Senate debates

Tuesday, 30 July 2019

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

Answers to Questions

3:11 pm

Photo of Kimberley KitchingKimberley Kitching (Victoria, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Government Accountability) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Minister for Families and Social Services (Senator Ruston), the Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business (Senator Cash) and the Minister representing the Minister for Industrial Relations (Senator Payne).

This is not necessarily in order of their cruelness or ineptitude or their dismissive attitude towards the struggles of Australian workers. Why do I say that? Let me go to the Smith Family, a very well-known charitable foundation that looks after people who have disadvantaged circumstances. On their website, they detail individual cases. They have some about some of the children in Australia and the disadvantage in which they're living. The case I'm going to tell you of is about Alice.

From the moment they are born, there's an increased risk of disadvantaged children falling through the cracks. They often miss out on early learning experiences and opportunities that other children receive. When they start school, they're already behind. One in three children from Australia's most disadvantaged communities do not meet one or more key developmental milestones when they start school. Not all children get an equal start in life. Alice is just one of the one in six Australian children who are living in disadvantage today. Some families have experienced many generations of disadvantage. For others, there might be a recent change in health, employment or family relationship which has affected them so badly they are no longer able to meet the daily costs of living. With limited financial resources, the day-to-day life of a family changes significantly.

If the parents are working, they are more likely to be working irregular hours in insecure work. We know that in the last two terms of this government and in the beginning of this, its third term, they are more likely to be working irregular hours due to insecure work or travelling long distances for work. This puts pressure on other family members, including children, to keep the household running. Let's think about that. A primary-school-age child, like Alice, is having to help keep a household running. Teenagers may have to work to supplement the family income, leaving them with little or no time to study and with no-one there to help them if they're struggling with school work. Why? Again, their parents are working long, irregular hours.

With so much focus on just getting by, many of these kids don't have something as simple as a school bag, a complete uniform or the school books they need to make the most of their education. School excursions and activities become an impossible luxury. This singles them out amongst their peers, and they also have to deal with that—the fact that other children that they're at school with know that they can't go on the school excursion. They're often teased or left out by other students because they don't fit in.

We now have the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia survey, released today, showing that household medium income under this six-year government has flatlined. Yet, instead of looking at ways to increase the real wages of working Australians this government is more comfortable going back to their pet loves of attacking unions and low-paid workers. The HILDA report noted that since 2012 there has been basically no growth, and this comes after a preceding period which saw very large increases in household incomes. There has been basically no growth in household income. Day after day, in every appearance, we see this government engage. They tie themselves in knots trying to defend the systematic rorting of workers' incomes and entitlements.

We've seen in the last few years under this government an increase in wage theft. We've seen it with Domino's Pizza, Michael Hill jewellers, 7-Eleven, Lush cosmetics group, Super Retail Group and, of course, more recently and infamously, George Calombaris. It finally took this government $7.8 million in unpaid workers' wages to actually consider that, yes, a $200,000 penalty was a bit light on. But let's remember also that—and I'll finish with this—Scott Morrison declared, when he was Treasurer, that record low-wage growth is the biggest challenge facing the Australian economy. (Time expired)

3:16 pm

Photo of Concetta Fierravanti-WellsConcetta Fierravanti-Wells (NSW, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to respond to some of the comments that have been made and in particular to some of the comments that Senator Kitching has made in relation to the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia, the HILDA, survey. Can I remind those opposite that since the election we have delivered on our promise to build a better tax system and provide more tax relief to hardworking Australians. Not only have we delivered immediate tax relief for more than 10 million Australians but we've also provided structural reform that tackles the thief of bracket creep. That is good for the economy, for jobs and for confidence. And we have been focused on job creation. As Senator Cash reminded the Senate earlier, more than 1.3 million jobs have been created since we were elected, which is about 240,000 jobs a year, compared to just over 150,000 on average during the time when those opposite were in government.

We know the HILDA survey is a longitudinal study of Australian households, and it's been following the same households and individuals every year since 2011. There are some very important points that have come out of this year's survey. It shows that employment has picked up, especially for women. It's at the highest level ever since the survey. As I've indicated in relation to job creation in our economy, that is also. When you drill down into the survey, it shows that the female workforce participation is also at a record high, and so is participation of those aged 65 and over. More than 100,000 young Australians got a job in 2017, and this is the best financial year result on record.

