Pages tagged "Speeches"

  • Local awards

    Recently I attended a celebration evening with the City of Wyndham in my electorate to recognise the wonderful work of many volunteers in our community and to award the Citizen of the Year. So often our volunteers are the quiet achievers not seeking recognition. Giving their time to projects that contribute to our community is often satisfying in itself. However, it is important to stop and recognise those who give so much.

    I would like to acknowledge the category winners: Frances Overmars for her care for the environment and sustainability; Aimee Lane for sports and recreation; Britney Penpraze, a young volunteer; Rosie Dunne for community engagement; Helen Gunn and Anne Marie Dey for community health and wellbeing; and Margaret Campbell for culture, arts and tourism. Margaret Campbell was also named Wyndham Citizen of the Year.

    It was a privilege to witness Margaret receiving this acknowledgement. I have personally enjoyed working with Margaret on a variety of projects, most recently as panel member on the Anzac Centenary Local Grants Program. Margaret's self-sacrifice and genuine care for others has been demonstrated on numerous occasions for many years and for many organisations. Margaret is also a well-known historian and author who has written on several occasions about the history of our great community.

  • Superannuation

    Yesterday the member for Fairfax presented the government with a birthday cake and our Prime Minister blew out the candles. Together, they ensured that nine mining companies would pay less tax and nine million Australians would have less superannuation.

    The deal done yesterday, like so many things delivered by the Abbott government in their first year in government, hurts families. It kills off the schoolkids bonus to 1.3 million families—a possible $15,000 hit over the school life of a two-child family. It kills off the low-income superannuation contribution and puts off the rise in superannuation contributions to the never-never. What is very obvious here is that this government has its hand in the pockets of Australians. This money will not be in workers' pockets. This deal means that workers will have less in their retirement funds. If they are low-wage earners they will be doubly hit—the most disadvantaged again doing the heavy lifting for our Treasurer.

    This deal has also meant a hit to small business with changes to tax arrangements. This will be a significant cost to small businesses across Australia, with the government cutting more than $5 billion of direct tax assistance. The Prime Minister cares more about sneaky backroom deals than the retirement incomes of millions of people. What is clear here is that those opposite and Clive Palmer care more for themselves and their mining mates than they do for hardworking Australians.

    The member for Fairfax saved nothing but himself yesterday. He saved himself and the mining companies millions.

  • Higher Education and Research Reform Amendment Bill 2014

    I rise to outline my strong opposition to the government's Higher Education and Research Reform Amendment Bill 2014. I declare straight out that I had a free university education. I would correct the member for Herbert: I have not heard one Labor member suggest in a speech given today that university education should be completely free—not one—and those assertions do not do this place justice. This government continues to be full of surprises, despite their assertions before the election. The higher education bill confirms that this government has introduced cuts to every level of education, from child care all the way through to postgraduate study. Combined, these decisions act to entrench inequity at all levels of education. This is done while those opposite scream at our young people: 'You must earn or learn.' Today's legislation closes the loop on access and equity in education and makes the ability of young people in this country to meet that demand so much harder.

    These changes will again hit low- and middle-income families and will risk locking people from my community out of university. In Lalor, people of all ages want to talk about this unfair change. Families are seriously looking at their options to assess if university is possible for their children, and, meanwhile, the minister cruelly quips that he is not asking for their left kidney. No, just their future. Here we see the final nail in the coffin. With this bill they have basically told people in Lalor to just give up. They have closed the door on opportunity. Andrea Toohey, a resident of Lalor, wrote to me this morning and said:

    Joanne my son has been working long hrs at Coles during his gap year to help support himself at Uni in Ballarat next yr. He may need to keep working for a long while yet? It's a shame to think his career choice may be totally out of reach.

    This bill threatens to lock people out of future prosperity.

