Speech to Parliament - Workers' pay and conditions (Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2021-2022 - Consideration in Detail)

By David Smith MP

15 June 2021

Address to the Federation Chamber, BILLS - Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2021-2022 - Consideration in Detail

Tuesday 15 June 2021

Subject: Workers' pay and conditions

It's clear that the past year has been tough for the people of my electorate of Bean and, more broadly, for the millions of workers across Australia. This pandemic has exposed the harsh truths we have known for years. Too many people in this country are working in low-paid, insecure employment, in some instances—like those in the gig economy—in conditions that drift towards modern-day slavery. Too many are in labour hire or casual employment.

This budget was not designed to get us through a pandemic that we are still in; it was designed to get the Prime Minister through to an election at the expense of many working families. While the Prime Minister is focused on the nearest camera, the wage price index is forecast to not even keep pace with inflation and Australians are left with a debt of over $1 trillion. Sure, the budget includes some funding for better technological integration for payroll, to assist with modern award obligations, and there is additional funding for the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency. These are good things. But we still see the ideological wars continue, with funding of the Registered Organisations Commission. And, importantly to many in my community, when it comes to skills, apprenticeships and investment in sciences, our universities and the cutting-edge innovation sector, we don't see enough. Funding for apprenticeships focuses on commencement years and doesn't flow through to completion.

We've seen thousands of jobs disappear across our university sector. This is despite the importance of this sector to our economy, driving innovation, productivity and investment. We don't see enough in these bills supporting this area. At their core, it's really in wages growth and secure jobs that these bills don't deliver. Too many workers barely have enough security to make ends meet and hence have to hold down multiple jobs. There used to be a time when individuals could plan five, 10, even 20 years down the track. They could have enough certainty to start a long-term career, to start a family, to own a home. But after eight long years of consistent attacks on industrial relations, on the Fair Work Commission, on the wages of workers and on the working conditions of families, too many are doing it too tough. There was a time, decades ago, when both sides of politics respected the livelihoods and wages of workers and were not driven by an emphasis on profit and self-interest. But today we have a government that has cutting workers' pay firmly in its DNA. Remember we had the former finance minister noting this as a design feature of the government's approach to wages policy.

The vision outlined in these bills for Australia is one where millions of Australian struggle to pay their bills and take care of their family, where millions of people are left behind. Remember it was Labor and the union movement that pushed hard on a wage subsidy last year. We got JobKeeper, but the government had to be dragged kicking and screaming to support that program. Even before COVID-19, the growth in insecure work and wage stagnation were major issues for Australian workers and our economy. Remember the government's IR bill, a bill that promoted casualisation and limiting the better off overall test. It's an absolute disgrace that this government expects workers to sacrifice more and more in their conditions when they've already lost so much. Rather than taking this opportunity to learn the lessons from COVID-19 and dealing with the twin problems of insecure work and flatlining wages, some of the measures contained in the government's proposed laws did the opposite. This government believes that Australians should be thankful for having jobs, regardless of the circumstances.

Labor, on the other hand, believes that Australians who work hard at their jobs should be rewarded, not have their pay and hours cut. This place and this budget shouldn't make it harder for them to get ahead. We should make it easier. This is a government led by a Prime Minister who refuses to take responsibility. He doesn't hold a hose, he says it's not a race, he's only interested in saying whatever it takes to score political points. In the meantime, working families pay the price for his failure to act and his failure to plan. We've been in this pandemic for more than a year, and the Prime Minister still can't get quarantine right and he still can't get vaccinations right. This budget doesn't get IR and skills right either. I ask the minister here, representing the minister for industrial relations: is this budget your government's answer to the problems of insecure and low-paid work? Are these bills your answers to the skills crisis in Australia? What do you say to the workers of Australia trying to get ahead when their wages are forecast to be cut against inflation? And is this your thank you to the workers who are working hard to get us through the pandemic?