#5and5 Week of the Battle for Penalty Rates

This was an extraordinary week.

Not because the Government made a procedural mistake, not because of some surprise strategy, it was extraordinary because we focused on nothing but you.

No politics, no strategies. Just you.

It was so tempting to ask questions about other issues this week.

We had Tony Abbott going after Malcolm Turnbull in the media, George Christensen resigning as the Nationals Whip (which I wish he’d done before that photo with the whip was ever taken - still trying to erase that memory), and we had leadership speculation about Peter Dutton. Sorry that wasn’t a typo - we had leadership speculation about Peter Dutton.

But we spent the whole week talking about you and the people you want us to stand up for.

Here’s the #5and5:

1. Our defence of penalty rates saw Labor MPs, one after the other, tell your stories, ask your questions, and put the case you would want Labor to press. This issue is huge. Nearly 700,000 workers face pay cuts of up to $77 each week. If it goes ahead, no one believes it will stop there. The precedent will be set and very quickly we will see the same argument used to cut penalty rates for anyone who still has them.

The House of Representatives started on Monday at 10am. By 10.03am Bill Shorten had given notice of a bill to stop the pay cut. Malcolm Turnbull has the power to stop the cut. If he keeps refusing to stop it, then Labor will take it to the next election.

And just to show how determined we are to protect penalty rates we devoted every one of our 34 questions to the issue of penalty rates. On Thursday, Labor MPs rose to talk about local workers facing a real pay cut: Linda Burney talked about Terry who works in a newsagency, Ross Hart asked about Ruby who works two casual jobs while studying at university, Susan Templeman asked about Linda from Katoomba who is proud she has gotten off Centrelink and into a job as a chef, and Bill Shorten asked about Margarita who is a single mum working in Melbourne.

2. The Labor Senate team had an extraordinary week in Senate Estimates. Katy Gallagher had it confirmed that Treasury had provided no advice to back up the Government claims that cutting penalty rates would deliver more jobs.


Jenny McAllister uncovered the Government had no information on the cost of new coal-fired power stations compared to alternatives. When the Government said the issue had crept up on them, Jenny responded

“It’s impossible to see how this issue could have ‘crept up’ on anyone, that’s like being crept up on by a glacier.”

And if you get a moment, just watch Penny Wong and Murray Watt questioning George Brandis. This line from Murray was priceless.

Murray Watt: Senator Brandis, simple questions, I think, work best with you, so there can be no evasion, no misunderstanding. Why do you have such a problem telling the truth to this parliament?

Penny Wong: Hear, hear!


3. You speak critically of a Government service. The Government Minister responsible seeks your private information to discredit you. They get your private information. Then they give it to the media. It sounds like something that happens in countries without democracy, but it happened right here. When a blogger spoke out against Centrelink’s robo-debt scheme, Minister Tudge’s Office reportedly revealed her personal details to the media to assert that the scheme is working.

Linda nailed how disgraceful this is when she referred the issue to the Australian Federal Police saying his actions were reckless and immoral at best and illegal at worst.

Cathy Wilcox nailed it.

4. I loved these interjections. Ever since Scott Morrison turned up to Parliament waving around a lump of coal there have been some great interjections at his expense. Chris Bowen wins for these two:

When Malcolm Turnbull tried to get everyone scared about energy during an answer: “South Australia is the canary in the coalmine”. 

Chris Bowen: “Will Morrison bring a canary in here next?”


Speaker: “I call the Treasurer.”

Chris Bowen: “Did you bring your pet rock?”


5. I’m not a fan of Peter Dutton at all. But credit where it’s due. On Wednesday, Bob Katter asked a question which urged Peter Dutton to give an answer supporting a discriminatory immigration policy. To his credit he didn’t take the bait. I thought he would, but to his credit he didn’t. This time, Peter Dutton gave the sort of answer you would hope from Australia’s Immigration Minister. It was measured, sensible, and decent. This may be the only time I offer a compliment to Peter Dutton, but it would be dishonest to criticise him when he offends and not acknowledge it when he gives an answer like he did on Wednesday.