    The member for Herbert has left, but I would point out a discriminatory difference regarding some of the assertions that he made. Governments may have to bring in legislation beyond an election. That is not what we are talking about. We are talking about a government that made promises—plural—before an election and is now breaking them. Despite the promises, it acted to the contrary. On education, the Prime Minister said:

    … I want to give people this absolute assurance, no cuts to education …

    I cannot count the number of times I have heard it repeated. That was on 1 September 2013—that is, before the election. On universities, he said:

    If we have to change it, we will consult beforehand rather than impose it unilaterally and argue about it afterwards.

    It is clear to me that that spoke to an intent. That was in February 2013. It could not be clearer, really. Minister Pyne said:

    We want university students to make their contribution, but we're not going to raise fees …

    That was in November 2013—emphatic, after the election. When the interviewer asked, 'Why not raise university fees?' Minister Pyne said:

    Because we promised we wouldn't before the election …

    Doubly emphatic, even after the election. My favourite quote of all would have to be from their own Liberal Party policy document. Even when he puts things in writing, you cannot rely on what the Prime Minister says. In their 'Real Solutions' policy document, in chapter 17, page 40 and 41, they say:

    We will ensure the continuation of the current arrangements of university funding.

    That is in writing: 'current arrangements will continue'. That is right: the document is called 'Real Solutions'. It seems to have gone from the memories of those opposite. It was the contract they put to the Australian people, but it was not real; it reflects the fantasy they took to the election.

    Actions speak louder than words, and this bill proves once again that they were an opposition prepared to promise anything to get into power and now they are a government that cannot be trusted to keep their word. What they fail to understand is the real impact the decisions they are making are having on the Australian people. What they fail to understand is that these measures are unfair.

    Let me go through this bill. It strips money away from universities and gives them no choice but to hit students with higher fees. This bill will see $100,000-plus university degrees. It rips $5.8 billion out of Australian universities. This bill adds to the Abbott and Hockey rap sheet of cruel, unfair cuts. There are $3.2 billion in cuts by taking the scalpel to HELP; $1.9 billion in cuts to universities by reducing government course subsidies; $202 million in cuts by indexing university grants to the CPI; $172.4 million in cuts to fund, promote and reward universities for enrolling low-SES students; $173.7 million in cuts to the training of Australia's research students—the scientists and academics of tomorrow; a $75 million cut to the Australian Research Council; a $31 million cut to the national regulator; and it abolishes the $3.5 billion Education Investment Fund. That is quite a resume. But that is only the beginning. What we have now seen in addition is the full deregulation of student fees from 1 January 2016, which will lead to higher fees and spiralling student debt, and there is the increase in the interest rate burden on that student debt. Most alarming, though, is that the fantasy continues opposite. Members opposite deny people will be deterred under this so-called reform. This could not be further from the truth.

    I have spent most of my adult life working in secondary schools in my electorate where the majority of people are what we would call traditional working-class families. For most of those years, I taught senior English to year 11 and 12 students, and I was a senior years coordinator for many years. I know from personal experience what it takes to build aspiration in students, to build confidence and to get them to open their eyes to the possibilities their talents and potential can lead to. I have worked with students and their parents to look seriously at tertiary education as an option. Many of the students who left my care were the first in their families to attend university. One of the biggest hurdles in this was income—families had to forgo a working young person's contribution to the family income. They had to overcome the idea of a reasonable debt, with a payback safety net, as a means to an end to a brighter future. I call on all students from low socioeconomic circumstances in my electorate and across the country who made it to university to stand up and defend the next generation's ability to do so.

    Just this year I heard the compelling story of a student who was being supported by Western Chances, a not-for-profit organisation that supports senior secondary students to get to university in the western suburbs of Melbourne. This student is now completing medicine at Monash University. She detailed how hard it was to ask for money in her family when her father had been laid off at work—money for books and excursions. She thought uni was out of reach despite her teachers having identified her talent. Here was a student, clearly identified as being among the brightest and the best, who without help from a not-for-profit did not think she would get to university. With support, she got the books she needed and some tutoring in targeted subjects to ensure she met the tertiary requirements—that subject, in her case, was English. She got to university and she is now a second-year medical student.

