Thursday, 4 February 2021
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Prime Minister. First, the government pretended that its industrial relations changes did not allow for pay cuts. Then it briefed the media that the part of the legislation that suspends the better off overall test would be dropped. Now, it's back to denying the cuts exist. Rather than denying the truth, why doesn't this government either defend the pay cut or drop it?
Honourable members interjecting—
They laugh as if they have been very convincing today. They haven't been at all convincing, because you can't convince people of things that are not correct. What I can do is talk about what the bill does do. It is a bill designed not to ensure that people have less—rather, that people have more. Everything in this bill is designed to ensure that people have more money, more wages and better conditions.
Let's have a look. The Labor Party have made a decision—and that's inside their ambit—to oppose the bill in its entirety. What does that mean that Labor are opposing? Labor are now opposing tougher civil penalties to stamp out wage theft. If you're a worker who has been the subject of underpayment, you are supposed to believe that the Labor members are on your side, except that they are opposing tougher civil penalties to stamp out wage theft. Labor are opposing the institution of the first ever Commonwealth criminal penalty for wage theft. That's what their position on this bill is. Labor will oppose creating a new small-claims stream for the recovery of wage payments.
I have a point of order on relevance. We asked a very specific question: rather than denying the truth, why doesn't the government defend the pay cut or drop it? I didn't ask anything else about the legislation.
But the question, if I may say so, wasn't as tight as an earlier question from the Leader of the Opposition. It did have a lot of commentary in it. That's why it allows the minister to range more widely. He's on the topic of the piece of legislation you asked about, so that's why he has more latitude on this occasion.
The bill doesn't take pay from people; it has the first ever criminal penalties to ensure that people get their money back. Not that long ago, the member for Watson said, 'Vulnerable workers getting their money back quickly has to be the highest priority.' Well, here's the bill that strengthens the civil penalties. Here's the bill that has criminal penalties for wage theft. Here's the bill that sets out a new small claims tribunal. These are all things that they said that they support, all things that the union movement asked for, and now all things that they're opposing.
The bill, in its present form, ensures that people get paid properly and that there are proper offences if they're not paid properly. It ensures that wages will increase. It ensures that jobs will increase. It ensures, just as the member for Watson wanted, that vulnerable workers getting their money back quickly has to be the highest priority. Indeed, it was reported in the media—this morning, I believe—that the Labor Party's opposition to the entirety of the bill was just something that they were willing to do and they would accept there would be some collateral damage. They were the words of a Labor member quoted in the newspaper. So if you're a worker who has been underpaid, if you want the protections in this bill of tougher civil penalties and of a criminal offence against wage theft and if you want a small claims tribunal to get your money back quicker, you are now the Labor Party's collateral damage in their desperate strategic move. (Time expired)