Speech - Private Members Business (Penalty Rates)









Thank you very much deputy speaker.

I wanted to say a few words on penalty rates because I think this issue is emblematic of wider issues where there is a stark difference between those on this side of the House and those on the other side of the House. On this side of the house we believe that it is not only good for the individual but good for the economy if we pay people fairly and we also believe that if people work unsociable hours they should be paid a penalty. But what we've seen in this parliament over a long period of time, and it never changes, is that the Liberals want to get rid of penalty rates and there are many of them who are game to say that very openly.

The Member for Petrie is not, because he knows that that position is rejected by his electorate as indeed it is rejected by people in my electorate.  Because what has happened in our country is that we have avoided going down the American road where the middle class has been hollowed out and an army of working poor has been created. Because we've had a strong industrial relations system which has paid people fairly and recognised that unsociable hours should be the subject of penalty rates and the member spoke before about various deals that he talked about that have been put in place by various unions. I'm proud of the fact there are unions that have rolled penalty rates into higher base rates of pay but what the Member for Petrie is so stupid he doesn't understand is that if you are cutting penalty rates which is the objective of many in the opposition, in the government, if you're cutting penalty rates you're effectively cutting that permanent rate as well. So an attack on penalty rates is an attack on basically higher permanent rates of pay rolled into particular packages for particular groups in the workforce.

So he’s not only advocating for a cut to penalty rates at a point in time for people who are irregular workers. What they're actually advocating is a cut to permanent rates of pay which have been built into agreements for large classes of workers, particularly ones in retail but also in health.

So in my area this has happened in a number of industries and people are receiving higher rates of pay through penalty rates rolled into their permanent pay which gives them a higher standard of living.  But the trickle-down brigade on the other side of the house have one solution to all of their economic aims and their one solution for jobs and growth is to cut pay and to cut tax for the rich.

This is what trickle-down economics is all about; it says if you give people lower pay, if you deregulate the system and you give tax cuts to the rich then suddenly all the economic activity from that will trickle-down and people will automatically be paid higher wages; it's crap. It doesn't work and it is now rejected by the great bastion of trickle-down economics the International Monetary Fund which now argues a very nuanced argument that simply says a strong middle class and good wages and working conditions are themselves a cause of growth, a cause of growth, not just a consequence of growth.

So what we're witnessing here is the age old debate; the Liberals are in here with all of their old WorkChoices preferences hidden in new language about suddenly how they stand for penalty rates; they don't! Their party room doesn't and when they get the chance what will be seen from them is WorkChoices yet again and that's what the penalty rates issue is all about. They went to the wall for it in 2007 and they keep going to the wall for it because what they're really about in our economy is wealth concentration. They're not actually about wealth creation they're about wealth concentration and in their world if you reduce the labour share of the economy and increase the profit share of the economy, the economy magically grows.  Which is of course the theory behind the absurd proposition that they took to the last election of a $50 billion corporate tax cut just about all of which, all of which was going to go multinational companies and $7 billion to our four biggest banks and somehow that panacea to produce jobs and growth. A classic trickle-down prescription rejected by the IMF leading to gross inequality around the world and most particular in the United States but the modern Liberals don't get it. They take this proposition, as discredited as it is and as discredited as it was even by the Treasury modelling, to stand up and say we've got this magical elixir for growth.  We'll just give the very rich a tax cut and you'll get jobs and growth.  It's rubbish. It doesn't work and the leading edge of that argument is to cut wages by attacking penalty rates.