Senate debates

Wednesday, 2 December 2020

Statements by Senators

Cormann, Mr Mathias

12:55 pm

Photo of Catryna BilykCatryna Bilyk (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

[by video link] I would like you all to imagine this situation: you resign from a job, as most people do from time to time, your colleagues say farewell, there are drinks and speeches and you might even get a present, and your former employer charges you with your own personal jet, at a cost of more than $4,000 per hour flying, for weeks on end so you can try to get a new job. Doesn't this sound like the most utterly absurd thing you have ever heard? Truly, it is really utterly ridiculous.

No-one in the private sector would believe this, and yet this is exactly what Mr Morrison has allowed to happen. There are tens of thousands of Australians stranded overseas, and Mr Morrison is using a government RAAF aeroplane to fly Mr Cormann—not Senator Cormann—from meeting to meeting across Europe in his campaign to be the secretary-general of the OECD. Mr Cormann's stops have included Brussels, Luxembourg, Madrid, Bern, Copenhagen, Slovenia, Ankara and Muscat and covered more than 20,000 kilometres.

Mr Morrison stated that this jet was necessary because Mr Cormann could get COVID-19 if he flew commercially. We all know there is a global pandemic, which is why the Australian government's advice on Smartraveller for Europe is 'do not travel'. There's a ban on international travel from Australia, which begs the question: why is Mr Cormann travelling and what does he do when he gets to these places? Does he stay on the plane, masked up, and are his meetings held in hazmat suits? Obviously not. Given he is facing COVID exposure in all his meetings and travelling outside of the plane, is the use of the taxpayer funded plane really mitigating his risk? I presume he uses cars and is in restaurants, on the streets and in meetings with others when he's in these other cities. In a photo—a promotional shot—I saw him cooking on an Australian barbecue in Germany and he wasn't even wearing a mask, but, in all fairness, I don't think the barbecue was turned on either. Does Mr Morrison not think about the thousands of Australians in COVID hotspots around Europe that are at risk every single day they stay there? How many Australians could have been brought back by now while Mr Cormann is flying around Europe at taxpayer expense?

It's not like these trips are, in fact, necessary. Former senator Natasha Stott Despoja has just successfully been elected to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, and this was done by her campaigning almost entirely from home. She held over 200 meetings via teleconference. I'm unaware of the government also offering the former Senator Stott Despoja the use of a government aircraft for her single trip to Washington from Canberra during the selection process.

It's not just the planes that you, taxpayers, are paying for. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is supporting Mr Cormann's campaign with a task force of eight staff. He is also accompanied by one DFAT officer while overseas. Seriously, if we can make military planes available to send Mr Cormann around the globe so that he can interview for a new job, surely we can send our planes to bring our fellow Australians home.

Mr Cormann must be Australia's most expensive jobseeker. There are over a million Australians on the JobSeeker payment, and I'm sure they'd all be happy with the same level of assistance. The Prime Minister says, 'If you have a go, you will get a go.' It's a lot easier to have a go if you get a fully paid RAAF jet, eight staff and unlimited support from the government. The former Treasurer, and a fellow jobs-for-the-boys recipient, Joe Hockey once said that the age of entitlement is over. This is clearly not the case if you're a friend of the Prime Minister. Mr Morrison and his government are so seriously out of touch it's not even funny; we shouldn't really even joke about it.

On the flip side of this overly generous support by the Morrison government for their mates are the workers who have been abandoned completely by the government. In fact, their rights and conditions are so bad they aren't even classified as employees. I'm talking now about the plight of drivers for food delivery services. These workers can be found around restaurants and fast-food outlets hoping to pick up a delivery gig. If they're lucky, this delivery might return them $5. They have no minimum wage and no guaranteed conditions. They ride or drive around the streets delivering food as quickly as they can for our convenience, risking their lives in the process. All this is done without adequate workplace safety protections—generally there are none at all—or workers compensation. Tragically, there have been five delivery riders killed on our roads since September, including two deaths in just three days. I fear that there will be quite a few more. Each of these workers have left families and loved ones devastated by their loss. Due to the arrangements of their employment, their families are not entitled to compensation for their death nor to financial support. As a nation, we've really got to do better than this.

Too many workers die on our roads. A couple of weeks ago it was National Road Safety Week, when we recognised that approximately 1,200 people had been killed and another 44,000 seriously injured on Australian roads. It's now time to recognise that the work conditions of delivery drivers working for delivery apps in the gig economy are causing unsafe conditions on our roads, not just for them but for everyone.

Gig economy work is poorly paid and it's insecure. We've seen drivers, such as Amita Gupta, lose their jobs for being 10 minutes late with one delivery. With the assistance of the Transport Workers Union, Ms Gupta brought the case to the Fair Work Commission as an unfair dismissal claim. This required the commission to first decide if she was an employee. Unfortunately, the commission found that Ms Gupta was not an employee, nor was she conducting a business in her own right. What was she doing, then? When is a job not a job? Who do we think was out there delivering peoples' meals for just a few bucks? Why do we think she was doing it—because she just liked driving? Of course not. She was working to earn money to pay the bills. The Fair Work Commission found that Ms Gupta had:

… the capacity to develop her own independent delivery business as a result of her legal and practical right to seek and accept other types of work while performing work for Uber Eats, but chose not to.

Ms Gupta didn't want to found a logistics company; she just wanted a job to pay the bills. You shouldn't have to be Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk to have rights at work. We can't apply the same rules we apply to genuine independent contractors to somebody, usually on a working visa, who has bought a second-hand bike to get some extra cash when they have no other means of support. Don't forget that many of these people have had no government support at all through COVID.

Michael Kaine, from the Transport Workers Union, outlined some of the issues in the sector. He recently said:

Riders are being put onto bikes with no training or protective gear, they are working our streets day and night for little pay. They have no right to insurance and when they get injured or die, it's at the discretion of their companies as to whether they and their families get supported.

That state of affairs is appalling. Everybody in Australia should be able to work in safe conditions. They need rights at work and they need protection. These workers are not being looked after and they are being denied rights as employees. Due to the failure of the government to adequately protect these workers, the Transport Workers Union has had to step up and create a crowdfunding campaign to provide support to the families of the workers who have been killed simply doing their jobs. We're talking about a crowdfunding campaign to pay for funeral expenses and other costs for workers who died doing their job. Workers in Australia deserve better. The government just can't ignore this issue. It cannot be considered acceptable for people to be working at such low rates of pay, lower than anywhere else would allow and without any rights, simply because this is the new technology. If the government doesn't take action to make the delivery service industry safer then, sadly, we'll see further deaths on our roads.

So when you do use one of these apps to order your takeaway while settling down for a nice evening in, I'd like you to take a moment to think about your delivery rider or driver. Think about the dangers they face and think about what sort of training, equipment and insurance you would like if you were doing the same job and were in the same situation. (Time expired)