    But where would she have been now with the government's changes? Indeed, how is she responding to the idea that the interest rate on her HELP debt will increase and compound? How will these changes impact on her future life choices? Most importantly, would she make the same decisions today and will next year's brightest students in the same position make the same decisions? The fact is that those who will be the most deterred by this reform package are from working class families in electorates like mine. What we have seen with this bill is yet another significant barrier being put in place for those seeking long-term prosperity through education.

    Some residents of my electorate wrote to me this morning when I said I was going to be making a speech on higher education today. Heather Taylor said:

    Many opportunities for students who are bright and intelligent will be lost if higher fees are brought in. University should be an option for all who are capable of passing the enter scores, not just for those who can afford it.

    Yajaira, a former student of mine, said:

    These changes are just going to put more pressure on young high school students to decide what they want to do their entire future. These things have the potential to affect someone's entire life!

    She wanted that read in the chamber today. She wanted those opposite to hear her voice. And Janine Luttick made a really important point:

    Increases in undergraduate and postgrad fees will preclude mature-age students from ever paying off their debt during their working life. That makes tertiary education only for the young and the rich. Threats to funding for research students will mean the contributions of some of the nation's best minds to the development of our quality of life will be lost.

    These fine people deserve a government that will provide them with real opportunities. And they had a government that provided them with real opportunities—they had a Labor federal government. The fundamental principles of the Labor Party could not be further removed from the measures put forward in this draconian bill. Labor does not support cuts to university funding and student support. Labor does not support a system of higher fees, bigger student debt, reduced access and greater inequality. And Labor does not believe that you should only have an opportunity to go to university if you are rich. When Labor was in government we removed the caps on public university places. From 2009 to 2013 the number of Commonwealth supported places went from 440,000 to 541,000. In my electorate, that saw an increase of more than 50 per cent in the number of students attending university and a 48 per cent increase in the number of students from low socioeconomic backgrounds. Under Labor they had opportunity. But under this government they are having the door shut in their face.

    The people of Lalor are rightly confused by a government that is ripping away our social compacts, that disregards the community benefit of the best and brightest attending university to ensure that their contribution to our society and to our economy is maximised—not just for their benefit but for all. We are hearing a lot about international competition. We are hearing people say that Australia's universities need to be able to compete. It is as though tertiary education fishes at Australia's border. But one of the unforeseen things that could happen with this reform is that we might find more of our best and brightest studying overseas without any intention of returning to make a contribution here.

    I will finish with a question that I have asked in this House a few times, a question that young people have asked me to ask the Prime Minister: why is it that some debt is so bad but student debt is so good? I reject this bill and will firmly stand against it in this House.

  • Some positive news for Lalor

    After what can only be described as a horror budget, which has dominated the talk in my electorate for months, it is nice to speak today about some positives, about some wins in my local community. Victoria's Father of the Year has been named as Wyndham Vale resident Adam Strathairn, recognising his commitment to being involved in his children's lives and including them in his. I congratulate his children, who nominated him for Victorian Father of the Year.

    The Wyndhamvale Football Club's senior women's team yesterday won the grand final by five points against Whitehorse under the captaincy of Jess Heath and Andrea Cameron and the guidance of senior coach, Kerry Saunders. Well done the Falcons. I would just like to say that I have been to watch the girls play in a few games this season and they are playing some fantastic football and now have been rewarded for that.

    Like the member previously, I would like to congratulate students Young Ye and Ifrah Rehan who were announced as recipients of the Australian student prize for 2013. This award, obviously, speaks to their talent and commitment.

    Finally, I would like to mention the Wyndham Community and Education Centre, which has won the excellence in creating local solutions in the learn local awards for 2014. Jenny Barrera and her team do great work across education and community strengthening services at the centre.

    No doubt there were other sporting winners across the week and I look forward to hearing of more winners from Lalor. The achievements speak to the resilience, commitment and talent of the people of my community.

