Wednesday, 9 December 2020
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Birmingham. On Monday in question time the Prime Minister refused to guarantee that no worker would be worse off as a result of his industrial relations changes. Can minister confirm no worker will be worse off?
I thank Senator Sterle for his question. Indeed, our ambition is to ensure that Australian workers on the whole are better off and in fact that there are more Australian workers as a result of the types of reforms that our government seeks to bring forward. That is the crucial part of the challenge we face at present, coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic—that we make sure that we get more Australians into jobs once again. The recovery has begun, the comeback has begun, but it has a way to go.
It is on relevance. The question wasn't about whether workers on the whole would be better off; the question was about whether every worker would be better off or whether no worker would be worse off.
I have allowed you to restate the question, Senator Watt, and I will listen carefully to the minister. To be directly relevant to this question, an answer would be strictly defined by discussion of the bills that were introduced and were the subject of this, and I will listen carefully. I can't instruct him how to answer a question. I heard interjections asking for a one-word answer. It is not appropriate for me to attempt to instruct an answerer of a question. But I will listen very carefully to the minister continuing. Senator Birmingham.
At the height of the pandemic, our government sought to bring together unions and employers to engage in discussions around workplace relations legislation in the spirit of cooperation, not conflict. I thank all of those parties who came together. Our government is grateful for the cooperation that has been shown during the pandemic, for the engagement through those processes. Even though getting universal agreement to every issue of course proved immensely challenging, we welcomed the fact parties came together.
My point of order is on direct relevance. The minister has had over a minute—and a point of order on relevance—and he was asked whether he can confirm no worker will be worse off. Like the Prime Minister, he is avoiding the question, which is telling in itself. I would ask him to return to the question.
I am listening to the minister. He was turning to the bills, the direct topic. I cannot instruct him to answer a question in specific terms. If, however, he is narrowly speaking about this particular piece of proposed legislation, then I do consider that directly relevant, because the question is about that particular piece of legislation—obviously, without foreshadowing something on the Notice Paper. I call Senator Birmingham to continue.
Our approach and our spirit in this has been to try and achieve cooperation as to how reform can best be achieved to get the most number of Australians into employment and into jobs. Those opposite clearly already want to choose the path of conflict. We have chosen the path of cooperation. In relation to the better off overall test, the same two tests that currently apply will continue.
Senator Watt, the minister was actually talking about tests contained in the announcement at that point. I do consider that to be directly relevant, even if it's not in the terms the opposition would like. There's an opportunity after question time to debate the answer.
As I was saying, in relation to the better off overall test, the same two terms that the opposition put in place when they were in government will apply in the future—that is, the majority of employees needing to agree and, of course, the independent umpire, the Fair Work Commission, signing off on any EAs.
Our government has very clearly outlined our ambitions in relation to this reform. The senator comes in here and asks about a guarantee. The guarantee that we give is that every policy we are pursuing is about getting more Australians into jobs once more. That's the guarantee that we are pursuing. We went to the last election proudly, having seen during the preceding six years 1½ million additional Australians gain the opportunity, the dignity and the value of employment. That job creation record was unparalleled in Australian history. COVID-19 has hit that, but we have seen a comeback of more than 600,000 jobs to date, and our intention is to pursue the types of policies that will get more Australians back into jobs again into the future.
At a time when almost one million Australians are unemployed, 1.4 million Australians are underemployed and, for Australians with jobs, wages growth is at record lows, why is the Prime Minister being dishonest about the impact of these changes, which will cut take-home pay and leave workers behind?
I had some hope through the first few parts of Senator Sterle's supplementary that he had been listening and that perhaps he did recognise the point that the government is making, which is that these reforms—the COVID recovery industrial relations package—coming on top of our budget measures and all of our other support measures, are all about getting more Australians back into jobs and ensuring that employers have the confidence to employ and the confidence to invest and create more jobs. We've been pleased to see the rate of jobs growth over recent months. It is crucially important we see that rate of jobs growth continue, that we get more Australians back to the position that we were in prior to the pandemic by getting them into work, by getting them into jobs and by creating those jobs through having the strongest possible economy, the strongest possible investment environment and the most effective workplace relations systems possible, built through collaboration and discussion between parties.
Senator Watt interjecting—