Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (18:49): I wasn't really intending to participate in this debate but I heard some speakers before and thought there was such a misconception of what the actual bill is about and, more importantly, the arguments surrounding the bill and amendment moved by the Labor Party. For the record, let me indicate as other speakers have done that the bill implements sensible measures to fix clear issues with the operation of the Fair Work Act. They repeal the requirement for four-yearly reviews of modern awards from 1 January. They enable the Fair Work Commission to overlook minor procedural and technical errors when approving an enterprise agreement, and they apply the Judicial Misbehaviour and Incapacity (Parliamentary Commissions) Act 2012 to Fair Work Commission members. This bill should have been relatively uncontroversial but, unfortunately, the Labor Party and the Greens have politicised it and have tried to move amendments that completely undermine the independence of the Fair Work Commission.
For those who might be following this debate and perhaps have been misled by some of the previous speakers, I want to emphasise that the Fair Work Commission was set up by the Labor government in 2009. The then workplace relations minister, Mr Bill Shorten, amended the Fair Work Act in 2013 to specifically require the commission to consider penalty rates as part of the process. You have heard the Labor Party carrying on in this debate and generally, including on the ABC, with how the Turnbull government is trying to do something with penalty rates. It is a complete and utter misconception and misstatement of the facts.
What the penalty rates issue is all about is the decision by the Fair Work Commission, set up by the Labor Party, to deal with penalty rates as Mr Shorten required it to do when he was the relevant minister. So the federal government has done nothing with penalty rates. If you heard all the speakers in this debate so far you would think it was a decision that cabinet has made on what the penalty rates might or might not be, but that is not so. The Fair Work Commission is the one making decisions on penalty rate. That's because Mr Bill Shorten, when he was minister, instructed it to do it.
The Labor Party are somehow insinuating that the Fair Work Commission are lackeys of the Liberal and National parties. Nothing could be further from the truth. Labor appointed all the members of the commission who made the penalty rates decision. It wasn't any strategy of the Liberal and National parties to put in commissioners who might have a particular view; it was Mr Shorten and the Labor Party who selected every single commissioner who made the decision on penalty rates. What's worse, when Mr Shorten set up these rules and appointed the umpire, he repeatedly said, 'I will respect the commission's decision.' And why wouldn't he have said that? He set up the commission, appointed the members and gave the instruction to deal with penalty rates.
He was asked this question by Neil Mitchell:
The Fair Work Commission will report soon on Sunday penalty rates. They're an independent body, in fact you had a lot to do with the way they operate now when you were Minister. Will you accept their findings given this is an independent body assessing penalty rates for Sunday, if you're Prime Minister?
Mr Shorten replied, 'Yes.' Neil Mitchell asked, 'You'll accept them?' Bill Shorten said, 'Yes.' Neil Mitchell asked, 'Even if they reduce Sunday penalty rates?' Bill Shorten said, 'Well, I said I'd accept the independent tribunal.' For anyone who is interested, that was an interview with Neil Mitchell recorded on 3AW on 21 April 2016.
So what happened to Mr Shorten? What happened to that firm resolve to accept the independent umpire which he appointed and dealt with penalty rates, which he told them to do? He said: 'Yes, they're independent. I appointed them and of course I will accept it.' He was asked, 'Even if they reduce Sunday penalty rates?' He said, 'Yep, I'll still accept it, because they are the independent tribunal.' That was his position as recently as April last year. What is his position now? Somehow it is Senator Cash's fault, I think. If it is not her fault it is Malcolm Turnbull's fault. He is not going to accept it because it is Senator Cash and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull who have issued the penalty rates decision. But it is not. It is the people he appointed and told to deal with penalty rates, and he said he would accept their decision as the independent umpire.
It makes one as a parliamentarian sad to wonder what Mr Shorten would be like as a Prime Minister when he cannot—and here is one small instance—for more than a year at a time hold to his word on anything. A year ago he said he would accept it. Today he doesn't accept it and he wants to bring the government down because his Fair Work Commission made a decision to adjust penalty rates on Sunday. How could Australians ever trust a Prime Minister of this dishonesty? How could Australians trust a government that was led by a man who obviously has no scruples when it comes to penalty rates decisions?
But it goes further. For all that you have heard Labor senators today saying how somehow it is the government's fault and this is the greatest disaster for workers going, the Labor Party have no interest in workers. The only interest they have in workers is that a few of them—10 per cent of them—choose to join a union, pay union fees and the union then donates money to the Labor Party and then tells the Labor Party which senators they will select. That is about as much interest as Labor Party senators have in workers. They get their membership money through the unions. This is so clearly demonstrated. When Mr Shorten was the leader of the AWU, he actually reduced and removed penalty rates for some of Australia's lowest paid workers. I thank Minister Cash for alerting us to this and bringing out the obvious. It is a matter of fact, but thank you, Senator Cash, for alerting Australians to it. For example, workers at Clean Event were stripped of all penalty rates, with no compensation, under a 2006 agreement for which Mr Shorten was responsible as the national secretary of the AWU. Can I just repeat that: Mr Shorten was in charge of the AWU and did an agreement with Clean Event that there would be no penalty rates and no compensation. This is the man who today says Senator Cash and Malcolm Turnbull are bad people because they have taken away workers' penalty rates. Not only is that wrong; it is a direct lie, to be honest. Malcolm Turnbull and Senator Cash didn't. The Fair Work Commission took those away, the Fair Work Commission that, I repeat consistently, was set up by Mr Shorten, and he gave them the instruction to deal with penalty rates.
