Labor stands up for jobs and working conditions - Terri Butler MP, Labor for Griffith

Labor stands up for jobs and working conditions

We will always stand up for Australian jobs. We will always stand up for fair workplace laws. We will always stand up for a fair day's pay for a fair day's work—a basic tenet that this country was built on. We will always stand up for Australian jobs and Australian pay and conditions.



Ms BUTLER (Griffith) (18:59):  As with so many of my colleagues I rise tonight to speak against the Shipping Legislation Amendment Bill 2015 and to raise significant concerns about this government bill. This is a bill that removes revitalising Australian shipping from the objects of Australian coastal shipping legislation. It is a piece of legislation about which the government ought to be ashamed, because it replaces preference for an Australian flag on ships working the Australian coast with indifference to flagging—that is, flags-of-convenience ships that are then to be placed on the same level as our own Australian ships and Australian-flagged ships. When a ship has an Australian flag it is subject to Australian standards, but the flags-of-convenience arrangement will allow ships to avoid Australian standards and regulations.

As so many Labor speakers have said in the debate on this bill, Labor's position is quite clear. If you are hauling freight by rail you are entitled to the benefit of Australian regulations, Australian protections and Australian workplace protections. If you are hauling freight by truck, then you are entitled to Australian wages, to Australian conditions and to the benefit and the protection of Australian regulations. We believe that if you are hauling freight by ship you should have the same entitlement to be protected under Australian law and have the benefit of Australian regulations and Australian workplace laws.

This is yet another issue where the differences between the coalition and Labor are so stark. We believe in Australian jobs. We stand up for Australian jobs and no amount of silly name-calling by the coalition will ever stop us, as Labor people, from standing up for Australian jobs. Whether it is this 'Work Choices on water' legislation or whether it is the discussion we are having about the implementation of the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement, where Labor is standing up for Australian labour market testing and skills testing and the coalition does not care about Australian jobs. They would rather call us racist for daring to stand up for Australian jobs than actually really engaging with the underlying issues there.

If you think about the coalition's record when it comes to standing up for Australian jobs and Australian workers, this is 'Work Choices on water'. This is all about taking away pay and conditions from workers. Look no further than their original Work Choices, the legislation that was so comprehensively rejected by the Australian people at the 2007 election. Like this legislation, that was all about undermining the pay and conditions of Australian workers. It was legislation that was all about dividing and conquering. Look at the track record of the coalition by looking even further back to the first years of the Howard government and the attempt to bring in the Work Choices style legislation at that time. Obviously, it took a coalition majority Senate for the then coalition government to get their wish and implement Work Choices, the radical right-wing industrial relations reform that was introduced. It was so radical and so right-wing that it was completely inconsistent with Australian values and the Australian people rejected it utterly and completely, and that is very obvious. But they have not learnt. They do not care about industrial relations benefits for working people. They do not care about pay and conditions and they do not care about Australian jobs.

If you want another example of that, look at the comments the Prime Minister has been making about penalty rates recently. They are talking about penalty rates as though they were some sort of anachronism and were just not needed any more, as though the weekends are the same as any other week day. As Ged Kearney of the ACTU has said, when they play the grand final on a Tuesday morning then you can tell me that weekends don't matter any more. We had a pretty good grand final for Queensland supporters recently, and I can tell you it was not played on a Tuesday morning. It was an excellent game and it was on a Sunday. Sundays do mean something. Workplace relations protections mean something. Penalty rates, for that matter, mean something. When you talk about cutting penalty rates you are talking about cutting the pay of low-paid workers and of middle-income workers.

The Prime Minister's attempt to backpedal this week, with his claim that he was just talking about enterprise bargaining, has been completely transparent for everyone. Of course we have enterprise bargaining. We have had it broadly across this country since the Keating and Brereton reforms of 1993. But the Prime Minister was not talking about negotiating better conditions and building on the conditions to leave working people better off. That is not what he was talking about. He was talking about cutting penalty rates for working people. When you talk about cutting penalty rates for the person who is bringing you your coffee or the person who is making your brunch when you sit in a cafe, you are talking about cutting the pay of some of our lowest paid workers. It is not good enough. It is not good enough to say that low-paid workers should get a pay cut.

It is a matter of fact that in this country lower paid workers, people at the bottom of the income distribution, have benefitted proportionately less than people at the top of the income distribution from the benefits of Australia's growth and from the boom we have had the benefit of over recent decades. It is a matter of fact. If you have a look at a recent report from NATSEM for Anglicare Australia, they modelled the effect of some of the Abbott/Turnbull government changes, looked at the changes moving forward and looked at the likely living standard projections for the future, and, on the projections they considered, not only do you see people in the bottom end of the income distribution benefitting less from Australia's prosperity than people at the top of the income distribution, but in fact what that modelling suggested is that people in the bottom 40 per cent of the income distribution would actually see living standards decline over the next decade. Not only would inequality continue to grow, but it would actually leave households worse off over the next decade, compared to where they are now. That is not good enough. But that shows you just how little this government cares about living standards for everyday Australian people, for people particularly at the bottom and middle of the income distribution, but not those at the top end of town.