  • Mambourin Enterprises award

    I rise this morning to congratulate Mambourin Enterprises. Mambourin Enterprises was awarded the Australian Disability Enterprises Excellence Award last week by the Department of Social Services. It is one of Australia's highest awards for workplace excellence. This award recognises Mambourin's significant contribution to improving the lives of people living with a disability and also provides the opportunity to build awareness of ADEs being financially viable businesses with high-quality employment options. Mambourin stood out to the excellence award judges due to its strong business partnerships, its Leadership Program for supported employees and its innovative Enterprise Resource Planning system which enables it to manage costs and enhance client outcomes in readiness for the NDIS.

    Mambourin Enterprises was born in 1972, from a public meeting held in Werribee. The meeting was called by concerned community members who were expressing their concern at the lack of facilities to assist people with intellectual disability within the area. From these humble beginnings, Mambourin has expanded and has sites at Allara, Altona, Braybrook, Geelong, Melton, Sunshine, Werribee and Werribee South. Its honour roll demonstrates how embedded the organisation is in the local and broader community of the Western suburbs.

    The award is recognition that Mambourin lives its values—values of dignity, empowerment, diversity and partnerships. They run a suite of programs. The first, for which the award was won, around supported employment, with types of work including packaging and assembly, light manufacturing and commercial garden maintenance. Locals can see the work of the gardening crews in the streets of Sanctuary Lakes. Mr Brady celebrated the award by saying, 'Our supported employees are paid at award wages,' meaning they take home fair pay for a fair day's work. They also run a day service program for over 350 people over 18 years of age, with individualised programs that focus on physical, emotional and cognitive needs. Clients can learn life skills, gain vocational experience or simply have fun.

    They have post-school transition programs of which I can speak firsthand. These are for young people with intellectual disabilities transitioning from school. They run a STEP program, the Supported Transition to Employment Program, and a Get Ready program—get respect, empowerment, achievement and development for youth. I have known students who have undergone these programs and can speak firsthand to the way the staff work with families and clients to make them feel safe, welcome and challenged.

    I congratulate all involved, CEO Rohan Brady, Board President Cathy Jeffkins, all past and current board members who give their time and expertise, the committed staff and most importantly the clients of Mambourin, who prove every day just how able they are.

  • Higher education cuts

    There will be no surprise today that I rise to speak about higher education. Before the election this government promised no cuts to education. The higher education bill introduced today confirms that this government has introduced cuts to every level of education, from child care through to postgraduate study. The Minister for Education introduced into the House today legislation that will negatively change the face of higher education in this country. He did this in the wake of a budget that acts to entrench inequity at all levels of education. He did this while the government ushers in draconian cuts to Newstart eligibility, apprenticeship support programs and supported access to TAFE programs. He did this while those opposite scream at our young people, 'You must earn or learn!'

    Today's legislation closes the loop on access to equity in education and makes the ability of young people in this country to meet that demand so much harder. The changes again hit low- and middle-income families and risk locking young people from my community out of university. In Lalor, people of all ages want to talk about this unfair change. Families are seriously looking at their options to assess if university is possible for their children, and meanwhile the minister cruelly quips that he is not asking for their left kidney. This is an outrageous move by this minister. It includes a 20 per cent cut to university funding and will see fees rise and students burdened. My question to the prime minister is simple: why is some debt bad but student debt good?

  • Transport funding cuts in Lalor

    In the election campaign I told the people in the electorate of Lalor that I would come to Canberra to represent them—that I would come to Canberra to fight for them. And that is what I will do tonight. Tonight I speak about an issue in my electorate that is progressively worsening. It is traffic congestion, road safety and the cost of travel.

    Now, I could talk for days about the endless number of measures in the Abbott government's budget that scream bad news for Lalor families. But today I would like to focus on three in particular: the decision to cut funding to local government under the Financial Assistance Grants, the decision in this place yesterday to stop debate and block a motion to ensure Roads to Recovery funding, and the petrol tax.

    Our local population growth is amongst the fastest across Australia and is projected to continue on that steep curve. Stop at any street corner in Lalor and ask a local about transport and you will hear a tale of woe, whether that be public or private. On roads you will hear about travel times to work on congested freeways and buses that do not meet trains due to congestion. You will hear about 45-minute journeys to travel 10 kilometres within the city on the school run or to get to work. You will hear about where country roads now take city traffic and hundreds of trucks a day.

