Stop trying to appease the hard right Mr Turnbull - Terri Butler MP, Labor for Griffith

Stop trying to appease the hard right Mr Turnbull

Terri Butler MP speaking in the Federation Chamber on 22nd March 2017.

Rad the full speech below. 

Ms BUTLER (Griffith) (18:16): I rise on the Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2016-2017. Labor is fighting for what matters to Australians. We are fighting a local jobs, we are fighting to protect Medicare from the attacks of the coalition government and we are fighting to build a strong economy that delivers for all. If we win government at the next election Labor will build Australian first, buy Australian first and employ Australian first.

In contrast to Labor's position and Labor's approach, you just have to look at the Turnbull government to see the division and chaos that is amongst the ranks of that government, both on the front and back benches. The Turnbull government is a government in disarray. It has a leader that is caving in to the hard right of this party, who is doing it over and over again. The leader of our party, the member for Maribyrnong, on the contrary, has unified Labor and Labor is a very solid team. We are working together to create the policies to take the next federal election, to present ourselves as the alternative government of this nation. Just look at the contrast.

On the Liberal-National side you have a situation where the Prime Minister thinks he will be able to appease those on the hard right who keep trying to make more and more demands on him. Prime Minister, appeasing bullies does not get rid of bullies, it just emboldens them. Stop trying to appease the hard right. This week is yet another example of that—his decision to cave in on some demands around the Racial Discrimination Act when he should be focused on jobs, health and education. Those are the things the Prime Minister should be focused on. He should be doing something about the fact that unemployment in this country is high and that underemployment in this country is at record levels—since the records started being kept in 1978.

He should be doing something about the fact that underemployment means there are 1.1 million Australians who have some work but want more work and cannot get it. He should also be doing something about the fact that the wage price index, which measures the growth in wages, is stagnant. In fact, wages growth is at record lows since we started keeping the wage price index in 1997 in this country. So you have really low wages growth at the same time you have unemployment and underemployment very high.

The third piece of that puzzle is that the profit share of income is at a very high level compared to where it was in the late 1970s. In fact, the profit share of income has been increasing steadily ever since the late 1970s. So you have very high levels of the profit share of national income, which means correspondingly low levels of the wages share of national income. What that adds up to is that businesses are doing well and workers are not doing well. This is a government that does not care about those issues. In fact, you only have to look at their record on jobs and wages and incomes to get a sense of what this government's priorities are and what they are not.

This government's priorities have been about finding a way to give a $50 billion revenue giveaway to big multinational corporations and the big banks while at the same time approving of and agreeing with a decision of the Fair Work Commission to cut the take-home pay of hundreds of thousands of working people. This is a government that has an interest in trying to cut family tax benefits, affecting middle- and working-class families, while at the same time doing nothing to arrest the severe decline in apprenticeship numbers, which of course is going to make it much harder for young people to have the skills that they will need for the jobs of the future. This is a government so preoccupied with its own follies that it is missing the main issues that are confronting households across Australia right now, every day of the week.

In my own electorate of Griffith apprentice numbers have dropped by a third since this government was elected. It is an absolute disgrace. There have been $2½ billion in Liberal-National Party cuts to TAFE and apprenticeship support since they were elected in 2013. In real terms, what it means on the ground for real people in real households with real problems is that there have been 1,046 fewer apprenticeships taken up in Griffith. At the same time youth unemployment is very high—13.6 per cent youth unemployment—even in my local area on the south side of Brisbane, which is a relatively affluent area.

Under the Liberals, Australia has shed 128,000 apprenticeships in the last 12 months alone. Trade apprentice commencements have dropped 10½ per cent across the country. But Labor is committed to doing something about these issues. In fact, boosting the number of apprenticeships is a key part of Labor's skills and training agenda to deliver more local jobs, because we need the workforce of the future to have the skills that they will need for the jobs of the future. It is pretty simple. When we see the bottom falling out of vocational education and training in this country, it makes it pretty difficult to imagine how we are going to make sure that people do have the skills that they need.

If you want an example of how pig-headed this government has been on this issue, there was a great program running in my electorate—you will remember it, I am sure, Madam Deputy Speaker; it ran across the country—that had an incredible success rate of getting kids who were really at risk, teenagers who were not in school and not at work, and helping them get the skills that they needed just to be employees. They were really basic skills that a lot of us take for granted, but these kids did not have the opportunity to get them. They were in very high-risk families and domestic situations.

That program, which helped these kids get into education or work, was called Youth Connections. It was very much a value-for-money program. It was incredibly cheap for the Commonwealth to fund. It had high levels of success. In my electorate the program was being run by Boystown. I visited the program at the time that it was being run. It was doing a great job. This government came in and cut that program. Can you imagine cutting an inexpensive and highly valuable program that helps young at-risk kids in their first year at a time when youth unemployment is high and young people are desperately in need of support and reassurance that there is going to be a future for them in this country.

If you want another example, just look at the penalty rates debacle. The Fair Work Commission has made a decision that will cut the take-home pay of hundreds of thousands of employees. It is not like an enterprise bargaining agreement where workers get a vote on the agreement, where they can decide whether to trade away some conditions in favour of other conditions, where there is a situation where the commission has to test the proposed agreement against the modern award to see whether the proposed agreement leaves working people better off overall than the modern award. That is not the situation that we are talking about here.

