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FOR – Business — Consideration of Legislation

Penny Wong

I seek leave to move a motion to divide the Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Closing Loopholes) Bill 2023 into two bills and to provide for their consideration, as circulated in the Senate.

Leave not granted.

That is disappointing, isn't it! Pursuant to contingent notice, I move:

That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent me moving a motion to provide for the consideration of a matter, namely a motion to allow a motion concerning the Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Closing Loopholes) Bill 2023 to be moved and determined immediately.

Opposition senators interjecting—

I hear the interjections of those opposite. Unsurprisingly, at the end of a sitting session, what we see again is people on that side returning to home base—that is, 'We want lower wages and fewer protections for Australia's workers.' I was here for the Work Choices legislation and the various iterations of coalition attempts to undermine working conditions and wages in this country, and we know they will never change. I've got no doubt that, during this debate, they will make a lot of comments about procedure and process. The reality is that all of those arguments are a smokescreen, because we know that, no matter how much process or time there is to look at industrial relations legislation, the instinct and reflex of those opposite will always be for lower wages and fewer protections for Australian workers. It is in their DNA.

The government is seeking to close the loopholes that certain employers use to undercut wages, conditions and safety for Australian workers. It will close the loophole that allows some employers to use labour hire to undercut agreed rates of pay; close the loophole whereby if a worker steals money from the till it's a criminal offence, as it should be, but if an employer steals their workers' wages it's not; close the loophole that allows large businesses to claim small-business exemptions during insolvency to avoid redundancy payments; and close the loopholes that undermine workers' safety by introducing a new criminal offence for industrial manslaughter along with providing better support for first responders with PTSD, better protecting workers who are subjected to family and domestic violence from discrimination at work and expanding the functions of the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency to include silica. After today, the labour hire loophole will be closed, wage theft will be made a crime and workers will benefit from safer workplaces.

The passage of these reforms this year will be life changing for workers across Australia—for those being ripped off through labour hire loopholes, for those whose wages are being stolen by their employer, for those who are dealing with PTSD on the front line and for those subjected to discrimination at work because they are experiencing family and domestic violence. We thank crossbench senators, particularly Senators Lambie and Pocock, for their constructive engagement on this bill. We look forward to continuing to engage with them on the remaining elements of the bill in the new year. The other important elements of closing loopholes include minimum standards for digital platform gig workers, road transport industry reforms and a better deal for casual workers who want to become permanent. The government is committed to proceeding with every remaining clause of the bill at the earliest opportunity next year, including the additional measures that were made through amendments in the House.

Colleagues, the Senate has already agreed to the vast majority of these measures and argued on more than one occasion that they should be passed immediately. Those measures relate to first responders with PTSD, family and domestic violence discrimination, protection for workers to stop them missing out on redundancy payments they deserve and the expansion of the functions of the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency. The additional measures in today's bill which have been agreed are criminalising wage theft and closing the labour hire loophole. All of these are important measures in their own right, but they are also important to ensure that we protect the integrity of Australia's industrial relations system. We are protecting the integrity of the wages and conditions that have been fought for and earned across our economy. This is about that integrity, and this is about ensuring that protection of wages and conditions continues in this country.

This a key part of the government's plan to help Australians with the cost of living. We know Australians are doing it tough. Stopping the underpayment of workers is an important aspect of dealing with this. We know those opposite—including from the interjections that we've had in this fortnight—have always had a view that one of the ways you run an economy is to ensure that you keep wages low. We heard Senate Hume during question time talking about why wages rises were bad idea because they contributed to inflation. They will never change, no matter what they say to Australian workers. They spent a decade in government deliberately keeping wages low. We know that they will always take that view. The Albanese Labor government takes a different view, and I move:

That the question be now put.

Sue Lines

Senator Birmingham?

Simon Birmingham

I rise on a point of order. Can I seek clarification, at least? The very first part of this motion says that the bill be divided into two bills, in accordance with the amendments on sheet PU108. Nobody has seen it. Nobody has seen sheet PU108. What is it that we're being asked to divide these two bills into?

Sue Lines

Senator Birmingham.

Simon Birmingham

Here it is now—literally now!

Sue Lines

Senator Birmingham! Senator Birmingham!

Simon Birmingham

Literally now.

Sue Lines

Senator Birmingham! Senator Birmingham!

Order! Order! Senator Birmingham, I have called you about seven or eight times. Order across the chamber. You stood on a point of order. You should have then resumed your seat. You now have the document that you stood on. There is a motion before the chair. The question is that the question be now put on the motion to suspend standing orders, as moved by Senator Wong.


Date and time: 9:14 AM on 2023-12-07
Senator Pocock's vote: Aye
Total number of "aye" votes: 33
Total number of "no" votes: 26
Total number of abstentions: 17

Adapted from information made available by