Senate debates

Monday, 22 February 2021

Matters of Public Importance

Job Security

4:28 pm

Photo of Susan McDonaldSusan McDonald (Queensland, National Party) Share this | Hansard source

Labor lecturing the government on jobs is like someone burning sausages on a backyard barbecue telling Gordon Ramsay he's running his food empire badly. They don't know what it's like to navigate the reams of legislation and numerous pitfalls involved with awards and human resources. They don't understand the daily stress of ensuring that there's enough work coming through the door, managing cash flow and creditors. They've never had to worry about a militant union accusing them of wage theft because of a simple, innocent error in applying one of the myriad award rates. Labor is the anti-jobs party, and never has the old adage 'There's no U in Labor' been more true.

In my home state of Queensland the Labor Party has for years refused to approve an expansion of the New Acland coalmine, forcing the loss of scores of good, high-paying jobs around Toowoomba. This is even worse when a majority of the surrounding residents want the expansion to go ahead. Let's not forget the Adani Carmichael mine in Central Queensland, a project that promises and is delivering stable, high-paying jobs and also hope for the small towns nearby that were facing a bleak future as the blue-collar jobs they were built on became despised by the new Labor Party. I travel regularly to regional areas to talk to employers and employees, and I can say unequivocally that schemes like JobKeeper, and the changes to IR rules that go with it, were a godsend for both parties.

The other thing we always hear from rural and regional Queensland is that people can't remember the last time they had a visit from Labor politicians at a state or federal level. Rather than parroting lines given to them by union hacks, I encourage those opposite and the Queensland Labor state government to get out, to go west and north, and listen to the people at the front lines. For Senator Green, it is all pretty simple. But where is the support—not taxes, but support—for those people who actually create jobs? Because it is small business that is the lifeblood of our economy and Australia's biggest employer. Unlike Labor, the coalition wants people to earn more money and keep more of it. We are the parties of creating jobs and giving people the chance to prosper through their hard work. We have also established the Disability Employment Advisory Committee to give even more people in our society the chance to experience the dignity of real work and the ability to earn a wage and have control over their future.

Senator Sterle, who is one of the few on that side who often makes a lot of sense, said just today that everything has the word 'job' in front of it—JobSeeker, JobKeeper, JobMaker and JobTrainer. And he is right. It's because this government puts jobs in front of everything. This government understands jobs are hard fought for, they cost blood, sweat and tears and they are not created by some magical fairy dust as Labor would have you believe. The Morrison-McCormack government has always had zero tolerance of exploitation of workers. That includes the underpayment of wages and entitlements by any employer. That's why the Fair Work Ombudsman is continuing to take strong action on behalf of workers despite the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2019-20 the Fair Work Ombudsman recovered a record amount of money for underpaid workers—$123 million to be precise. They issued 952 compliance notices, recovering $7.8 million in unpaid wages. That is a 250 per cent increase on the number of compliance notices in the previous year. They filed 20 court cases in 2019—more than double the number filed in 2018-19 and close to 10 per cent more than during Labor's last full year in office—and also secured 163 per cent more in court-ordered penalties in 2019-20 than Labor in its last full year in office. They issued 603 infringement notices, an increase of seven per cent compared with the previous financial year, and recovered over $56.8 million in back payments for workers from enforceable undertakings issued.

The commitment of the Morrison-McCormack government to this vital cause has remained unscathed despite a global pandemic, evidenced by the fact that within the first six months of 2020-21 the Fair Work Ombudsman has recovered almost $80 million for over 31,000 employees, filed 37 litigations and entered into 12 enforceable undertakings. Moreover, through legislation that is currently before this parliament, the Morrison-McCormack government understands that it is government's responsibility to ensure that an environment exists where Australians can both seek to be employed and be employed. Never has it been more important that this be emphasised given we are undertaking an economic comeback out of COVID-19.

The amendment to the fair work amendment will ensure people can gain employment, stay in employment and thrive in employment. The fact of the matter is that, given the current economic environment, businesses, in order to remain competitive in an uncertain and unstable global market, must have the necessary flexibility available to them, acknowledging the special circumstances in which we find ourselves in these COVID times. That's why the government will legislate a two-year extension on temporary JobKeeper flexibilities to businesses in identified industries that have been hardest hit by the pandemic, giving employers confidence to offer part-time employment and additional hours to employees and promote flexibility and efficiency.

The Morrison-McCormack government remains committed, as it always has been, to the assurance of a zero-tolerance approach to any exploitation of workers. The Morrison-McCormack government likewise understands the role it must play in ensuring Australians are able to seek to employ and seek to be employed. It is only the creation of real jobs by sustainable businesses that cannot just survive but thrive that will ensure certainty for employees. That should be the focus of us all as we move forward—ensuring that employers are well supported, well resourced and understand that the government seeks to encourage the activities that will mean that they can employ more people, that they have the confidence to employ, firstly, casual people and then move them to permanent part time and then full time, as they feel confident that the work remains for those people, that they can support a line of business coming through the door, that they can manage their creditors and that they can survive in an increasingly regulated environment. Those are the jobs that are genuine, real and should be supported at all costs.

I hear Senator Green and others talk about jobs as if they are created magically. It is not the case. Those people on the other side who have ever run a business will have had to go through the stress and worry of the commitment to employ someone, of making that decision—'Will I have enough work for them? Will I be able to pay them every week?' The focus for this economy, for this government, is to ensure that those jobs are real, that those employees have certainty and confidence. Yet once again we will hear from Labor about the fantasy of wanting to support jobs but not wanting to support employers, not wanting to walk a day in their shoes, not wanting to understand just how difficult it is to make those commitments to people, to mortgage your home, to pay everybody else before you pay yourself—because that's the way it is for most small businesses. Most small businesses survive, on average, for seven years, because they are exhausted by regulation, by ensuring there is work coming through the door, by surviving economic upturns and downturns, by managing seasons, if they're in agriculture, and by managing demand, not to mention a pandemic. And yet we once again have Labor wanting to talk about the negative side of employment as opposed to supporting businesses. I'm talking not about taxing business but about supporting business. I would encourage them to walk a mile in the shoes of small business.


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