    This cruel budget of lies has dealt families a significant blow by cutting funding to Wyndham City Council under the Financial Assistance Grants program. The local council uses this funding to invest in local roads and other significant priority projects. It is deplorable to see the Abbott government move to reduce funding for local roads. In the case of Wyndham council more than $3.36 million has been cut for local roads and other priority projects over the next three years.

    But then yesterday this government added insult to injury; they added salt to the wounds of the people of Lalor. They failed to make certain that $350 million in Roads to Recovery funding would be provided to local governments across the country as well. After what we thought was Minister Truss's inept handling of the legislative program—I know, hard to imagine unless you heard the Treasurer recently say that changes to pensions would be taken to an election when in fact the legislation had passed the House of Representatives and is now in the Senate. We thought Minister Truss had a similar brain fade; we thought he had forgotten to introduce legislation to ensure the Roads to Recovery Program funding beyond 30 June, but it seems not. No, yesterday, when Mr Albanese put up a private members bill to help them out and ensure the funding, those opposite gagged debate and voted it down. The Abbott government's significant, now double-barrelled, cuts to local councils will rip another $3 million away from our local governments and local roads. The result will be felt by local commuters who continue to battle road congestion across Lalor. These programs make local roads safer by improving conditions and easing congestion.

    When Labor were in government, we knew the importance of investing in our transport system. We funded the Regional Rail Link with $3.225 billion from our Nation Building Program. We committed significant funding to a number of major infrastructure projects along the Western Highway and the Western Ring Road. Both the Wyndham City Council and Hobsons Bay City Council received unprecedented funding from the Roads to Recovery and financial assistance grants programs. The contrast between Labor and the coalition could not be more stark.

    And this scenario gets even worse when you add in the petrol tax and the out-of-touch Treasurer. Not only will the congestion worsen and see commuters across Lalor battling traffic for longer, they will be paying more for the privilege. Joe Hockey's recent comments that the 'poorest people either do not have cars or actually do not drive' is a slap in the face to the 50,000 Lalor residents travelling to work each day. Almost 60 per cent of Lalor families have two or more vehicles in the home and the average distance for 60 per cent of Lalor residents' who drive to work is 25 kilometres a day—day in day out. That is a remarkable number of people travelling a remarkable distance—one of the highest in the country. High petrol costs impact heavily on the family budget in Lalor, especially for locals who travel further to work than most other Australians. Our Treasurer is simply out of touch.

  • Attack on Medicare and the cost of medicines

    I rise today to speak on this matter of public importance—and it is of great importance, especially to the people of my electorate of Lalor. As with many measures in the Abbott government's budget of broken promises, when you add up the combined impact of the GP tax and the increase to medicine costs and when those numbers are crunched, we see Lalor topping the charts with an estimated cost to our community of over $52 million. That is $52 million taken out of our community and out of our local economy because it will have to be spent on going to the doctor and paying for prescriptions.

    Our pain does not stop there, because we will be sorely hit by the $50 billion cut from hospitals and the scrapping of preventive health funding. We are heartily sick of being top of the pops. And we are heartily sick of projecting the compounding effects of this cruel budget on families. The truth is that our community keeps featuring because it has 60,000 families making their way in the world. In fact, in Lalor we are a microcosm of the broad Australian community. So I speak today for Lalor, but I speak also for middle- and low-income Australians.

    When I think about the community of Lalor, I also think of other growth corridors that will surely be suffering in similar ways. I think of Cranbourne South in the seat of Flinders, and I think of Minister Hunt—and I wonder where he is today to speak on this MPI; I think of Pakenham in the seat of McMillan; and I think of Frankston in the seat of Dunkley. All of these electorates in the state of Victoria are held by Liberal members of this House. They are all in the top 40 in this week's charts. Given that their members are not speaking out in this chamber or, one suspects, in the LNP caucus or in cabinet, I speak for them today in this MPI. I speak for Lalor, I speak for Australia and I speak about their anger. I speak about the anger about the Prime Minister and the Treasurer promising before the election that there would be no cuts to health and no new taxes but now smashing that promise. I speak of the anger about higher costs to visit the doctor and to buy needed medications and about the effects that will have on people accessing the medical care in the primary sector that they need, resulting in fewer people accessing health advice.