This survey shows little net change in income inequality. It also finds that reliance on welfare is substantially lower. Indeed, under the coalition welfare payments, as a share of the working age population, are the lowest in a generation. It shows that the proportion of the population below the relative poverty lines has fluctuated over time, but in broad terms they are trending downwards. This is especially true since 2017 when over 12 per cent of the population was in relative poverty and by 2016 the proportion in poverty had fallen to 9.6 per cent.

It's quite hypocritical of those opposite to come in here. Senator Seselja reminded us of the record of those opposite. Those opposite can't quite accept that they lost the election. Why did they lose the election? They lost the election because the population rejected the dud policies of those opposite. They went to the election on a negative gearing policy, where you were asserting that ordinary Australians on $85,000 were somehow the top end of town—the classic Labor class warfare—and on franking credits, when you were going out there to hit hardworking retirees, and on assaulting the coal industry. No wonder that in New South Wales the swing against Joel Fitzgibbon was the largest in the state—almost 10 per cent. It was because of what you were doing.

Of course there were the quite Australians, that silent majority. They rejected your policies. They remembered the six years of fiscal vandalism when you were last sitting on the Treasury benches. They were not prepared to give you the Treasury benches again, because of what you were proposing. One only has to look at what Senator Seselja referred to as 'the disasters'. Let's look at some of those disasters. In some seats, you had swings of five to 10 per cent. Hello! Does that not tell you something? Does that not tell you that the recipe that you were offering the Australian public was the wrong one? That's why they voted to return the coalition to government.

3:21 pm

Photo of Tony SheldonTony Sheldon (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

This is not my first speech. In 2015, as reported by the SMH's article '7-Eleven: a sweatshop on every corner', 7-Eleven underpaid by substantial amounts of money. They were paying as little as $10 an hour. A student from India with three degrees Mr Pendem came to Australia in 2011 and worked at three different stores under four franchisees in the Gold Coast region. Pendem still has nightmares from his time working at 7-Eleven, as reported. He worked long shifts of up to 16 hours without a proper break. He was robbed twice in the space of 18 hours by a man in a balaclava brandishing a long, serrated knife. Both times his boss scolded him for not fighting back to stop the robber taking $180. He says he recalls his boss saying: 'You should fight or throw the till at him—something, punch him. Why did you give him the money?'

Pendem was paid $10 an hour one store and $14 an hour at another store—which was well below the award rate of $24 an hour—including not being paid penalty rates. At the time, the employment minister Senator Cash said that this was 'a deplorable act' in the Sydney Morning Herald. On 13 June 2017, she said that the Turnbull government was providing the necessary resourcing and policies to ensure that it was not repeated. Again, today, she said that there was no tolerance for exploitation, yet we've seen $25 million stolen by Michael Hill jewellers. We've seen celebrity chefs steal $8 million. Another celebrity chef stole nearly $1.6 million in just one year.

Wage theft is rampant under this government. They have one law for everybody else and another law for workers. If you walked into your business and went to the safe or the till that Mr Pendem talked about and stole $10 or $20 or $50 or $25 million, you would be in jail. You would not be allowed to run a business. You would not be allowed to work. You'd be taken out of society. You'd be held to account. After time and time again declaring it was serious about wage theft, including today, this government has done so little. It is rampant. Under this government, it is now a business model.

Poverty in this country is on the increase—insecure jobs, poorly paid job, jobs without rights. In this country, $6 billion in superannuation is owed. In New South Wales alone, over $2 billion is owed to people in underpayments and nonpayments of superannuation. It's billions upon billions of dollars. Where's the ensuring integrity bill for wage theft? Where's the ensuring integrity bill for Michael Hill jewellers? Where's the ensuring integrity bill for Caltex? For Domino's? Where are our billions of dollars that have been stolen out of this economy by people that are thieving and stealing from people in this economy?

Australians work hard in this country. They on the other side mightn't think that, because they're worried about the people that turn around and steal the money. They're the ones that are turning around and saying they are not going to hold them account. They're the ones saying, 'The business model won't be broken under our watch.' Quite clearly, this government is about a culture war.

To be lectured about a class war—what sort of class war is it when you take billions upon billions of dollars away from people in this country? That's the class war. What's the class war when you turn around and say to working Australians, 'Your representatives are the ones that are the problem,' not us, not the people we're defending, not the business community, those ones in the business community that are stealing. They are also robbing from decent businesses, from the many hardworking business people out there that pay the right money, that turn around and pay superannuation. What's happening on their watch? (Time expired)

Question agreed to.