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Read all the latest news from Brendan O'Connor MP


March 27, 2017

BRENDAN O’CONNOR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS: I want to respond to the Government’s submission on penalty rates that was lodged on Friday. What’s extraordinary about this submission is there is nothing in it to even mitigate the effects of the cuts to workers’ wages for retail and hospitality workers. There is no effort even to mitigate, even to soften the blow of the cuts to penalty rates by this Government.

And further, there are now other workers that will be potentially subject to penalty rates cuts. In fact when the Opposition indicated this would be the thin edge of the wedge Malcolm Turnbull describe this as absurd that there would be potentially other workers affected. Yet there are now more workers on the chopping block. We’ve got workers in restaurants. We have workers in hairdressers. We have beauticians and hairdressers. We have waiters. We have a whole range of occupations in restaurants. We have hotels and clubs employees.

So there are three other awards now that are subject to the arbitration of the Commission in cutting penalty rates. And yet the Government didn’t respond to that either. So firstly, no attempt to soften the blows of penalty rates cuts by virtue of submitting it should be lengthened, this transition. And no response whatsoever that the beauticians and hairdressers and waiters and hotel and club staff will be subject to cuts.

This is a Government utterly out of touch with the electorate, with the Australian people. This is a Government that fails to understand that taking real income out of the pockets of workers in this country at a time when wages are at an all-time low that this is going to make it very difficult to deal with cost of living pressures. To put food on the table, petrol in the car, pay the rent, pay the mortgage, look after ones family. These things really matter.

If Malcolm Turnbull was not so out of touch, if he wasn’t so arrogant, if he wasn’t so well to do – he’s someone who of course has a lot of money, and good luck to him. Although he made it from money. He made his money from money, as we all know. Maybe that’s why he doesn’t empathise with the people who are struggling across this nation. He doesn’t understand how this will affect too many workers in this country.

Now, he has an opportunity, firstly, we have a Private Members’ Bill introduced by Bill Shorten into the House that will actually immediately stop the effect of this penalty rates decision and not allow that to happen for future decisions of the Commission. That’s the first thing he could do.

But if we wanted to have an insight into the thinking of Malcolm Turnbull and his world view, even his submission doesn’t look to soften the landing of these cuts. So this is a Government that fails to respond to the needs of workers.

I mean it is a bit rich of Malcolm Turnbull to give a $17,000 tax cut to millionaires and want to see a $77 pay cut per week to workers in this country. It’s a bit rich for Malcolm Turnbull to want to give Big Business and banks $50 billion tax cuts and at the same time see hundreds of thousands of workers lose real income - have money taken out of their pocket. These are Malcolm Turnbull’s pay cuts.

He has a decision to make now. He can join Labor, support our Bill, and stop the effects of these cuts, But instead he only represents the top end of town. He’s a subservient servant of the banks. It’s clear now he doesn’t want a Royal Commission he wants to give them tax cuts. He wants to give workers pay cuts.

It’s quite remarkable we have a Prime Minister so out of touch. No wonder the Australian people are turning away from this Prime Minister because of his callous disregard for working families in this nation.

Happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: Just on the tax cuts – they will come before the lower house this week. Is there any wriggle room from Labor’s position of a $2 million threshold? Can you nudge it closer to $10 million to see at least some of these benefits flow through to small and medium businesses?
O’CONNOR: Well, we have made clear that we supported relief for small businesses. Small businesses have been defined by Treasury as having a turnover of $2 million, and we are happy to provide relief. As we were happy to introduce the instant asset tax write off when last in Government. We set up a Small Business Commissioner. Indeed we are supportive of small business relief, and that’s why we would support that.
But to increase the threshold from $2 to $10 million is a very significant mark up in an immediate sense. I think the problem for the Bill as you may have noticed is that Malcolm Turnbull has said he wants the entire Bill put through. He wants to ensure that his mates in Big Business get the big tax cuts. Let’s remember this – of the tax cuts, more than $48 billion of the $50 billion goes to Big Business. And much of that will go overseas, to shareholders overseas.
So whist we can talk Small Business, Big Business, we know a chunk of the money – the bulk of taxpayers’ money – will be provided to Big Business not Small Business.

