Standing up for Australian jobs

Whether it's penalty rates, opposing Workchoices on Water, making sure Australians have the skills they need for jobs now and in the future, Labor stands up for Australian jobs.

Read my speech to the House.

Ms BUTLER (Griffith) (13:06):  Of course the amendment should be agreed to, because the shadow minister, in moving it, is absolutely correct to criticise this government for their failure to articulate any sort of policy, really, for the aviation or maritime sectors at the recent federal election. This government has been completely hopeless when it comes to taking any action on maritime and aviation security.

If you want any proof of that, just take a look at this bill that we are finally debating that was first tabled in this parliament back in February 2016. It has taken a year for us even to be in a position to debate this supposedly very important bill that the government is claiming implements a recommendation from the ice taskforce report from December 2015. They have dragged their heels on getting this bill to a point where it can be debated in this House, and no doubt that is because they know how exposed they are on aviation and maritime security matters, and how hopeless they have been for their entire period of government, since 2013. I think they are probably also quite worried about debating this bill because it does shine a very clear light on what this government has tried to do when it comes to people working on the water, and that has been to seek to implement Work Choices on water.

This is a government so committed to its ideological attacks on employment security for Australian workers that it has supported a situation where you can have people working on the water able to not have the same entitlements to Australian wages as people working on land. If you want an example of that, just look at what happened with the MV Portland last year. In the middle of the night, 30 or so security guards, according to eyewitness reports, went on to that ship. In the middle of the night, they dragged people out of their beds and walked them down the gangplank, to replace that Australian crew with a foreign crew—to say, 'We don't want an Australian crew getting paid Australian wages; we want this firm to have a foreign crew being paid foreign wages.' It was an absolute disgrace. But what it proved is that under a Liberal government you cannot expect the government to stand up for Australian jobs, for Australian wages or for Australian conditions.

The Liberal government will always sell Australian workers down the river. The Liberal government will always support attacks on Australian working conditions. Look at what they did when they had the chance during Work Choices in 2006. Look at what we saw, as a consequence of those law changes back then: Australian workplace agreements where conditions and pay were completely undermined, where conditions were lost, where people were pitted against each other—where Australian workers were pitted against Australian workers. Look also at what they have done with their failure to crack down on exploitation and misuse of subclass 457 visas and other foreign-worker visas. Labor supports firms having the ability to use foreign labour where there is a skills shortage or for other proper purposes, but this government has allowed the exploitation of 457 visa workers to be rampant on its watch. Look at the Work-Choices-on-water provisions that were debated in the last parliament. It is absolutely right for the shadow minister to have moved this amendment to highlight the fact that, when you look at all of those things, this government's credibility on working people and on Australian jobs and Australian wages is seriously in doubt, and also to highlight the fact that the government's credibility on transport security is seriously in doubt.

This is the situation that we are in. The Turnbull government has failed to rule out further laws on coastal shipping that would aid the displacement of Australian crews on the Australian coast with foreign crews in that same location doing the work for lower wages. That is what we are actually talking about here.

There is a pretty stark difference between the coalition's approach and Labor's approach. Labor believes in Australian jobs. Labor believes in Australian jobs with Australian wages. Labor will always stand up for working people and for Australian pay and conditions. On the other hand, the coalition will always do whatever they can to attack working conditions, to weaken workers, to make workers less powerful, and to seek to take away the protections that people have fought for for more than 100 years in this country.

We have done this very clearly. If you want to see another example of the difference in approaches between Labor and the coalition, the Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten, has been very forthright in defending penalty rates in this country. On the other hand, one of the first things that the Liberals did on coming into government was to decide to commission the Productivity Commission to look at the workplace relations framework with a view to looking at, among other things, penalty rates. The Liberals set up an inquiry that had the aim of undermining penalty rates. They do not believe in penalty rates. In fact, a number of Liberal members of this House, past and present, have made public comments calling for Sunday rates to be scrapped, for example.

