro might be an example, and Western Sydney airport will be another one. These already have funding commitments. We already know what they are going to cost. We know the wage costs in these projects. So what's the point?

What's the point of seeking to constrain workers' wages to 0.01 per cent per annum? This is a ridiculous government that doesn't care for workers. You're choosing to bake in wage cuts in legislation for eight years to workers building the biggest and most important projects in this country. Good employers, good project managers, the people that run these infrastructure projects—

Debate interrupted.


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