Wednesday, 9 December 2020
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Birmingham. Can the minister confirm that, under Mr Morrison's industrial relations changes, employers will be able to cut the wages and conditions of their employees?
In the terms in which Senator Watt comes in and presents that, I certainly cannot confirm that's the case. What I can confirm is, very much, that the reforms we're putting in place are about getting more Australians back into work, building on the strong jobs growth that we have had in recent months and ensuring that continues into the future. In getting more Australians back into work, the different pillars of our COVID economic recovery are built upon ensuring that we have the strongest possible economy. We have that economy through the budget incentives to drive further investment; through the support for Australian households and families by bringing forward the tax cuts that will benefit those families and put more money back into their pockets to invest as they see fit; and through the types of measures in skills reform in the JobMaker program that we have made sure we are outlining and implementing to give every possible incentive for people to be work ready and for employers to particularly invest in employing young Australians. We build upon those reforms by ensuring that we have industrial relations and workplace relations systems that offer the capacity for employers to employ with confidence, that offer greater certainty for employees—for example, casual employees in terms of their rights and their opportunities to convert into permanency of employment—that, indeed, maintain the better-off-overall test under a framework where changes require the approval of a majority of employees and changes require the approval of the independent umpire. We have these frameworks in place and the scare campaign those opposite are seeking to start is just a sign of their desperation and desire to pursue conflict— (Time expired)
I have a very specific question to the minister: will it be possible for every worker at a workplace to be worse off because of Mr Morrison's industrial relations changes?
Mr President, you'll note that that was a very specific question and it was about whether every worker at a workplace will be worse off. It was not about workers generally and not about anything else. It was about workers at a specific work place.
Thank you, Senator Watt. I've allowed you to restate the question. Again, I come to the test of direct relevance, which is a narrower one than broad relevance that was in place until several years ago. In my view, to be directly relevant to such a specific question, the answer must refer to this particular aspect of the package of legislation. That shouldn't be taken as instructing a minister to answer in the terms that the opposition seeks, but I do think that a specific question of this nature requires an answer about this aspect of the policy in question. But, again, I say that doesn't have to accept the nature or the terms in which the question's asked.
As I said in relation to the primary question and in relation to earlier questions on this matter today, the better-off-overall test remains under the reforms that our government is proposing. Under that test the majority of employees needs to endorse a change—the majority of employees. So when the senator comes in here and asks a question about what happens to every employee, the test remains that the majority of employees needs to agree to the changes. It can't be any clearer than that for the senator. But that's not the only safeguard, because the independent Fair Work Commission needs to agree as well.
I know the senator doesn't want to answer this, but I ask again: can he give a guarantee that under Mr Morrison's industrial relations changes no worker will be worse off?
We do keep coming back to the same desire of the opposition to narrow a complex area of reform. Our intention is to make sure that Australian workers are better off—all Australian workers are better off—by virtue of there being more jobs for Australian workers. The more jobs there are for Australian workers, the more confidence every Australian worker should have—
Senator Watt, I think, with respect, when the minister is talking about—while I hasten not to get into the language of it—the BOOT test and aspects like that, I do think that is directly relevant because that addresses the specific question, but not in the terms you seek. You can debate that afterwards. I think the minister, on this question and the previous one, when I mentioned that, did turn to that specific nature and was directly relevant.
The fact is that every Australian is better off when we have a stronger economy. Every Australian is better off when we have more jobs being created. Every Australian will have more job security when there are more job opportunities across the Australian economy. Every Australian will be better off in terms of the services that can be provided, in terms of the potential for wages growth, when we have the highest possible rates of employment in this country. That's what we are seeking to do right across our whole economic performance.