Speech: Labor clueless about regional business
Monday, 12 October 2015
Pic source: Liberal Party
Senator McKENZIE (Victoria) (16:56): I also rise today to speak on the matter of public importance—and it is a matter of public importance, especially for those of us out in regional Australia—about regional jobs. This is about how we can actually get more young people in particular employed right across regional Australia. If you look at regional Australia, you see it is not made up of big business. It is not made up of big public service. Its local economies are made up of small businesses, and with these issues around penalty rates it does not matter whether I am in Bendigo, Wangaratta or Wodonga. It does not matter where I am across regional Victoria; when I am talking to small businesses in retail and to small business owners who are farmers, they all bring this issue up.
But first I want to state the fact that the whole attack line has absolutely no basis in fact. 'The Turnbull Liberal government's attack on penalty rates'—I would really seek Senator Moore's guidance on where she has seen any evidence that the Turnbull government is attacking penalty rates in any way. If she is referring to the government's decision to refer a number of matters, including penalty rates, to the Productivity Commission for examination and independent analysis, I am not sure how she can call that an attack on penalty rates.
Once again I think Labor descends into the only playbook it has. Thank goodness they are not running the Wallabies over at the world cup, because they have only got one play: the scare campaign. When confronted with an issue, problem or policy challenge, where does Bill Shorten run while his whole team stands behind him even though they know it is a poor strategy, particularly with respect to ChAFTA? He goes to the scare campaign. Instead of having an intelligent, articulate conversation within the public arena, we choose to go to the lowest common denominator, and that is fear. I would rather have a conversation around evidence, which I think we will be able to have once the Productivity Commission brings down its report. Rather than run pointless MPIs such as the one before us today that we are forced to debate, we could actually have a sensible conversation.
Instead Labor prefers the old battle lines and tired union rhetoric and ignores the fact that we do more for job creation and industry growth from the coalition side than Labor's backbenchers and branch stackers can think up. They are more worried about getting their union juice through untraceable means than truly putting their members or any other Australians first.
We cannot be attacking penalty rates when we have left that for other, independent areas to assess. We have made a very clear distinction. The way penalty rates are set is not going to be changed. I remind the Senate that the last and only time in Australian history that penalty rates were lowered was following the review of the fair work laws—a review which Labor commenced with their Minister for Workplace Relations: Minister Shorten. Don't let the facts or the 21st century get in the way of a good old-fashioned scare campaign.
Whilst this is obviously before other institutions, I do have some comments to make, particularly from a regional Australia perspective, on the issue of penalty rates. Despite the claims of those opposite, as the daughter of a small business owner and as somebody who is out in communities talking to small businesses constantly, I know that penalty rates do make a difference with regard to when businesses open, who they put on and whether they have a casualised or a permanent part-time workforce. These are the decisions that small business owners are making every single day, so when others talk about how it does not have an impact on employment that is simply incorrect because there is an opportunity loss for small businesses who choose not to employ as a result of the impost of penalty rates.
I am going to mention a few instances. The pig industry: you cannot tell me that a pig needs less care or any different type of care on a Saturday and a Sunday than it does on a Monday. A pig does not get dressed up to go to church; a pig does not have kids to look after. Yet to look after a pig—to see to it and tend to its welfare—Saturday and Sunday work is deemed overtime and outside usual working hours. I do not think that there are 'usual working hours' if you are looking after pigs, other than that they probably sleep at night. Pig care does not actually follow a weekly timetable. The consequence of penalty rates and the three-hour minimum engagement is that one hour of work on a Saturday attracts 4½ hours pay, one hour on a Sunday attracts six hours pay and one hour on a public holiday—like the Andrews' government with their latest grand final eve 'everyone can clock off early for a long weekend' holiday in my home state of Victoria—attracts 7½ hours additional pay. The National Farmers Federation stated:
On a Sunday, the combined effect of these provisions for one hour’s work is equivalent to $100 per hour.
You cannot tell me that has no effect on an employer's capacity to pay more and more to additional staff, to reinvest in their business and to grow regional jobs. Dairy farmers are stretching themselves and choosing to undertake the extra work themselves rather than incur the extra costs. We have small business owners that are working themselves to the bone, never having a weekend off, never having a public holiday and never getting to their children's sports events because they cannot afford to replace their own working hours with staff.
Look at the tourism industry across regional Australia. The iconic tourist attractions in this country are based in regional areas. Look at the Great Barrier Reef and Uluru; in my home state there is the Great Ocean Road, the wine regions of the Yarra Valley and Rutherglen, the Prom—right in the heart of Victoria. These are iconic tourism industries. You cannot tell me that they do not get their best trade on a Saturday and Sunday when public service workers from Melbourne head out into the regions to have a taste of what we get every day—that is, a fabulous community to live in, some wonderful industries and some fabulous local product. For those tourism industries to keep their cellar doors open is incredibly hard. Not if you are big like Seppelt, not if you are a massive employer, but if you are a small business or a small wine producer, then keeping that cellar door open and paying those penalty rates is absolutely difficult.
I spoke to Gerald Taylor recently—he used to own Taylor's seafood restaurant down on Phillip Island—and I asked him about penalty rates. He said: 'Bridget, it killed us. It was not worth opening.' If you talk to those people who are living below the poverty line or on the poverty line or just above the poverty line, Senator Rice, and ask them if they would like three hours work on a Sunday at 20 bucks an hour or at 45 bucks an hour or nothing, I tell you what: they will take the 20 bucks an hour every time because that will put money in their pockets, allow them to care for their children and put food on the table. That is the reality; otherwise we keep the 45 bucks an hour and they do not get anything. They do not get anything because small business is not putting it on.
Another regional industry with high employment is the racing industry. Here is a fun fact for the Senate: currently, on a Sunday if you want to shovel out a stall of a racehorse you will attract $40 an hour. That is 40 bucks an hour on a Sunday to shovel out a horse stall. There is no bachelor degree for that one—you just need strong muscles and probably a nose peg—but 40 bucks an hour is a pretty nice take home pay. It is sending these industries broke. It means the racing industry either compromises on the welfare of its animals or it ceases to employ people and shuts down in local communities—an absolute indictment.
I think we should be looking at penalty rates because I want to see more regional Australians employed. Job creation in the regions should be at the forefront of our minds. Given the peaks and troughs of harvest and picking—I think of the great Goulburn Valley in the Shepparton area—the fruit does not wait until a Monday and you do not get any more money for it at market if it is picked on a Monday or a Sunday—not at all. This is the reality that people live with in regional Australia every day as they are seeking to grow and develop their business, as they are seeking to grow our local economies across regional Australia. You cannot tell me Greens, as you seek for the regional Australia vote, and you cannot tell me Labor, as you pretend to be a fan of the workers as long as they are working in the public service or as long as they working in the cities—these people need jobs. Our local communities need industry, they need to keep employing. Our harvests do not wait for Sunday or Monday. We need to get the crop off and we do not get any more money on the global market or the domestic market based on when it is harvested. I have so much more to say about this issue. Like he did with ChAFTA and the TPP, Bill 'Scare Campaign' Shorten must stop. Find another play and actually wait for evidence rather than stir up fear. (Time expired).