Page 866 - Week 03 - Wednesday, 22 March 2017

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Looking specifically at the industries impacted by the Fair Work Commission’s decision to cut penalty rates, the advice I have is that approximately one in seven Canberra workers are employed in those sectors. When such a large proportion of the ACT workforce is likely to be impacted by decisions around penalty rates, there is a responsibility for this Assembly to engage with the issue and advocate in the interests of workers. Clearly it is a responsibility of the Minister for Industrial Relations specifically, but I think it is incumbent on all of us to reflect on these issues and to make the case for our Canberra citizens.

I would like to take note of the work of my Greens colleagues in the federal parliament who have brought forward legislation to provide legal protections for penalty rates. The Greens have led the call for these legal protections, and the ACT Greens are more than happy to support this call for the federal government to intervene on behalf of workers. I am least hopeful that the proposal put forward in the Senate by my colleagues will be successful. Certainly today we are very pleased to support this motion as part of the ACT Assembly conveying our view on a matter of significant importance to many Canberra citizens.

MR GENTLEMAN (Brindabella—Minister for Police and Emergency Services, Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Minister for Planning and Land Management and Minister for Urban Renewal) (12.00): I rise to support this motion today and to commend it to the floor. The protection of penalty rates is a matter of great public importance for many in our country. I have known the importance of penalty rates and the difference they can make to a family's bottom line. Having spent many years working shift work with time away from family and children, I know penalty rates help compensate for that time which has been forgone.

I have spoken in this Assembly before on the long and important history penalty rates have in this country. Established in 1909, they have been a part of this country longer than our city and have always played an important role in protecting those workers who must give up valuable rest time to work and to compensate for the impact it has on their families. Today many low income families across our territory and the country rely on penalty rates to pay rent and bills and to buy food.

Students, single parents and young people are able to achieve a decent standard of living thanks to penalty rates, and their importance remains. I take this opportunity to express my disappointment and upset at the Fair Work Commission’s recommendations. In one decision many Canberrans lose up to $80 a week, or over $4,000 a year. For a student, that is access to a car or several months’ rent; for a single parent that is school supplies or bills; for a young person that is another step back from home ownership. In a time of national wage stagnation, which has seen the lowest wage growth since the 1970s, now is not the time for a wage cut the size of which has not occurred since the great depression.

The decision of the Fair Work Commission provides no economic justification. It contains no evidence of any further jobs being created by this cut and worsens existing structural issues, such as the gender pay gap. It is ultimately a poor decision for the citizens of Canberra and our economy, taking money from those who need it the most.

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