1. This week, not only did Malcolm Turnbull say that he supported the decision to cut penalty rates which will mean nearly 700,000 Australians will have their pay cut by up to $77 every week, but numerous Coalitions MPs and Senators also tried to defend the decision, including Anne Ruston, Ann Sudmalis, Eric Abetz, Andrew Laming and Craig Kelly. But it didn’t end there, the Minister for Trade Steven Ciobo said the cut would impact “only those on the margins” and Bert van Manen described the cuts as “minor reductions”. This Government is seriously out of touch.

I’m pleased to report that my assessment that the Government’s response on penalty rates was the worst is actually a bipartisan view. Yep. Most of the Lib backbench, Nat backbench, and in fact most of the Ministers had the same view. On Thursday afternoon Bill Shorten stopped Question Time early to move that we legislate to stop the pay cut. When Malcolm Turnbull stood up to respond to Bill, no one seemed to care what he was saying. Liberals looked down at their phones. National Party MPs chatted to each other. And a few seemed to be drifting off to sleep. The next speaker was Brendan O’Connor who delivered one of the sharpest speeches all week. He opened with the words “Wakey, wakey, everyone.” A few Liberal MPs including Tony Abbott seemed to enjoy the joke more than they were meant to.

2. You might remember Barnaby Joyce has been forcing the APVMA (it’s the Pesticides Authority) to move from Canberra to his electorate in Armidale. As Joel Fitzgibbon has been explaining, one of the problems is the staff are now working out of the local Maccas because they have no base in Armidale yet. When the Nats decided to hold a media conference in one of the courtyards a wiley Labor staffer got there first and planted a delivery from Maccas was waiting for them just in time for this shot. It’s a portrait of a male National MP with chips with a male National MP with chips with a male National MP with chips with...

3. The National Accounts were summarised by this question from Bill:

“Yesterday in Question Time, the Prime Minister said that he supports the decision to cut penalty rates. Today's National Accounts confirm that corporate profits had their biggest increase in 40 years and that wages and salaries had their largest fall in over 20 years. Why is it that, under the Turnbull government, when companies receive record profits, they get tax cuts and, when wages flat line, workers get pay cuts?”

4. The Liberal and National parties were again at each other’s throats over their ideological vendetta to destroy section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. Well done to Graham Perrett, Claire Moore, Madeleine King, and Carol Brown. They were the Labor members on the Parliamentary Committee to consider whether or not the Racial Discrimination Act should be watered down to allow forms of racist hate speech that are currently unlawful. The Committee refused to recommend a weakening of the law.

Anne Aly made a comment in the debate describing those who were arguing in favour of lowering protections:

“... people like him have never had to hold their child’s hand in theirs and explain the tears they are shedding because of the hatred directed to them. People who have never had to consistently defend their very existence in this country, despite being productive and high-achieving citizens of Australia.”

I made a contribution which you’ll find here.

5. This slipped under the radar but is extremely important - patients and practitioners were knowingly denied information about delays in the rollout of a crucial cervical cancer screening service. Turnbull wrongly laid blame with Labor to score points, while ignoring the fact that there are serious concerns women will fall between the cracks. Their disrespect for women’s healthcare outcomes is astonishing. On Wednesday, Catherine King raised this in a definite Matter of Public Importance.

“With the revelation that the government has bungled the rollout of the new test, experts have warned that: women could delay cervical screening, having already put off their Pap smears in the hope that they would have the five-year HPV screening test instead; the cytology workforce is in crisis since, as only one in every six cytologists will be needed for the new program, people have already taken voluntary redundancies or accepted new positions; and there are already delays in Pap smear results, and these will only get worse, we are told, potentially blowing out to six to eight weeks. It is a very serious failure of policy implementation.”

The campaign to protect penalty rates doesn’t stop with the Parliament rising. Talk to people, share emails, share posts on social media and get involved. We can win this, and people who rely on penalty rates need us to win this. It’s a cause that goes to the heart of why our party was founded in the first place.

The WA Labor team, Tim Hammond, Madeleine King, Josh Wilson, Anne Aly and Matt Keogh, stood up this week to talk about the many ways the Barnett Government has let the people of West Australia down. Best wishes to Mark McGowan and the whole Western Australia team for this election.

Parliament is off for two weeks and then the #5and5 will be back.

PS The #5and5 song this week is one of the lesser known Beatles songs. It’s sung by Ringo and appears as the final track on the White Album right after Revolution No 9. So in honour of all those Government MPs who have listen to the PM speak all the time - here’s The Beatles with Good Night.

Tony Burke