    In my own home, someone I care about deeply has found himself making decisions about going to the doctor and about filling prescriptions, because he has a large monthly bill for daily medications and he is really considering it with these threatened increases. I can only imagine how this translates to the 10,000 pensioners in Lalor. I have heard from several people who are on the disability support pension due to chronic illness and who have very real fears about how they will survive when they must pay more for prescriptions. I hear Minister Dutton and those on the other side of the chamber consistently cry, 'Labor introduced the PBS co-payment' but they deliberately omit that Labor also increased the pharmaceutical allowance to compensate pensioners and that allowance was paid weekly. Every time the PBS co-payment rose, so did the pharmaceutical allowance. They fail to admit that it was Prime Minister Howard who broke that nexus in 1997. They omit the targeted and responsible savings Labor made like the means testing of the private health insurance rebate. They omit that Labor made medicines cheaper by simplifying price disclosure.

    It is little comfort to the people of Lalor that they will take this hit, that they will have their long-term health possibly compromised by reduced household budgets and by their capacity to pay. It is little comfort to them to know they will do this to fund a research fund that may find cures but that will be useless to them if the universality of our health care system is smashed in the process.

    So we have smashed promises, smashed commitments. We will have, if the government continues to pursue its unhealthy agenda, smashed household budgets. We will have in my electorate smashed lives. Those opposite argue they have to do something. I say to them: you do not have to do this; you should not do this.

  • Student Representative Council Forum

    Today I rise to talk about the second SRC forum held in my electorate in the recess. The forum was attended by over 130 primary and secondary school students representing schools from across the electorate and followed on from the inaugural forum in April.

    The April forum put forward a range of planned outcomes, from getting a deeper sense of our community to learning about consultation and listening. The follow-up forum in August showed me the students had made significant progress in these outcomes, with many going above and beyond their planned projects.

    These SRC forums have proven to be an extremely worthwhile exercise for the students, for the teachers and, obviously, for me. Students harnessed this opportunity to learn from other schools about how they tackle common problems. Many students found a common problem they have is litter in the school grounds. This, of course, came as no surprise to me. Some schools tackle this with games and competitions, which provided ideas to other students on how they could deal with the issue. Teachers noted the leadership shown by their students and their contributions back at school over recent months.

    For me, this experience has been extremely rewarding. I have learned from the students about the experience they have as individuals at school and about the challenges we all face as a collective community. The feedback from the students was very positive and their reflections on leadership and representation were thoughtful and insightful. Everyone in the electorate of Lalor can be very proud of their students' contributions. I look forward to the next forum. (Time expired)

  • Fair Work Amendment Bill 2014

    I rise to oppose the Fair Work Amendment Bill 2014, just like I oppose the Treasurer's so-called fair budget, with its so-called fair changes to pensions, fair cuts to education, fair GP tax, fair changes to Newstart eligibility and fair changes to higher education, training and apprenticeships. I rise to oppose the ludicrous, ridiculous situation where this government would retain the word 'fair' while making amendments that are clearly not fair.

    When I was working in schools in the western suburbs of Melbourne, I saw the impact on local families of then Minister Abbott's Work Choices legislation. I saw students exploited by individual contracts. I heard directly from these students about being paid in pizzas. I heard time and time again about kids who did not get a job when they asked about conditions and overtime arrangements. I saw parents put under pressure in their employment too. I saw people being made casual after many years of permanent employment. I saw people lose penalty rates. I heard about people being sacked without warning. I remember one mother being sacked who, when she asked why, was told it was due to a personality clash. In my community, Work Choices is a dirty word. No-one wants to return to the Work Choices regime.

