MATTERS OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE - Workplace Relations


Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (17:16): Having just returned from 10 days driving around the north and the north-west of Queensland, seeing communities in drought and seeing property owners working 23 hours a day just to try to save stock with no income at all for the year, it makes me physically sick to hear the speeches from Labor members, scripted by the unions, about penalty rates and business.

First of all, I have to be clear: the government does not deal with penalty rates. Penalty rates are a matter for the Fair Work Commission to determine, not the government. But the government has asked the Productivity Commission to undertake a review of the workplace relations system to ensure fair work laws for everyone. Everyone in this country needs a job. The more the Labor Party and the unions price Australians out of jobs the greater will be the unemployment and the more difficult it will be for an average Australian family to have a wage earner.

Thanks to Labor policies of years ago, the mining industry in Australia is on its knees. You have just heard that in my state Glencore is sacking another 550-odd workers, people who should have had good jobs, people who should have been supported by the union movement and the Labor Party but who over the years of the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government were abandoned by the unions as the government imposed restrictions on mining companies that sent mining investment overseas.

As I said, where I have been, Australian families work 23 hours a day with no thought of penalty rates, with no thought of any income at all. They are just trying to keep cattle alive. I hate to come here and hear the bleating of union hacks about how important penalty rates are.

I also spend a lot of time in the Cairns-Townsville region, where tourism is a very, very big industry. Young people will tell you what they want is a job in the industry. They do not want to have triple time for Sunday work because, for many young people, Saturday and Sunday are exactly the same as Wednesday and Thursday. They can go surfing or swimming on any day of the week and those things, in fact, mean little. But what they do want is the certainty of a job. Under Labor's proposals, that is becoming less and less certain.

If any of the Labor senators would ever get out of their central city offices they would see that there are a lot of jobs available in Queensland. But do you know who is taking them? It is foreign backpackers. Why? It is because employers cannot get Australian young people to do those jobs. So the backpackers come in and they think it is pretty wonderful. They get the job, they get the pay and they even get the penalty rates.

The whole system is really such that we as Australians have to look at our productivity. We have to wake up to ourselves. We cannot rely on Australia's natural resources to let us do what we want to do. Penalty rates should be part of the mix that the Productivity Commission looks into.

I heard the previous speaker asking a question on where the additional jobs will come from if penalty rates were scrapped. As I have before many times in this place, I will tell you where a lot of the jobs would come from. Small business owners, particularly in the hospitality industry, because there are a lot of people around them demanding their services, as well as working a normal five-day week will work 10 hours on Saturday and Sunday. They will bring in family members, perhaps. They themselves, in order to have an afternoon off or an after-lunch sleep, would bring in employees. They would bring in young people to do the work if they did not have to pay them what they see as outrageous penalty rates in the hospitality industry on the weekends and at night.

I think most Australians understand that if you have got people working in the hospitality industry at midnight and going through until two o'clock at night, then of course they do deserve something additional. But working on Saturday and Sunday really does not demand the sorts of penalty rates that are currently being paid, particularly to young people in the hospitality industry.

I am not here today to give the formula or make suggestions on how these things should happen. That is a matter for people much better qualified than I am, and that is why the government has asked the independent Productivity Commission to undertake a review of the workplace relations system to ensure that fair work laws work fairly for everybody.

There is a lot of opportunity for additional employment, if the cost of employing people, particularly in the hospitality industry on weekends and in the early evenings, is not prohibitive. It would mean people in small business would be able to get some sort of a break from a job which in many instances involves them working 20 hours a day with, I might add, no penalty rates at all. They are simply small business people who earn what they can and produce something positive for society. (Time expired)

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