Fair Work Amendment (Protecting Take-Home Pay) Bill 2017 - Second Reading Speech

30 March 2017

I rise to speak on the Fair Work Amendment (Protecting Take-Home Pay) Bill 2017. The decision to cut penalty rates is a terrible blow to some 700,000 Australians. It is indeed a terrible blow to all Australians. It is a terrible blow particularly to thousands of Tasmanians in my home state. In fact, it is a terrible blow to some 40,246 Tasmanians employed in retail, food and accommodation services in Tasmania, who will be worse off if this legislation passes in the way the government chooses. It will take thousands of dollars from their annual wage, and that is what we are arguing about here.

We are arguing about whether we are a country that wants to take thousands of dollars from some of the lowest paid workers, who are trying to make ends meet. It will impact on their ability to afford the basic necessities of life. These people already have to make impossible choices about whether to pay their overdue rent or buy food for their kids. The Turnbull government are never going to understand the stress of not being able to afford to pay your bills and having to skip meals in order to make ends meet. They do not know, nor do they care, about the people doing it tough.

I am the proud daughter of a hospitality worker. As a single parent my mum relied on penalty rates. As a single parent my mum worked really hard to provide for me. She worked really hard to provide for both of us. She was a proud union member. She knew that her union supported her—and that her union supported workers like her—in protecting wages and conditions so that she could make ends meet, so that she could pay her rent and could pay for food for me and her. I stand with all of the hospitality workers and all of the single parents like my mum who need penalty rates. Labor stands with those workers in the retail, food and beverage, hospitality and other sectors that rely on penalty rates. Without those penalty rates life will indeed get very difficult for them.

I too worked in the hospitality sector when I was a young mum and putting myself through university. I relied on penalty rates. The Austudy I received at that time was certainly not enough to pay the rent and to ensure my family, with a young baby, had enough to get through while I continued to study. My life experience is like the life experience of those on this side of the chamber. They understand what it is like to do it tough and how necessary it is to have decent wages and conditions in order for families to provide for their own.

That is what this decision is all about. It is a decision that will cost the budget bottom line up to $650 million, will drive down income tax revenue and will drive up welfare costs, yet it is another example of this Turnbull government's attacks on Australians who can least afford it. It will hurt Tasmania's most vulnerable workers. I stand, as I know other Tasmanian Labor senators do, with those Tasmanian workers. Some Tasmanian workers have contacted my office and told me what will happen to them and what is already happening when they try to make ends meet for their family.

At the moment inequality in Australia is at a 70-year high, wages growth is at a historic low and underemployment is at a record high. People want to work more because they need to make ends meet. I was contacted by a number of Tasmanians concerned that they would no longer be able to meet basic housing, food and transport costs. One particular Tasmanian stood out to me. He works full time as a sheet metal tradesman. He has now had to pick up a second job to provide for his family. He works 12 days out of 14, missing significant time with his family. His penalty rates are not a luxury. His penalty rates are helping him provide for his family and make ends meet.

These cuts will have a major impact on the wellbeing of Tasmanians who work so hard to provide for their families. Is this really the kind of society that the Australian government wants to put in place? Is this the kind of legacy that the Turnbull government wants to have in its wake? Does it want to be the government that cut penalty rates? I recently had some experience of what the American system is like for hospitality workers. These days that system completely relies on tips, on the goodwill of the customer. The minimum wage is so low, despite some work to lift it under President Barack Obama, that those workers rely on tips.

Is that the kind of society that we want here in Australia where we no longer have a safety net, where we have the Americanisation of our wages and conditions? I say no. Labor says no. We do not want that sort of system here in Australia. We do not want it in health care and we certainly do not want it in our wages and conditions, our workplace relations. I believe what the Turnbull government is trying to achieve here is the thin end of the wedge.

Labor, who are on this side of the chamber, will stand with the workers of Australia. We will stand with the low-income workers of Australia. We will stand with the families of Australia and with workers like the sheet metal worker I just described in Tasmania, who has had to take a second job in order to make ends meet. We will do something about inequality in this country. Inequality is so high, yet it is not even a thought bubble in the Prime Minister's purview, because he simply does not care. He does not care because he is out of touch and has not experienced what it is like nor does he want to reach out and meet people with that experience. That just shows you that this government has completely lost its way. Attacking some of the lowest workers in the country and attacking the basic safety net of penalty rates is simply appalling, and this government should hang its head in shame.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Back ): It being 12:45, debate is interrupted. Pursuant to the order agreed to earlier, the questions on all remaining stages of the Fair Work Amendment (Protecting Take-Home Pay) Bill 2017 will be put without debate.