JOURNALIST:  So you say there is a significant gulf between $2 and $10 million, and that makes some sense, but what’s you fear if you give relief to those generating $10 million a year?
O’CONNOR: Look, we have said all along that we support small business. But we are in a situation where we have a Government that has tripled the deficit, they want to now provide tax cuts to millionaires of $17,000. They want to make sure that we take $50 billion that we could be spending on improving our education system, improving skills in this country, providing the support that’s needed for students, for industry, and so on, rather than hand that over to Big Business.
On the proposition that somehow that will ‘flow down’, have some kind of ‘trickle down’ effect to working people - well, that proposition, that theory has been repudiated now for decades. The fact is ‘trickle down’ economics does not work. The only reason I can see that Malcolm Turnbull wants to give such massive cuts to his mates in Big Business is because he is their servant.
He is the shop steward of banks, he wants to look after them, while cutting workers’ wages, while allowing tax cuts for millionaires. I mean, could there ever be a Prime Minister so out of touch that he thinks that it’s ok on July 1 for workers’ wages to go down, and for millionaires to get a $17,000 tax cut?
It’s just quite remarkable. No wonder the Australian people are so sick to death of this government, and why Malcolm Turnbull’s so out of touch.

JOURNALIST: Hearing today the consumer watchdog is going to be launching its review into the energy market, do you fear there is price gouging along the chain?
O’CONNOR: Oh what? Another review? The only thing the Prime Minister gets to do, it sounds like, is to announce reviews. We have been calling for the ACCC to investigate these matters for years.
Look, this Government’s in its fourth year. It has completely wrecked energy policy, it’s completely attacked and assaulted renewable energy in this country, in terms of killing off investment in renewables and the like. And now they want to review energy prices. Well, that’s all very well and good. That’s just another review.
Meanwhile, we have got people about to lose real money out of their wages – and yet the Government wants to see that happen. Malcolm Turnbull set a precedent when he intervened, using the parliament to stop truck drivers’ wages going up. He can actually now join Labor, use this parliament sensibly, and intervene in the Fair Work decision to stop retail and hospitality workers’ wages going down.
I want to make one other point about that too. It is quite remarkable that Treasury made no modelling on the Fair Work decision, despite the fact that we see now there’s going to be hundreds of millions of dollars lost to revenue as a result of this Fair Work decision. Now in Estimates the Treasury said they had no modelling at all, no modelling on employment benefits, no modelling on loss of revenue, but today we saw the Australia Institute make clear that there is going to be hundreds of millions of dollars lost in revenue as a result of this decision because more people are going to rely on welfare as a result of the cut to their wages.

JOURNALIST: We saw today that last week’s poll has corrected itself, that anomaly, and then Labor’s opened up a ten point lead. Should we start bracing for a Prime Minister Peter Dutton?
O’CONNOR: I think you are being a bit unfair to Essential Media, they did it first didn’t they, but the point is let others talk about the details of polls. It doesn’t surprise me though that Australian people are writing down this Prime Minister and this government. It doesn’t surprise me at all that this government is on the nose with the electorate, given its ability in the same breath to announce a $17,000 tax cut to millionaires and a $77 pay cut to workers.
I have never seen a government so out of touch, in my life, in the sixteen years I have been here, I have never seen a government so callously disregarding the effects on workers of this country. We have the lowest wage growth in a generation, we have cost of living pressures getting worse, we have underemployment at the highest number than it has been in our history, and yet this government has no answers to employment, wants to see pay cuts for workers, tax cuts for millionaires and tax cuts for big business.
So far as what is happening with the surveys and polls that is just a reflection of what I hear on the street and in my electorate about this government - totally out of touch, utterly arrogant, insensitive to the needs of working families in this country, punishing the people who want to work. I mean that is supposed to be the Liberal credo isn’t it? Yet this government wants to punish the people that want to work and force them to rely more heavily on welfare, at the same time having an adverse impact on the bottom line.
This government has to join Labor, intervene in this Fair Work decision, and support our Bill. If that were to happen people will be somewhat relieved from the pressures of losing real income. But we see no signs of that happening because Malcom Turnbull is listening to nobody but himself.
This is a man who has made a lot of money, and good luck to him, he is good at making money. He did make it from money I might add, but maybe because he has never struggled economically he doesn’t understand the real effects of this decision on hard working families in this country. Well we’re going to continue to prosecute the argument, but he needs to support this Bill that we have introduced into the House. He needs to support this Bill and provide some relief for these workers instead of putting his hand in their pockets and taking out their wages.
Thank you