Senate debates

Tuesday, 22 November 2022

Questions without Notice

Workplace Relations

2:11 pm

Linda White (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Senator Watt. The Albanese government's proposed changes to workplace relations laws will deliver much-needed job security and wage increases after a decade of neglect by the Liberals and Nationals. How will the 'Secure Jobs, Better Pay' bill support small businesses to bargain with their workers, and what does this mean for workers?

Photo of Murray WattMurray Watt (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Senator White, who is, again, one of the people on our side of the chamber who has a long history of standing up for the rights of workers, and also of forming very co-operative relationships with business in her career in the union movement. Senator White is a great example of what our government is trying to do, which is build partnerships between unions, workers and business for the benefit of the economy, for the benefit of those businesses and also for those workers.

I understand it's a foreign concept for those opposite, who just thrive on conflict and want to keep us in that conflict driven environment that we've been in for 10 years, but some of us actually want to move on. And, do you know what? So does small business. Let me just give one example of the small businesses out there that are actually looking forward to the kind of multi-employer bargaining that we are proposing to have. Now—

Photo of Bridget McKenzieBridget McKenzie (Victoria, National Party, Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development) Share this | | Hansard source

He's no Julie Collins!

Photo of Matthew CanavanMatthew Canavan (Queensland, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Just get to the point, mate!

Photo of Sarah HendersonSarah Henderson (Victoria, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Communications) Share this | | Hansard source

You want mass strikes!

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Watt, I'm going to wait for silence. Order! I ask Senators McKenzie and Henderson in particular to lower the tone of their interjections, please. Minister, please continue.

Photo of Murray WattMurray Watt (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) Share this | | Hansard source

On the one hand, the opposition demands examples of small businesses that support the system we're trying to bring in. But the minute we try to do it they don't want to hear about it. That's because the opposition are intent on keeping our country in a conflict driven model that does not work for anyone.

Ms Julie Price, the Executive Director of the Community Child Care Association, gave evidence to the Senate inquiry recently. She represents over 750 community not-for-profit early childhood education and care centres. She gave evidence explaining that multi-employer bargaining in Victoria had delivered above-award wages for workers over a decade with the support of employers. What she said was—

Photo of Bridget McKenzieBridget McKenzie (Victoria, National Party, Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development) Share this | | Hansard source

How many people does Julie employ? Name one!

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Watt, please resume your seat. Order, senators—particularly those on my left. Please continue, Minister Watt.

Photo of Murray WattMurray Watt (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, President. Ms Price, who represents hundreds of community owned childcare centres, made the point that the agreement they had struck across a range of enterprises covers just under 60 services in Victoria. It delivers better wages, 16 per cent above the award, and she goes on to say that the centres are community owned, managed by boards and volunteers, and they don't have the financial resources and the expertise in IR to be able to negotiate an agreement themselves.

This is the kind of system that small businesses can take advantage of to avoid having big HR departments and to strike agreements with their workers, which is what they want. (Time expired)

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator White, your first supplementary question.

2:14 pm

Linda White (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Minister, it's well known that small businesses are more award reliant. Why is it important to provide small businesses with additional support to create agreements with workers?

Photo of Murray WattMurray Watt (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Senator White. As we say, we understand that it's a foreign concept for the opposition that employers and workers can act together cooperatively for the benefit of both of them, but our government actually understands that. Mr Mimmo Scavera, the president of the HVAC Manufacturing and Installation Association, also gave evidence to the Senate inquiry. He represents nine major employers collectively employing approximately 900 people.

Opposition Senators:

Opposition senators interjecting

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! Minister Watt, please resume your seat. Senator McKenzie, I'm waiting until your own side is quiet. Senator McKenzie, a point of order?

Photo of Bridget McKenzieBridget McKenzie (Victoria, National Party, Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development) Share this | | Hansard source

It is on relevance to the good senator's question. Can the minister name one small business that actually supports Labor's reforms?

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator McKenzie, that is not a point of order. Senator Wong?

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Foreign Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

There are persistent points of order which actually go to the content of substantive debate. We're happy to have substantive debate, but this is time for question time. This is not the way in which points of order have traditionally been used nor should be used. If the senator wants a debate, we can have a debate.

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Minister Wong. I rule the point of order out of order. Minister Watt, please continue.

Photo of Murray WattMurray Watt (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, President. Isn't it terrible to see the coalition not want to hear from employer groups? You really would have thought that, of all the parties, they would support employer groups. But they don't support the ones that support multi-employer bargaining. The ones that oppose it are fine, but the ones that support it are terrible. Mr Scavera said—

Opposition senators interjecting

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Watt, please resume your seat. Again, there is too much noise. Please continue, Senator Watt.

Photo of Murray WattMurray Watt (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Scavera said:

It's about not having a race to the bottom, to put it bluntly. At the moment the major construction projects don't have any regulation in relation to pay. So you have a mixture of people on a site that will be either enterprise agreement covered, award covered or covered by whatever other means people are creating. We're hoping that through this mechanism we can have an industry agreement through multi-enterprises. That's what we're aiming for: to regulate the market a bit more.

(Time expired)

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator White, a second supplementary question?

2:16 pm

Linda White (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Minister, why is it urgent that we pass these reforms before Christmas?

Opposition Senators:

Opposition senators interjecting

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Once again, the interjections, particularly from my left, are absolutely disorderly. I ask you to be quiet so that we can all hear the Minister's response. Minister Watt.

2:17 pm

Photo of Murray WattMurray Watt (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) Share this | | Hansard source

It is urgent that we pass these reforms before Christmas because they will be good for workers, they will be good for small businesses and they will be good for the economy. Senator Pocock and Senator Lambie, we all know that you have important decisions to make about this legislation in the coming days, and I encourage you to think about the arguments that we are putting forward and that small businesses are putting forward. Or you can decide to line up with that rabble over there, who want to continue to keep Australia in conflict, with low wages and low productivity.

I know enough about Senator Pocock and Senator Lambie to know that they want to see agreements and they want to see cooperation in workplaces that delivers to businesses and to workers. That is exactly what we are putting forward here. The comments that we saw at the Senate inquiry, made by representatives of childcare centres and representatives of manufacturing industries, indicate that—

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Minister Watt, please resume your seat. Senator David Pocock.

Photo of David PocockDavid Pocock (ACT, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise on a point of order, President. Could the minister please direct his comments through the President? Thank you.

Opposition senators interjecting

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! Senators on my left! Minister Watt, please direct your contributions to the chair.

Photo of Murray WattMurray Watt (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, President. Through you, President, I say to Senator Pocock and Senator Lambie: take the evidence of the committee inquiry into account. We heard from childcare representatives and we heard from manufacturing representatives who said that multi-employer bargaining is what they want—it's good for their business and good for their workers. (Time expired)