    We have all learnt the hard way that the government made a lot of promises before the election that it appears they had no intention of keeping. This legislation is yet another example of broken promises. Before the election, and even when this bill was introduced, the government promised the proposed amendments would go no further than their pre-election promises and would only go to those recommendations from the 2012 Fair Work review. They promised a workplace review that we are still waiting for, and the clock will tick over to one year of this government in a little over two weeks. So, nearly 12 months on, here we are and those opposite are doing exactly the opposite to what they said they would do. They are moving amendments that have the potential to hurt workers, and they are deceptively doing this while still calling it a Fair Work bill. Let's be honest: this is being done to fly under the radar while the public are learning every day about another unfair measure in their unfair budget.

    But we on this side of the House know that Work Choices is in this Prime Minister's blood. We know it from this quote from 2002, when he said:

    If we're honest, most of us would accept that a bad boss is a little bit like a bad father or a bad husband. Not withstanding all his … faults, you find that he tends to do more good than harm. He might be a bad boss but at least he's employing someone …

    I will speak not to the inherent patriarchal gender bias in this statement, which equates bosses to fathers rather than parents, but to the attitude that the government brings to this amendment bill and that is inherent in the now Prime Minister's statement. Let me translate it for you: better a bad parent than no parent. Better a bad boss than no boss. Better a bad job than no job. Fair work indeed! No, this is the road to nowhere like fair work; this is the road back to Work Choices.

    This bill makes changes to individual flexibility arrangements, greenfield agreements and right-of-entry provisions, as we have been hearing for most of the afternoon and into the evening. I know what this will mean for the constituents of Lalor: workers will suffer. I agree that, in some circumstances, flexibility in workplace agreements can be beneficial, but only if applied appropriately. We know that, under Work Choices, 65 per cent of workers lost penalty rates and hundreds of thousands of workers were pushed into individual contracts. These contracts then meant that 70 per cent of those workers lost shift loadings, 68 per cent lost annual leave loadings, 49 per cent lost overtime loadings and 25 per cent no longer had public holidays. We also know that 3.5 million workers lost protection-from-unfair-dismissal provisions. Those were the former students and parents that I remember being adversely affected during this time. This bill must not allow arrangements that can be used to rip away penalty rates and other working conditions.

    The current fair work system as introduced by Labor is acknowledged to be a fair and equitable system for both employees and employers. I remember the strong mandate Labor had when it won the 2007 election—a strong mandate that was delivered through Labor's Fair Work Act. The Australian people sent a strong message to the Howard government and to IR minister Abbott that Work Choices had gone too far. In response, like in so many areas, the LNP made all sorts of assurances in the lead-up to both the 2010 and 2013 elections. The current Prime Minister promised there would be no return to Work Choices and that the recommendations of the 2012 review of the Fair Work Act would be delivered without change. However, like so many promises, this one will not be delivered. What this government wants to do is make small but significant changes.

    Let's look first at the individual flexibility arrangements. There is a current provision for workers to negotiate and trade a monetary benefit for a non-monetary benefit. It is important to note the monetary benefit forgone must be relatively insignificant and the value of the non-monetary benefit must be in proportion. For example, if a worker wants to negotiate swapping a scheduled RDO for a day the kids have off school, this can be negotiated at the local level. Employers can negotiate for extra hours to be worked to meet an urgent deadline in exchange for extra annual leave. As a school principal I managed arrangements like these on a daily basis and found no difficulty doing so.

    But, by taking away the 'relatively insignificant' and 'proportional' provisions, we can see what the government's true intention is. This small omission has the potential to allow employers to strip away workplace provisions. The bill's own explanatory memorandum outlines the ability to forgo penalty rates in exchange for flexible hours. I am not sure anyone thinks penalty rates could be considered relatively insignificant; and, with the debate about penalty rates going on in the public now, I think everyone on both sides of this chamber understands that.

