Thursday, 24 November 2022
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister for Trade and Tourism, Senator Farrell. The tourism industry directly employed over 666,000 Australians in the June quarter of this year, many of them being small-business operators. Under Labor's extreme IR changes, could a cafe on the Mornington Peninsula employing 20 staff be compelled into multi-employer bargaining alongside a large hotel in the Mornington Peninsula due to them being in the same industry and the same geographical location?
Thank you. The point of order goes to whether the question is in order given where the bill is. I have not intervened to date because I understand that the policy and politics of the issue is in the matter that the Senate has historically questioned and continues to question, even when legislation is before the Senate, notwithstanding the standing orders. I may have misheard Senator Henderson, but I thought she directly went to the legislation, in which case I would assert it is out of order in the current terms. But the way I would deal with it—because I understand the issue, Senator Birmingham—is that, if that is the case, I would invite her to rephrase.
President, just before you rule on the point of order, I do note that, on Tuesday of this week, the government themselves asked a question related to this legislation. I further note that you and previous Presidents have ruled broadly in relation to these questions about anticipation of Senate business, and I would encourage you to uphold your ruling and previous rulings about that breadth of questioning that is available to senators.
I'll take some advice, Senator Birmingham, because I thought the question was not confined to Senator Farrell's area, but I'll take advice. In relation to the point of order, I'm advised that, if the question went generally to policy issues, then it would be reasonable to ask Senator Farrell to answer it. But the question, in my view, did go to details, because it sought a comparison under an aspect of the proposed bill that related one type of business to another type of business. I can invite Senator Farrell to answer the broad policy nature of that question.
Sorry, Senator Henderson; I've got Senator Wong on her feet, and then I'll come to you.
Senator Farrell, how would these changes impact on a cafe on the Mornington Peninsula employing 20 staff compared with a large hotel on the Mornington Peninsula, with respect to multi-employer bargaining, due to these two businesses being in the same industry and geographical location? I'm asking specifically in relation to the tourism industry.
I would contest that, in terms of the way in which rulings on these matters have been held previously, it has been clear, and Odgers' states, that the rule concerning anticipation is not interpreted narrowly. If it were, it would block questions on a wide variety of subjects. Indeed, none other than former senator John Faulkner argued previously about the broad interpretation taken in relation to this. The senator's question relates to policies and reforms of the government. She's asking about those policies, reforms and changes. She has not referenced specific legislation either in her first go at the question or in her rewording of the question.
In response to the Leader of the Opposition, I think that the difficulty here is that the senator repeated precisely the words, 'these changes', to which I responded. It's clearly the case that 'these changes' mean the legislation which is before the chamber. As such, I would submit that the question needs to be rephrased to be compliant with standing order 73.
I am going to rule. I will seek further advice after question time, Senator Birmingham—
Senator Henderson, I'm speaking. Please resume your seat. I will come to you. As I said in my first answer, if the question is around the broad policy, it's at the invitation of Senator Farrell to answer. I remain with that response, but I am happy to take further advice after question time. Senator Henderson, did you have a point of order?
Senator Farrell, in light of the government's extreme IR policies, could a cafe on the Mornington Peninsula employing 20 staff be compelled into multi-employer bargaining alongside a large hotel in the Mornington Peninsula due to them being in the same industry and geographical location?
I thank Senator Henderson for her question. I totally reject your description of this legislation as 'extreme'. The Labor Party went to the last election saying we were going to lift the wages of Australians and, in particular, low-paid Australians—and that's what this legislation does.
If I were a small business operating a cafe or, for that matter, a hotel in the Mornington Peninsula, I would be delighted with this legislation because I would know that for the first time in 10 years low-paid workers will have an opportunity to lift their wages. We know from what the former Leader of the Government in the Senate said that low wages were a design feature of the Liberal Party's policy. A design feature of the Labor Party's policy is lifting the wages—
I rise on a point of order, on direct relevance. I was asking the minister to answer the question in relation to the two businesses: could they be compelled into multi-employer bargaining? Could the minister please directly address that.
On the point of order, the question actually put a hypothetical, which also was not in order, but, given what we'd already gone through to try and get to a question previously, I didn't take a point of order on that. But it would be unsurprising if the minister answered in slightly broader terms, given you've put a hypothetical to him.
If I were an operator in the tourism industry in the Mornington Peninsula—I'm regrettably not; it would be a lovely place to be operating—I would be saying to all of our community: what's going to help tourism in my community? That's going to be more people coming out and coming into my cafe and coming into my hotel. And how is that going to occur? By lifting the wages of all the people in that community. As we lift the wages of those—
Minister, I take your answer to mean that these businesses could be compelled to bargain together. I ask: under Labor's extreme IR policies, could a local winery employing 20 staff on the Bellarine Peninsula be compelled into multi-employer bargaining alongside a local pub in Port Arlington, Victoria, due to being in the same industry and geographical location?
Point of order: I remember there is a standing order that prevents hypothetical questions. Both of these questions have been hypothetical questions—as in, 'would this' or 'would that' are hypothetical in nature. I know the wage cutters over there don't like being held to standing orders but—
Standing order 73(1)(g) does go to hypotheticals, but the question that Senator Henderson asked was around policy, and I'm going to allow the question. Senator Henderson, I am not sure if you finished your question. I think you were midway through when you were sat down. Can you ask the question again? I'm going to reset the clock.
As I was saying, Minister, I take your answer to mean that these businesses could be compelled to bargain together. I ask: under Labor's extreme IR policies, could a local winery employing 20 staff on the Bellarine Peninsula, where I live, be compelled into multi-employer bargaining alongside a local pub in Port Arlington, Victoria, due to being in the same industry and geographical location?
I thank Senator Henderson for her supplementary question. I totally reject you putting words into my mouth. I'm happy if you quote what I say as my answer: I reject the words that you were trying to put into my mouth.
I also fundamentally reject your suggestion that this legislation is extreme. This is not extreme legislation. We told the Australian people in the last election, and that includes all of the tourism operators—
Point of order on direct relevance: I asked the minister about the compulsion between two businesses, whether they will be compelled to engage in multi-employer bargaining. Could the minister address the question?
After two years of COVID impacting Australia's tourism industry, when the former coalition government did so much for the tourism industry—an industry now suffering labour shortages—why is the Labor government bringing in extreme IR laws which employers, including tourism operators in Victoria, have said will make it harder for them to employ people?
Honourable senators interjecting—
I will direct my comments to the chair, but I will also direct them to all of those people over there who totally let down the tourism industry in this country. We're finally starting the rebuild of the tourism industry. Whether it's a cafe on the Bellarine Peninsula or a hotel on the Bellarine Peninsula, we are lifting their wages and starting the rebuild. You left this industry for dead. You cut JobKeeper when you should have kept it going, you kicked out—
Opposition senators interjecting—
You were giving it to all your big mates. You were giving it to your mates when you should have been giving it— (Time expired)