And They're Off In The Penalty Rates Stakes...

03/11/2015 6:13 AM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:50 PM AEST
Getty/Cayla Dengate

Despite being Prime Minister for only two weeks, first out of the gate was Malcolm Turnbull, running the argument that because we live in a "seven-day economy" penalty rates needed to be re-examined with a view to reducing them. He went so far as to say workers would be better off after their penalty rates were cut.

Then, up the inside came the Minister for Employment, Michaelia Cash, who said penalty rates deter weekend work, yet provided no evidence to substantiate her claim.

Cash is neck and neck with the best-weight-for-age Liberal and freshly minted Treasurer, Scott Morrison, saying that Labor's defence of penalty rates was "boring".

A gap back to the dozen Coalition backbenchers who've all advocated for the abolition or significant reduction of penalty rates.

And then, having lost out jockeying for position, subsequently meaning he's out to pasture, was the former Treasurer who used his last contribution to the Parliament -- and a rare moment of candour -- to say what the Liberals really believe: not that cutting penalty rates would lead to better employment outcomes, simply that they are "profit murder".

Today, while Malcolm Turnbull enjoys the race and others do so in pubs in Victoria, the people who are serving champagne and canapés trackside and those pulling beers will be paid penalty rates -- that is how it should be.

Malcolm Turnbull talks out both sides of his mouth. On one side, he claims, as Labor does, that the determination of penalty rates should be a matter for the independent workplace steward, the Fair Work Commission. He then, however, uses the other side to argue we now work in a 24/7 economy and therefore penalty rates are irrelevant.

The Prime Minster has his blinkers on if he thinks his contributions about penalty rates isn't placing enormous pressure on the Fair Work Commission to find against the interests of hard-working employees. He is using the high office of Prime Minister to crack the whip on the Commission.

Weekends and public holidays still mean something in Australia, even if Malcolm Turnbull doesn't think so. It can mean a day out with friends, playing with your kids or having the chance to head along to today's great race.

A common misconception is that penalty rates are excessive. They're not. Weekend rates a vital part of people's pay and the backbone of many family budgets. They're the difference between food being on the table or not. The difference between making the mortgage repayment or not.

The difficulty is that, down the stretch, Malcolm Turnbull and all those Liberals who advocate for cuts to penalty rates run out of legs because their claim isn't backed up by evidence.

Look at the big banks, the stock market, financial institutions, courts and Parliaments -- they're not open on weekends. The fact is seven out of 10 of us still work Monday to Friday.

Punters around the country are facing the lowest wage growth in 25 years, yet Malcolm Turnbull and his newly appointed Ministers have been talking about cutting the income of low paid workers.

Labor understands the challenges that lay ahead for our economy and our rapidly changing labour market but do not agree the first port of call is to take away a significant proportion of income from some of the lowest paid workers in the country.

As we round the bend towards an election, Labor does not consider defending penalty rates for the 4.5 million Australians who rely on them -- including our emergency service workers, retail workers, and hospitality workers -- as "boring", and we will fight to defend them right to the finish line.

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