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Speech: Inequality and Employment

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (17:41): We've heard from Senator Paterson, speaking in grandiose terms, about the need for a fact check on what we have here. If he was sincere, he would apply a fact check to his own government. This is where we see the lies, and there will be more lies tonight. We'll be hearing from the Treasurer and the Prime Minister, and it will be quite sickening. They'll be out there talking about redistribution and making Australia a fairer country. That's the last thing that will happen out of this budget. Why can we say that emphatically? Because of the state of the country now.

When you look at the distribution of wealth, the level of inequality is being driven harder and harder because of the policies of the Liberals and the Nationals and how they run this country. The figures are deeply shocking. The top one per cent now own more wealth than the bottom 74 per cent of Australians. This income inequality is so extreme; it's the worst it's been in 76 years. Why is that? It's because of the policies of the Turnbull government. We also know that wage growth is the lowest it's been and, at the same time, company profits are up at a record rate. Last year, in 2017, there was a 40 per cent increase in company profits. What did we hear from the government? How many times have we heard Senator Paterson and his Liberal and Nationals colleagues tell us we need to have a company tax cut? Really, is there no end to the lengths that they will go to look after their mates so that their profits can be even greater? The government has let business off the hook time and time again so they can increase their profits. Look at the situation with regard to the cuts that they brought in on weekend wages for some of the lowest paid workers—vulnerable people doing it tough already. What does this government do? Open it up so that they can cut more wages.

There are so many people unemployed and underemployed in this country. Today I was with Grant Courtney from the meatworkers union. We've been working together on the issue of live exports. Some of the information he shared, when we had meetings today, is that there are 8,000 unemployed and underemployed meatworkers in this country looking for work. But what do we get from the Liberals and the Nationals? They want to keep the live sheep trade going, because it serves the interests of just a few rich farmers. The majority of farmers by far are not happy with the current situation. We could have a win-win here: a win for ending the cruelty and a win for regional Australia in ensuring that there is jobs growth and a boost to the economy. Again, we hear all the rhetoric from the Nationals about their commitment to country folk, but we don't get any real significant change.

We'll be hearing the budget speech shortly. It should be a budget that is about reducing the inequality in this country. How should we be doing that? Obviously homes for all is something that's critical. We need to have decent well-paid jobs where there are safe working conditions. The issue of Newstart really does need to be addressed. The urgency of bringing in an increase to Newstart should not be overlooked in this budget. The number of people in this country living in poverty is simply unacceptable. We need a very broad renationalisation program, starting, clearly, with energy and transport. So much of our public transport is now in public hands.

There are many other exciting proposals around that people are getting behind. They are understanding how rotten this government is and how unfair it is. When it comes to Labor, Labor need to watch themselves. So often, when they're in opposition, they're a different beast. When they get into government, the tentacles of neo-Liberalism can capture them to often a similar extent to the Liberal-Nationals rollover. We've seen the shadow Treasurer, Chris Bowen say that when the budget has returned to surplus then you can look at a further tax reform of both personal and company tax. There is Labor talking about cuts to company tax. That would be a disaster. They need to sign off and just say that is not where they're going to go. They need to be emphatic and, when they get into government, actually stick with policies that address inequality, ensure that there are homes for all and particularly work with the union movement to change the rules. We need to bring back that ILO recognised right—the right to strike, the right for political strikes and the right to strike for wages and conditions. That is essential if we're going to drive these changes.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: That concludes the discussion of a matter of public importance.


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