Senator DI NATALE (Victoria—Leader of the Australian Greens): I also rise to speak in support Fair Work Amendment (Repeal of 4 Yearly Reviews and Other Measures) Bill 2017—to protect penalty rates. It’s really important we look at this in its broader context. When you look in this place at any public policy, what you see is a government—and, indeed, it must be said this also happened under previous governments—that is continuing to let down and fail young people, people living at the margins and people who are vulnerable in our country.
Let’s look at the way we tax profits from selling assets. The way we tax those profits is we give people discounts. And yet, when we look at the way we tax income from work, we know that people who are simply earning an income through paid work rather than through assets have a greater tax burden. We know that older Australians who own vastly more assets than younger people see a tax system where the odds are stacked in favour of older Australians against young people. Just look at the indexation rate for the pension. We’re not saying for a moment that the pension is something that allows people to live a particularly comfortable life. Indeed, we would like to see the pension increased. But we’ve made a decision in this country to index the pension at a higher rate than we index support for young people when they receive youth allowance, further exacerbating the gap between younger people’s incomes and older people’s. We have great intergenerational inequity occurring here in Australia and this change to penalty rates, unless we put in protections, will further increase that great intergenerational gulf that seems to be growing year on year.
We have people in this place who benefited from free education seeking to impose huge debts on young people through TAFE and university fees. So, basically, we have young people in this country starting out with massive personal debt. It eats into their discretionary income. They have a tax system that is stacked against them. We know that that is manifest through our negative gearing laws. We have created a whole asset class of older property investors. It’s generally younger people who pay rent to them—again, another transfer of wealth from the young to the old. These are young people who start their careers with massive education debt and who then have a tax system weighted against them and are priced out of the property market. They can’t afford to buy their own homes and, through rent, are transferring wealth across to older generations.
Just look at the great intergenerational theft that exists with the lack of action to address global warming. We’ve got a generation that has benefited from consuming and polluting with impunity. Now, because we have governments that don’t have the courage or, indeed, the foresight to transition our economy away from polluting industries to sustainable industries, we risk turning what is already marginal farmland to unproductive land. We risk losing major tourism assets. We’re seeing the slow decline of the Great Barrier Reef through those unprecedented bleaching events. We’re seeing public infrastructure suffering as a result of the extremes of weather. We have a younger generation in this country that is being screwed over by people who had it pretty bloody good, who had free education and who were able to consume and pollute with impunity at a time of high wage growth and at a time when we recognised that our prosperity was built on the back of people who worked hard to contribute to their country.
That is why we will be supporting the proposed amendment to protect penalty rates. We will support any measure that seeks to address many of the structural problems that exist in our economy. Indeed, before the last election, we were the only party to go into that election promising to legislate to protect penalty rates. We are pleased that the Labor Party is now taking the opportunity to join us and reverse the Fair Work Commission’s ruling. We absolutely, unequivocally support this amendment. We do need to do something about the fact that we are seeing young people lumbered with massive debt. We also need to recognise that, according to the Australia Institute, if this were to go ahead, it would take 17 years until higher base wages for retail workers would offset the lower penalty rate cuts—17 years to address the inequity created by this change.
Far too often parliaments act in the interests of the wealthy. They act in the interests of their big corporate mates, they act in the interests of big business and they act against the interests of regular people. We need to do everything we can to make life easier for future generations. Again, we have to ask ourselves the question when we make a change: who benefits and who pays? At a time of stagnating wage growth, at a time when the gulf between those who have assets and those who don’t is growing, at a time when we are seeing the first generation in history who will be handed down worse living conditions than those that we enjoyed, it’s time for those of us in this parliament to act and to act quickly. This amendment goes some small way towards doing that—it’s why we’ll support it—but we have to do so much more.
Chamber Senate on 4/12/2017Item BILLS – Fair Work Amendment (Repeal of 4 Yearly Reviews and Other Measures) Bill 2017 – In Committee Speaker: Di Natale, Sen Richard