    We saw in the past many employers go down this path. There was the famous Spotlight case where an employee received a 2c-per-hour increase in exchange for the loss of penalty rates. This is not the workplace regime we want to return to. This is changing penalty rates by stealth—without debate, without conversation, without the fight those opposite know the community is prepared to have to protect this provision and all done under the cover of a community coming to grips every day with new facets of how this cruel budget will impact on them and the community.

    Let's look at the greenfield agreements. Greenfield agreements currently play an important role in the Fair Work Act. It can be a useful exercise to negotiate a greenfield agreement before workers have been employed. This ability to establish an agreement with the relevant unions and the prospective employer is beneficial, establishing the provisions and allowing for a timely and smooth transition at the project's commencement. The 2012 review identified that, unlike other forms of agreement making in the Fair Work Act, this section made no provision for good-faith bargaining and had no notified negotiation period. So what has this government included in the amendment bill to address this? Not what the review recommended. The amendments do not, as recommended in the review, require employers to take all reasonable steps to notify all unions with eligibility to represent relevant employees of the intention to negotiate an agreement. This means employers can pick and choose the unions they may wish to negotiate with—if there are any.

    The review recommended a three-month termination period for bargaining under greenfield agreements, but this bill allows for employers to essentially walk away from negotiations and simply wait for the three-month period to expire, then—as only the employer can do this—taking the proposed agreements to the Fair Work Commission for assessment and approval. The proposed amendments give employers the absolute advantage in these negotiations, and therefore this fails the fairness test.

    The third area of the amendment I would like to discuss is the right of entry. Just last month I had a constituent come see me about some issues in the workplace. She had been asked to meet with management to discuss concerns. When she asked for a union representative to sit in on the meeting, she was told that that would not be allowed. That is a concern under the current arrangements, so imagine a world where a union entry provision is being further eroded. That is what this bill has the potential to do.

    The principal thrust of the Work Choices act when it was introduced by the Howard government in 2006 was to individualise employment relations. It was an attempt to marginalise both trade unions and industrial tribunals. The Australian public gave a very strong message at the election of 2007 that Work Choices went too far. I want to remind the House of some of the examples of the impact on workers back in 2006.

    Three workers at a cabinet installation company in the west of Melbourne were sacked on the day Work Choices came into effect and then offered casual positions at a lower rate of pay. Seventy Optus workers received letters from the company, directing them to a seminar to teach them how to set themselves up as contractors. As contractors, they would be up to $300 a week worse off and would have to pay $12,000 for their own van as well as workers compensation, superannuation and other overheads. A woman employee of 15 years was sacked while she was on sick leave just days after the Work Choices laws came into effect. A clerical employee was dismissed via email for requesting her pay, which was six weeks in arrears. A university student was working in a medium-sized business that dismissed all permanent employees on the day the new legislation came into effect. They were offered AWAs with lower levels of pay and worse conditions. A young worker lost her job in a cafe after refusing to sign an AWA that included a hefty pay cut. A hairdressing apprentice was offered a contract, which included unpaid trial work as a condition of employment and no overtime and no penalty rates. These are not things we want to return to.

    This bill has, to date, not received much commentary in the press or more broadly, so our debate in this chamber is critical. I can only assume that the lack of coverage is because the Australian public have resigned themselves to the idea that undermining employees is what this coalition government does, that possibly people have been distracted by the appalling and embarrassing performance of government frontbenchers across the last five weeks. I can only assume they are distracted by the terribly unfair budget that has a negative impact on so many in our communities. And I can only assume they are distracted as they ponder how to work harder to meet the cost-of-living pressures, how to earn more to pay for child care, how to raise funds to support the programs at their local schools, and how to start saving now to pay for a possible $100,000 degree for each child or to support a teenage apprentice and avoid a loan.

    Those opposite need to remember that when the public go to the polls in two years' time and they focus on who to vote for, they will see unfair workplaces heavily reliant on individual workplace agreements that have stripped away conditions and pay and that were made possible if these amendments go through. Labor opposes these amendments and will always stand up for workers and employers to ensure that there is a balance. We will not allow this government to continue its race to the bottom on labour standards—a race to create an unfair Australia.