It shows you how little they care about the cost of living pressures on households that they would even consider suggesting that low-paid workers, people who are reliant on penalty rates to make up their wage, take a pay cut. They are out of touch. This is an out of touch government led by an out of touch Prime Minister, people who have no idea what it is like to have these pressures discussed around the table. This example, this job-destroying legislation that we are debating tonight, is yet another example of just how out of touch the Prime Minister's government is in relation to jobs and working conditions.

As I said, we are a party who stand up for Australian jobs. We have always been a party who stand up for Australian jobs. We believe in making sure that people are not vulnerable to exploitation. The whole point of this legislation is to remove protections to allow people to get around Australian protections and regulation. That leaves people open to exploitation. Our shipping industry, which employs 10,000 Australian workers in direct and indirect roles, is an industry in itself. It deserves a regulatory regime that allows it to operate on a level playing field. That is what happens in every other industry, including, as I said earlier, in road and rail, and also in airfreight. This is an industry, like any other industry, where if you work in Australia you should have the benefit of Australian wages and Australian conditions and you should have the benefit of the protection of Australian laws.

When Labor took office in 2007, the Australian shipping industry was in a state of decline. Under the then Howard coalition government, the number of Australian-flagged vessels working domestic trade routes plunged from 55 in 1996 to 21 in 2007. Labor introduced new laws designed to revitalise the Australian shipping industry which followed on from unanimous recommendations of a 2008 parliamentary inquiry and extensive consultation with stakeholders. The aim was to support the ability of the Australian shipping industry to compete within its own borders. The package included taxation incentives for flagging ships Australian and to encourage employment of Australian seafarers, a new second register with tax benefits to ships engaged predominantly in the international trade, coastal shipping reform, and a workplace package focusing on maritime skills development. Since the day it was sworn in, this government has promised to repeal these laws, undermining their effect and deterring investment in Australian-flagged shipping. Uncertainty has had the effect of continuing the decline in the Australian trading fleet.

This bill is all about ripping apart those reforms and removing the level playing field for Australian shipowners operating in their home waters in the coastal trade. It removes support for the industry and replaces it with nothing—and isn't that typical of the coalition government, with their reckless approach to industry policy, which has seen a terrible effect on Australian jobs? And they do not care. As you will recall, Mr Deputy Speaker, the then Prime Minister mentioned that some workers who had lost their jobs as a consequence of industry change had been 'liberated' from their jobs. How contemptuous—how disrespectful to say that they had been liberated from their jobs. I am sure that there will be opportunities to reflect on that sentiment.

We are an island nation—the point has been made by everyone who has spoken in this debate against this bill. We have a greater interest, as an island nation, in a viable local maritime sector than most other nations. We have an economic interest, we have an environmental interest and we have a security interest. These interests are undermined by this reckless legislation. We have an economic interest because we rely on shipping for 99 per cent of our trade, including an increasing amount of our petroleum supply. We have an environmental interest because of course we need high environmental standards in a nation famous for the Great Barrier Reef and also for having amazing natural resources—and I might say particularly given our increase in tourism as such an important service export industry for this nation, which is only becoming more important as time goes on. We have a security interest. We know that screening foreign crews is harder than screening Australian crews. The Office of Transport Security acknowledges this, but a higher risk profile is not factored into the costs of this package. Given that each of those three interests is undermined by this legislation, that is, in and of itself, a sufficient and important reason why this bill ought to be opposed.

It is a bill that, really, has at its heart ideology, not an evidence base. Members of the coalition have spoken in this place before, saying, 'Policy should be evidence based.' When are we going to start seeing it from the coalition? When are we going to see laws that actually reflect the needs of this nation, the needs of Australian working people and the importance of protecting Australian jobs, instead of this sort of ideological nonsense? When are we going to see it? Now is a time when unemployment is as bad as it has been for decades. We have 800,000 people on the unemployment queues in Australia. We have a situation where, since May 2014—not so coincidentally, the same time as the coalition government's first budget—unemployment has been six per cent or higher, worse than the worst unemployment rates during the global financial crisis. Unemployment is a disgrace in this country. The coalition government should stop worrying about ideology and think about what is going to be done to protect Australian jobs and Australian working conditions.

I do not hold out much hope for that because, if you look at the track record—the track record of then Prime Minister John Howard in 1996, the track record of Work Choices in 2006 and the track record of the current Prime Minister's recent discussions and comments about cutting penalty rates—the fact is that the real reason that this government will never really stand up for Australian workers and Australian jobs is that, at its heart, it does not care about Australian jobs and Australian working people's pay and conditions. At its heart, it is completely out of touch with the pressures around kitchen tables in the households of Australia. At its heart, it knows that we have increasing inequality. This government knows that living standards are going to decline for the bottom end of the income distribution if policies do not change, but it does not care. This government is a government that thinks, 'My mates are all right.' When people are at the bottom end of the income distribution and rely on protection from Australian regulation and rely on Australian wages and conditions, this government just does not think that those people deserve its attention.

We disagree. We will always stand up for Australian jobs. We will always stand up for fair workplace laws. We will always stand up for a fair day's pay for a fair day's work—a basic tenet that this country was built on. We will always stand up for Australian jobs and Australian pay and conditions.

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