I think it has been a pretty unedifying display by the Prime Minister, who really should understand enterprise bargaining. We have had enterprise bargaining in Commonwealth law since 1993. It is not as though this is some new concept. You get productivity gains in return for increases in pay and conditions, and that means that working people, through their representatives, and employers negotiate, bargain together to find a win-win solution. That is the point of enterprise bargaining. It is certainly the case that some penalty rates may change and, at the same time, base rates may increase, or you might get paid parental leave, or you might get cultural leave, or you might get other conditions like roster changes or ratios of staff. You might improve conditions at work. It is certainly the case that enterprise bargaining works that way, but this seems to be news to the Prime Minister, who has made it pretty clear throughout question time this week, and in previous weeks, that he does not even understand how enterprise bargaining works. Nor does he understand that working people get a vote on whether to even agree to the enterprise bargaining agreement—it is not some deal struck somewhere in secret and the next thing you know you have this new set of work conditions. That is not how it works; people actually get a vote on these deals.

Maybe he is confused because, in legislation he voted for—Work Choices, back when Work Choices was introduced by the Commonwealth—there was a thing called an employer greenfields agreement that the employer just wrote and had certified; they did not need anyone's agreement for that. Or maybe he is confused by the fact that the legislation he voted for, Work Choices, promulgated individual statutory agreements that were allowed to, and did, undercut all sorts of conditions including penalty rates, annual leave loading and sick leave entitlements. They actually did undercut conditions and pay, and did not even have to pass a no disadvantage test. In fact, the Prime Minister voted for legislation abolishing the no disadvantage test that the commission was then using to make sure people were not left worse off. Maybe he is confused; he has voted for legislation that allows that to happen in the past, but he has form—and he has a lot of cheek, frankly, to come into the parliament and have a go at us for agreements that actually passed the better-off-overall test, when he voted for legislation to get rid of it altogether, to not even have a no disadvantage test.

And look what happened: if you go back into the history of those statutory individual agreements, you will find they actually did get rid of pay and conditions—of course they did. Employers made it a condition of getting a job that you signed up to these individual deals that left you worse off than the prevailing award. Perhaps that is why the Prime Minister is confused. But, to be fair to him, I think he clearly does understand—even though he has been disingenuous about it—that the Fair Work Commission decision in relation to penalty rates is a cut to the take-home pay of working people. It does not leave people better off overall than they had previously been under that particular modern award.

To give you a sense of how it affects my electorate, more than 11,900 people in Griffith, or one-in-seven workers, work in the retail, food and accommodation industries, which are industries affected by the cuts. The workers who are affected by the cuts stand to lose up to $77 a week. Madam Deputy Speaker Claydon, I do not think that you or I would be very happy with a pay drop of $77 a week. I think that would make our lives more difficult, so imagine how much more difficult it would make the lives of people who are under these awards, who are in some of the lowest paying occupations in the country.

The Prime Minister supports this Fair Work decision—he supports it. He claims it is going to lead to more jobs, but what it is really going to lead to is people having to work longer to get the same pay. It is going to affect all sorts of people, but the Prime Minister does not care about them. He has been out there defending this pay cut up and down town. Labor does not agree. In fact, Bill Shorten, the Leader of the Opposition, has brought to the parliament a bill to make sure this cannot happen, to make sure the commission, when it is reviewing awards, cannot reduce the take-home pay of working people. That is what our bill does. It does not prescribe penalty rates in law, in legislation. It does not do any of that, but it does say that the commission cannot cut the take-home pay of working people when reviewing these awards.

You would think that would be pretty non-controversial legislation. You would think that anyone who is reasonable would sign up to a bill that says to the nation's Fair Work Commission—which is an excellent body, a great body, a body that has been around since 1904 in various guises—'By all means review awards, but don't cut the take-home pay of working people.' You would think anyone would vote for that legislation, and yet the Prime Minister is carrying on as though this is somehow unreasonable, as though it is perfectly fine for the Fair Work Commission to cut the take-home pay of working people. That is simply not true, and it just goes to show how out of touch this Prime Minister is with the concerns that are being talked about around the kitchen table.

The Prime Minister likes to talk about cost of living. What helps with the cost of living is not having a massive pay cut. If the Prime Minister cared about cost of living, he would want to do something about the fact that low-paid workers are having their pay cut. How can he say that these will be the last people who will have this pay cut? The opposition asked the question in question time: how can he guarantee that other awards will not have their penalty rates cut, with more pay cuts for other workers? The only way he could guarantee that would be to support Labor's plan to set in legislation a requirement that the commission does not cut the take-home pay of working people. He could back that; he could back it right now. It is a very simple proposition, and it makes economic sense.

Not in the most recent quarter just gone but in the quarter before, we had a negative quarter of economic growth in this country. Let's just think about that for a minute. What is going to help make sure that we have strong economic growth? Would cutting the pay of working people encourage them to spend more money? Would cutting the pay of working people promote more household consumption? Would that promote greater economic growth? Of course it would not. The same working people who are employees who are having their pay cut are also customers, the same customers that small businesses rely on to buy their products and services. They are also citizens and taxpayers, the same taxpayers we rely on to pay their taxes and the same citizens we rely on to be out there doing their bit for Australia to really spur on the economy.

Be the first to comment

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.

Volunteer Get updates Donate


get updates