Workplace Relations & Penalty Rates


August 14, 2017

 I’ve got a question: why is this government going after the most vulnerable in Australian society? What is the collective psychosis of this government that they have to go after the most vulnerable people in Australian society? They’ve already undertaken this massive austerity program—and it is an austerity program, but they’re too scared to actually call it that. They’ve targeted the most vulnerable—pensioners, the disabled and students—with these false robo-debts, 40 per cent of which were actually incorrect. They’ve targeted these people, and now we’ve got these cuts to penalty rates targeting working class people who just want to make ends meet and put food on the table. As the member for Barton and the member for Longman have said, they’re targeting specific cohorts within our society: women, the disadvantaged, migrants and people who don’t have tertiary education. They’re going about it in a way which is very, very upsetting to so many people and upsetting to us on this side.

We want to repair the budget—of course we do; we don’t want to have a deficit—but our budget repair is about fairness. Their decision to repair the budget is all about unfairness—it’s all about targeting the most vulnerable, to collect that money from the people who are the least able to defend themselves and stand up for themselves. I tell you what, we’re here defending them; that’s why we’re here. We’re here because we’re standing up for the most vulnerable people in Australian society. We’re standing up for pensioners, we’re standing up for students, we’re standing up for the working class, we’re standing up for women who work for their families, and we’re standing up for migrants, who are working in this country just to make ends meet to give their children and grandchildren a better life. That’s why we’re here.

I have to say that it goes beyond just going after the most vulnerable with Centrelink debts, 40 per cent of which were wrong. It’s actually obscene—to all of us, it’s is obscene—when they’re giving $65 billion to corporate Australia in tax cuts, while someone who’s on $60,000 or 70,000 a year has to pay more tax. It is actually obscene to go after the poor, the vulnerable, the disadvantaged, pensioners, students, the disabled, working women, single mums, people who are trying to make ends meet. Penalty rates make all the difference. I know this because my parents were migrants. They came to this country and they worked hard. These little things make a real difference to people’s lives, just to get by. My parents worked in factories. These are things that matter to people. That’s why we’re here defending them. That’s why we’re here standing up for the people across Australia who rely so much on penalty rates just to make the day-to-day payments that they need to keep their families going.

But the government don’t care. I was of half joking about a collective psychosis. I think either they’re indifferent, which is even worse in some respects, or they really don’t care or they really don’t even see it. They just don’t get it. When was the last time they had to work in a factory? When was the last time they had to make a choice between a power bill or a food bill? When was the last time they had to make a choice about their kids’ clothing or putting food on the table or getting a good breakfast for their kids? When was the last time any member on that side even had to think about that? I don’t think any of you have. When you have experience in life, when you’ve gone through the tough times, you know how important these things are to people; you know how important it is for these people to make their day go by and get on with it. It’s not like they’re asking for a handout. These people are working. These penalty rates make a difference to their lives. They’re working for it. They’re working on weekends. They’re not asking for a handout. They just want the fairness of getting paid for the work that they’re doing on weekends when they can get the penalty rates. It makes all the difference to those people.