On the other hand, Labor has very steadfastly and publicly stood by the rights of working people to be paid fair compensation for working unsociable hours. It is absolutely the case that working on a Sunday is different from working on any other day. And if any member of this House thinks differently, they can think about all of those Sunday morning church services. They can think about all of those Mother's Day events or Father's Day events that they have been able to go to. They can think about all of the time that they have spent with family on Sundays. Why should anyone who is missing those opportunities not be compensated fairly for doing the work that they are asked to do on a Sunday, I ask you, Mr Deputy Speaker? And of course the answer is: they should be compensated fairly. It is different working on a Sunday from working on a Tuesday morning; it absolutely is. And Labor understands this. It is a shame that the coalition absolutely does not understand it and is prepared to continue to attack the working conditions and pay of people that it purports to represent—as was the case with Work Choices on water that this coalition government brought forward in the last term of parliament.

I do not want to see another MV Portland. I do not want to see another situation where you have people who are doing nothing but defending Australian jobs being escorted in the middle of the night down gangplanks. I do not think Australians want to see that either. I do not think Australians want to see Australian workers being replaced with foreign workers. I do not think people want to see Australian wages being undercut by foreign wages. I also do not think people want to see situations where people like the crew of the Portland are left unemployed, in a country where unemployment is a problem and underemployment is a significant problem.

I met some of the crew of the Portland. They came to Brisbane last year and were speaking with people there to tell us about what had happened to them. And of course I met some of them when they were having their jobs embassy outside of this parliament in February last year. When I went down to that embassy, I have to say, I did not see many coalition MPs down there talking to the Australian workers who had had their jobs and conditions displaced because of policies of this government and because of the behaviour of unscrupulous employers. I did not see any of the coalition MPs down there speaking with people who did not know whether they were going to be able to get another job in the industry in which they had worked since they were in their late teens or early 20s. I did not see the coalition criticising the MV Portland or expressing any concern at all about the future of those crew members and their families now that they had been in this position where they were walked down a gangplank in the middle of the night, having lost their jobs.

And I certainly do not hear much concern from coalition members and senators about the serious problems that we have in this country with Australian jobs.

Deputy Speaker Goodenough, as you and I know, it is the case that while there are hundreds of thousands of people on the unemployment queue there are a million more who are on the underemployment statistics. Those million more people have an hour of work a week, but they want more and they cannot get it. It is a disgrace in this country that so many people are struggling to find work. We are a wealthy nation, we are a nation that is highly skilled, we are a nation that needs to do better in relation to making sure that people do have the skills that they need for the work that is available and we are a nation that needs to do something about the fact that we are still having to import foreign skilled labour because of skills shortages here.

There are two problems with that. Firstly, if there are genuine skills shortages, then what is this nation doing about those skills shortages? What is Prime Minister Turnbull doing about making sure that people have the skills which they need for the jobs that exist now and in the future? The Labor opposition have been very clear. We have announced that we will be holding a skills summit and that we will be working with the vocational education sector, universities, business, unions and the community to work through this problem which we have in relation to skills shortages. The other aspect of the issue with bringing in foreign labour is that it is simply not clear that there is always a genuine skills shortage. When you have got the occupation of bricklayer on the list of occupations for which we are importing skilled labour and it has been on that list of occupations for longer than it takes to train bricklayers, that is an obvious problem. It is an obvious problem for our migration system and it is an obvious problem for our skills system here in Australia.

Unfortunately, this is a government which is more preoccupied with frolics, with fighting amongst itself, with arguments about who should be the leader and with arguments about matters that are of absolutely no interest to people sitting around the kitchen table wondering how they are going to pay their bills. It has been too preoccupied to do the hard work that is needed to create jobs here in Australia, to facilitate the conditions for the creation of jobs here in Australia, to grapple with the underemployment problem that we have as a nation and to face up to the fact that we do need to do something about making sure that people have the skills they need for the jobs that exist now and the jobs that will exist in the future. These are some of the hard problems that this government should be spending its time on, but it is simply not.

I am very pleased to support the amendment moved by the shadow minister, which raises the concerns about the fact that this government has, for example, completely failed to rule out further laws in coastal shipping that would displace Australian workers and that would have the effect of undermining pay and conditions for Australian workers. It is a representative example of this government's lack of interest and lack of care for Australian jobs, Australian skills and Australian pay and conditions. Accordingly, I support the amendment.

 

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