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SUSPENSION OF STANDING ORDERS-HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, CANBERRA

March 03, 2017

Well, wakey, wakey everybody!
This is an important suspension motion that is why I seconded it because this is a very important issue. This goes to whether this parliament should support low-paid workers in this country. The argument that has been posed by the Prime Minister—the only argument—is that a decision was made by the independent umpire. Well, let's be very clear here: in this place, this Prime Minister has actually contravened decisions of independent umpires on at least three occasions. Let's be very clear here. Within one sitting day of the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal safe rates order coming into effect, the government introduced legislation with the intention to cancel the order and indeed legislated to abolish the tribunal. Within seven sitting days of the resumption of parliament, the government legislated to restrict paid firefighters' bargaining rights. And, within one sitting day of the McGlade decision, the government rushed legislation through the House. It is a fig leaf for the Prime Minister to hide behind the fact that the independent umpire made this decision.
This decision will hurt Australians. If this Prime Minister had any fairness and any strength in him, he would defend those workers; he would join Labor to defend those workers. So I asked myself: why is it, given the precedents he has set himself, that he has not intervened and joined Labor to support those workers? It may well be that he wants to save face. I understand: he has made the wrong call, he feels embarrassed and he does not want to change his mind. He is a very smart man - just ask him! But the fact is that there might be another reason. If you go to a paragraph in his contribution to the Work Choices debate, when he voted for Work Choices, he said the following:
“You have to let the free market do its work and let the cost of setting the clearing price - be it for labour, shares, home units or loaves of bread - be as low as possible.”
So, effectively, what he said was, 'Let the market rip.' That is what he meant when he said that.
The fact is that that laissez faire view - that 'let the market rip' view - may well be a popular view at merchant banker luncheons or on yachts in Sydney Harbour, but I can assure you of this: the Australian public do not hold that view. The Australian public believe in fairness and decency, and they would expect their Prime Minister to defend workers in this country, not hide behind a fig leaf to attack them.
I tell you what: I will back this Leader of the Opposition to defend workers any day before I would back this Prime Minister. The only time he seems to get excited is when he defends banks - when he intervenes to oppose the royal commission on banks. In fact, the Prime Minister is the shop steward of banks; let's be honest.
There is a more powerful way of putting this and a more serious way of putting this. It is really an utterance of so many workers who have been referred to in question time today. I just want to finish on one. Ruby, who lives in Newstead and works in retail, said: “I am unable to live pay cheque to pay cheque at the moment. I rarely save money. Losing that bit extra makes it a bit harder. People like me in my situation, we spend money on little luxuries that go back into the community and it means I'll have less money to do that, pay the rent and other essentials.”
Some people might find that funny. I do not find that funny; I find it tragic that those members on the other side do not understand that this decision will have dire effects on hundreds of thousands of Australians. Yet this Prime Minister, who has the power to intervene and join Labor and defend these workers, refuses to do so. I do not find that funny at all. Quite frankly, I find it an outrage.
I believe the Prime Minister has an opportunity here. For the last four days he has defended his decision not to join Labor, but I think he should rethink this. This decision by the independent umpire, if implemented, will hurt a lot of people. It is up to the Prime Minister: he can either keep laughing at the anecdotes and the statements made by workers, or get behind these workers and look after them. Join Labor and do that, Prime Minister.
 
 

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