Questions Without Notice: Take Note Of Answers

23 November 2022

It is fascinating to watch the Coalition try and work out their political tactics today in question time, particularly on the secure jobs, better pay bill. They want to use question time and many mechanisms within this chamber to push forward their scare campaign about the industrial relations changes that this government is rightly trying to implement. But as soon as Minister Watt began answering the questions—and, quite rightly, making the comparison between Labor’s record and approach to industrial relations and that of the previous government—you could barely keep up with the Coalition senators interjecting, popping up and trying to prevent the minister from actually answering the question.

We all know why those opposite don’t want us to make this comparison, because it does start to remind the Australian public of their track record, of what they are ashamed about on their industrial relations reforms in this country, and so they should be. For the past 10 years under the previous government, Australia’s enterprise bargaining system has been in decline. Around half as many new agreements were made last year as were made in the 2013-14 financial year. The Coalition policy of deliberately suppressing wages—their words, not ours—has had a devastating effect on working people. Have they abandoned this policy? Clearly not, because they are not doing everything they can to ensure that the workers get the pay rises that they have been screaming out for for the last decade. That is why the Labor Party, since it has come to government and in the lead up to the last election, has made crystal clear its efforts to get wages moving again. The Coalition cannot even decide what scare campaign they want to run. Some members of the opposition argue that there is no proof that the bill will get wages moving again. But the Leader of the Opposition has been on the record in the other place as saying that he is scared that the bill will start to prompt wages growth above and beyond inflation. It is also important to note that those opposite could also learn a thing or two from the union movement. Because quite frankly, with the experience that a number of Labor members on this side have had, the fact is that the collapse of bargaining over the last 10 years has led directly to the loss of wage growth for the Australian workers. Every incremental increase in bargaining coverage will result in meaningful wage increases according to many researchers but particularly a new study from the Centre for Future Work. The study shows that every percentage point of bargaining coverage lost since 2013 has resulted in a drop in wage growth of around 0.15 per cent. The OECD average for bargaining coverage in countries with enterprise and some limited multi-employer bargaining is around 33 percent. So if this bill that is before the parliament, and once it does come into the Senate for debate, manages to increase bargaining to this level, the level that is seen right across many OECD countries, the report predicts that a corresponding 1.6 per cent increase in wages growth will occur every single year. This increase means $1,473 per pay rise for the average worker in the first year.

I think that is a really good start. That is the whole intent of the Albanese government about trying to not only ensure that there are more secure jobs in this country, but to have jobs that have meaningful wage rises that we have not seen over the last 10 years.

But what we saw when we first came was that the previous government refused to actually put in a submission to the Fair Work Commission that supported meaningful wage rises for workers. So one of our very first acts as a government was to write to the Fair Work Commission advocating for wage rises for the very, very many millions of Australians who are on our award system, the low-paid of this country—the very people who were packing our shelves, working around the clock to ensure that we had toilet paper and tissues at the last minute when we ran out of supply, the people that were on the front line defending our fellow Australians during the COVID pandemic. Remember those people? Those people that we always come in and talk about and say what a great job they’re doing, but those opposite refused to ensure that their wages keep growing.