Not only was that not true but Mr Shorten himself, when he was in charge of the AWU, did away with penalty rates for the Clean Event workers, with absolutely no compensation at all. The Melbourne and Olympic Parks Trust agreement, which was approved by Mr Bill Shorten, stripped workers of all penalty rates and overtime, except for a 125 per cent penalty rate for work performed between—wait for it—1 am and 6 am. He got them a slight penalty rate for those hours, but for the rest of them he just stripped the penalty rates away, whether it was Saturday, Sunday or whatever day. So exactly when does Mr Shorten support and when does he oppose cuts to penalty rates?
I can and will go on. Senators opposite claimed the unions were great groups looking after workers' interests. That's okay, except if you're workers at Big W. They were employed on an enterprise agreement which was negotiated by the AWU, Mr Shorten's union, and by the shoppies' union, the SDA. Mr Shorten was part of that union movement, and guess what? Big W workers were particularly significantly disadvantaged when they worked on Sunday. These workers are receiving $7.74 per hour, which is less than the award rate. The enterprise agreement reached by the AWU and the SDA arranged for workers working on Sunday to receive $7.74 per hour, which is less than the award rate for those who work a full Sunday shift.
There are other examples. I mentioned the AWU and Clean Event, but the recent Senate Education and Employment References Committee inquiry looked into some of the deals done between the SDA, the AWU—Mr Shorten's union—and big employers to undercut penalty rates. This Senate inquiry heard evidence about deals made between the unions and McDonald's—'Big Macca'—Coles, Woolworths, KFC, Domino's, Hungry Jack's, David Jones and others that actually cut penalty rates on Sunday. It wasn't the Fair Work Commission that did this. It wasn't Senator Cash or the Prime Minister who did this. This was the union movement in an enterprise agreement with these big Australian companies, and they actually reduced the penalty rates paid on Sunday. It has been confirmed that the supposedly higher base rate for weekday work is not enough to compensate for the loss of pay on Sunday. If anyone had been listening to Labor speakers before, speaking about how good the unions are, how they look after the workers and how they do a great job and get a better deal overall, there's the evidence: overall, these workers that the unions are supposedly looking after are worse off. The Fair Work Commission did not make this decision; this was an enterprise agreement negotiated by the AWU and SDA in that instance.
That is why, I suppose, less than 10 per cent of Australian workers in private industry choose to join a union. For one, workers don't want to join a union, because they know their union fees won't go to help them. Maybe they'll help do dodgy deals with big companies, but they won't help them. They do know that the fees that workers pay will be donated to the Australian Labor Party. Most workers in Australia, 90 per cent of workers in private industry, understand that the Australian Labor Party is not good for Australia. The last thing these workers want to do is donate their hard-earned money to the union movement so that the union movement can give it to the Labor Party. I repeat, the only interest the Labor Party has in workers is in those workers who join the union and pay their money so the union can give it to the Labor Party to campaign at elections. The union can then direct which members in the Australian Labor Party receive preselection to come into this chamber and supposedly assist with the work of the Parliament of Australia in governing for all Australians.
These abuses have to be exposed. The deals that the unions have done with these big corporate entities in Australia—reducing, by arrangement between the unions and these big businesses, Sunday penalty rates—not only disadvantage the workers themselves but also make it very unfair for the small mum-and-dad operations who are desperately trying to get ahead. These small mum-and-dad operations—competitors to McDonalds, Coles and Woolworths—who try and open on Sundays cannot compete with these big multinational companies. Why? Because they have to pay award rates which are greater than the money paid by the multinational companies to their workers. Not only is it unfair to the workers in those multinational companies; it is unfair to small businesses who have to try and compete with those big multinational companies. They find it very difficult to compete because they have to pay their employees far more than the big multinationals have to pay, therefore they have to put up their prices and therefore the discerning shopper will go to the cheapest place. It is a double whammy, yet when members of the Labor Party speak in this debate they don't really discuss that issue.
Labor has proposed an amendment that refers to penalty rates. I am not sure why any more Labor Party senators would want to speak because, as I understand it, the Labor Party supports this bill. They are carrying on this debate on the basis of an amendment, a proposition, dealing with penalty rates. I challenge any other speaker who might speak in this debate to show where anything I have said is wrong. Isn't it true that Bill Shorten and the Labor Party set up the Fair Work Commission? Isn't it true that the Fair Work Commission was set up to be an independent arbiter? Isn't it true that the Labor government appointed every single member of the commission who made the decision on penalty rates? Isn't it true that the adjustment of penalty rates recently announced by the Fair Work Commission was made by the Fair Work Commission set up by Labor, appointed by Labor and directed by Labor to deal with the penalty rate decision? I would be interested if anyone could show me where those facts are not correct. Don't go blaming Malcolm Turnbull; don't go blaming Senator Cash—your Fair Work Commission have done this, and they are only mirroring the enterprise agreements that many of your union supporters have made with big business in Australia.