Monday, 22 February 2021
Many had hoped that 2021 would see Mr Albanese and the Labor Party adopt a much more mature approach to industrial relations, but I'm afraid, upon reflection, we have had no such luck. As with Labor's policies at the last election—we must remember their big taxing policy has not yet been abandoned—their latest effort at industrial relations policy appears to be nothing more than a thought bubble or some sort of cater to their base. Not only is it economically flawed; it has so little reflection upon its economic impact, its financial consequences or, indeed, the need for proper detail for it to be regarded as anything more than a momentary fantasy. Let's take a closer look at what Labor is proposing for the Australian industrial relations landscape.
The first thing we can reflect upon is Labor's plan to cut the pay of casual workers. While there are some people who don't want to be casual workers, there are a lot of people who very much do. They value their 25 per cent loading and the freedom that comes with it. On the ABC's Insidersprogram just two weeks ago, ACTU secretary, Sally McManus, confirmed that casual workers would face a massive up-front pay cut under Labor's industrial relations policies. She told the ABC that casual workers would compulsorily lose their 25 per cent casual loading under Labor's policy to provide sick, annual and long service leave—a plan that, on average, netting off all of those things, would cost casual workers $153 a week, or $7,953 a year. No small change to Australian families! I can tell you, Mr Acting Deputy President, that policy would be devastating for the 486,000 casual workers in my home state of Queensland.
Next, we've got Labor's $20 billion—not million, but billion—job tax. Mr Albanese's sweeping commitment to give Australians in what he calls 'insecure' work new leave types—including giving all 2.3 million casual workers and 1.2 independent contractors access to portable sick leave, annual leave and long service leave—represents an enormous financial hit for which he has no plan to pay. If a casual worker wants permanency, we're more than happy to facilitate that, but to inflict it without any kind of worker choice, to force it upon people without giving them control of their financial future is, quite frankly, draconian. This would represent a massive financial hit on businesses which would drive up the cost of employment with the obvious consequence of killing jobs—if you want to stop job creation, this is the fast track to do it—and it would increase the cost of day-to-day goods and services at a time when so many Australians can least afford it.
Indeed, the Attorney-General's Department has estimated that this could cost business up to $20.3 billion per year. No small sum! At a time when Australian employers and employees are recovering from the biggest economic hit since World War II—the after-effects of COVID—Labor wants to hit them once more with a new $20 billion tax. Imagine how much damage this new tax would do to Queensland's 600,000 small-business owners, family-business owners and the 221,000 jobs that have returned in Queensland over the past seven months with the assistance of the support of the federal government. They're already having to deal with the difficulty that comes from operating under state Labor. We still, in Queensland, have to cope with the second-worst unemployment rate in the country due to the inertia of state Labor. It's even worse than Victoria, which spent most of 2020 in lockdown. That's nothing to be proud of, Ms Palaszczuk. But federal Labor's new $20 billion tax would only make the situation so much worse.
If that wasn't bad enough, then we have Labor's plan for the Australian Building and Construction Commission. Taking note of the Mr Shorten playbook, Mr Albanese let the cat out of the bag in his recent speech, highlighting his plan for what he said was:
… the abolition of the discredited and politicised Registered Organisations Commission and the Australian Building and Construction Commission.
We don't accept that on face value, of course, but these are the organisations which hold lawless unions—and they are thugs of the first degree—like the CFMMEU to account. The abolition of the ABCC would be absolutely devastating for Queensland, where we've seen union officials like David Hanna convicted for destroying literally tonnes of documents and Michael Ravbar and James Fissenden convicted of unlawful coercion. It is a fancy name for bullying if ever I've heard it.
With officials like these, it should be no surprise that trade union membership has slumped to a historic low of 14 per cent—down from 40 per cent in just 1992. That seems like only a moment ago. But the ABCC does more than just hold lawless unions to account. Since its restoration in December 2016 it has recovered more than $2.6 million in underpaid wages and entitlements, and that's benefited more than 4,000 employees. It has collected over $11 million in penalties that have been awarded in the cases that it has brought. It has been successful in nearly 90 per cent of the cases it has brought—not by any measure the discredited organisation Mr Albanese would have you believe it is.
Let's move on to the next part of Labor's plan—or should we call it a lack of a plan—for a fair test for determining who is a casual worker pursuant to the Fair Work Act. They might've used that term 'fair test', but we actually have no detail at all from Labor about what this test should be, what the definition should look like. We just have the sort of vague generalities we've come to expect. The fact is it's Labor's failure to insert a definition of the term 'casual worker' into the Fair Work Act that has created years of confusion for both employers and employees. It has left us with the unreasonable position, adopted by the Federal Court in the decision of WorkPac Pty Ltd v Skene, which permitted double dipping by those who take the benefit of casual loading on one hand and then the value of permanent entitlements on the other.
After two years as leader you might think Mr Albanese would tell Australians what his definition of a casual worker might be, but still we have crickets. Mr Burke has confirmed that Labor won't be providing a definition anytime soon. Of course, they've said on the record they won't be providing a definition until they form government, so let's cut through it. The Labor Party's industrial relations policy is to slash the wages of casuals, to put a $20 billion tax on business, to bring back union lawlessness with the abolition of the ABCC and to not tell us what their definition of a fair test for casuals will look like until after they've been elected.
Let's compare and contrast. The Morrison government, on the other hand, is providing Australians with well-reasoned, strong, but also fair, industrial relations reform. They're not radical. They're not driven by ideology. But they represent a fair and balanced response to problems that all sides of the debate agree must be fixed in order to give employees the confidence to go out into the market and give employers the confidence to invest. That could be delayed or even blocked as a consequence of those opposite, and that's exactly what Mr Albanese has signalled he will do. But, when he stands in the way of these reforms, he stands in the way of a fairer deal for all Australian workers, he stands in the way of opportunity for those who currently sit in the unemployment queue, he stands in the way of the criminalisation of wage theft and he stands in the way of protection for Australia's most vulnerable workers.