Wednesday, 30 March 2022
Matters of Public Importance
This morning, a number of Labor members and I went to the front lawn of parliament to meet with aged-care workers. They're here in Canberra to protest their lousy wages and conditions and the neglect of their industry by the Morrison government. These people—predominantly women—are Morrison's forgotten Australians. They perform one of the most important roles in our society, looking after our frail, our elderly and our most vulnerable. They're overworked and they're underpaid. Some of them are working two and three jobs just to get by.
The title of the report handed down by the royal commission that was instigated to look into our aged-care system had one word: neglect. If you ever want an indictment on a government and their approach to aged care, look no further than the title of that royal commission report, Neglect. It talks of substandard care, malnutrition of residents, skills shortages, workers underpaid and overworked, a system in crisis. What did the Morrison government do in last night's budget to help those aged-care workers? What did they do to boost the wages of struggling aged-care workers in our economy? Nothing. They did nothing. There is no support for their wage rise, which is going through the Fair Work Commission at the moment. There is not even any indication from the government that it will fund any wage increase that the Fair Work Commission might deliver in their wage case. Instead, they get an $800 bribe from the Prime Minister to try and stop them fleeing the industry, a bribe that many of those aged-care workers tell us hasn't even been paid yet. The Prime Minister promised it months ago, and it hasn't even been paid to them. As one of them said to me, 'It won't even be a week's worth of rent.'
What does this say about support for workers in Australia and their wages? This is a government that deliberately goes out of its way to suppress workers' wages. Do you remember the cuts to penalty rates for hospitality workers? Did this government step in to support hospitality workers, given the fact those workers were taking home less money to their families each week? No. The government supported that cut to penalty rates. When Qantas sacked 3,000 of its staff and contracted out their work to a foreign corporation that then brought workers in on lower wages and conditions, do you think anyone in the Morrison government spoke out against that? Of course not. What about when workers in the mining sector took action against their employers because they were working next to people who were employed by labour hire companies as casuals, with lower wages and conditions yet doing the same job as miners working beside them on a daily basis? Who do you think the Morrison government supported in that court case, when those miners and their union went to court to try and get justice for those workers? It wasn't the workers. The Morrison government intervened in that case and backed the employers. It says everything about their approach to workplace relations. They even have a government wages policy that deliberately restricts wage increases in the public sector.
Never forget that this is the party of WorkChoices. This is the party that brought in individual contracts so that workers could be ripped off by tearing them out of their union collective bargaining agreements and paying them less. It's a fact—one that Australians understand—that the Morrison government and every other Liberal and coalition government that has come before it never support workers. They never support higher incomes for workers, and they never support wage increases for them.
The result in Australia is that real wages have been falling—and falling dramatically—under this government. In 2021, inflation was running at 3½ per cent on an annual basis, but wages only increased by 2.3 per cent. For the average worker on an income of $68,000 a year, that's an effective pay cut of $832 a year. Did the government do anything in the budget last night to alleviate any of that pressure that workers in Australia are feeling? Of course not. That's why Australians are unhappy, that's why Australians are angry and that's why Australians are not buying the ribbon-cutting budget that was introduced by this government last night. They've ignored the pleas of hardworking Australians for support when cost-of-living pressure is going through the roof but wages have not been increasing for the last decade. We've seen in recent months that the Prime Minister of Australia cannot walk down the street in a place like Lismore, because he knows he is going to be abused and arraigned by the Australian people. That says everything about his standing in the community. When the Prime Minister can't walk down the street, it's time to give someone else a go.