Sep 2, 2020

BUSINESS – Rearrangement – Wednesday, 2 September 2020

Mr ALBANESE (GrayndlerLeader of the Opposition) (12:11): The timing of this government couldn’t be worse. Less than an hour after Australia officially went into the first recession in 30 years, they’re in here bringing on a debate about cutting jobs at Australia Post. Be in no doubt: that’s what it is about. This is just as two things have occurred: (1) Australia is in recession for the first time in three decades and (2) Australia Post has just posted record revenue. The fact is that this morning we also had the report that Australia Post has asked workers to volunteer to help clear a massive backlog of parcels caused by the coronavirus pandemic. But—wait for this—the Australia Post workers have to use their own cars at the same time. So they’re asking them to volunteer to work, using their own cars, to deliver parcels at the very same time as they’re introducing changes in regulations that will mean fewer staff. That will mean a delay in services for people right around Australia—a delay in deliveries.


We’ve heard them talk about it, ‘Oh, people don’t use letters anymore.’ Really? Is that right? Why is it that every kid out there knows, if they’re lucky enough to have a grandma or a grandfather, about getting that card in the mail with $5 in it. My boy is 19 and he still gets a couple of cards, and he appreciates them at age 19! I think he’ll keep that going as long as he can! The fact is that Australia Post still provides an absolutely essential service. So on the one hand we have workers being asked to volunteer and to use their own cars to deliver parcels, and on the other hand what do we have? Senior executives. How are they going? Senior executives have $7 million in bonus payments—that’s how well they’re going. We have to cut back on workers on the front line; they have to volunteer and they have to use their own cars. But at the top end there are $7 million in bonus payments. And those bonus payments are despite a message from Australia Post chief executive, Christine Holgate, to her staff in March, suggesting that not only would the executives forgo the bonuses but they would take a 20 per cent pay cut. But, of course, none of that has happened. The government is attempting here to halve postal deliveries and therefore threaten literally thousands of postie jobs.


Posties have one of those jobs, like the chemist, like banks used to when they had branches, where they are known throughout their community. The postie is someone who knows that you’re away. They might pick up the newspapers if they’re at the front of your house and haven’t been put inside; they help out. They’re people who are friends, not just workers. They’re part of our local communities. And they’re particularly important in regional Australia. At this time, when unemployment is going up, this is a part of government support that’s going down. Those opposite have got something wrong. When you are in recession, what you should be doing is increasing government support. It’s Keynesianism page 1; it’s the stuff that’s in bold. It is common sense and it is also particularly important in regional communities.


In moving this suspension, the minister spoke about Eden-Monaro. Let’s talk about Eden-Monaro! I’m quite happy to talk about Eden-Monaro, where Kristy McBain, the new member for Eden-Monaro, proudly campaigned with the CEPU and with Australia Post workers, in support of their jobs. One of the reasons why Kristy McBain sits here today as the member from Eden-Monaro is that she stands up for her local community and stands up for local jobs—but of all days to speak about jobs!


As the minister said, these regulations were presented to the House on 10 June, but they sat there. They were made on 14 June. The government wouldn’t bring on the debate. Remember the suspensions that we moved to bring on the debate? They never actually want to debate their own position. We just saw them, earlier on, shut down a debate on Australia’s economic position—what the plan for the economy is. Even today they’re not prepared to debate the economy. And, during the Eden-Monaro by-election, they certainly didn’t want to talk about jobs; they didn’t want to talk about jobs in regional Australia. That’s because this government, which has presided over the first recession in 30 years, which produced mugs with ‘Back in Black’ on them—they’ll produce ones for this year’s budget, when it comes down in a month or so, that say ‘Back in Bleak’; that’s what they should say under this government—during the election campaign, had the Prime Minister saying that we ‘were in surplus in the future, next year’. The government had ‘brought the budget back to surplus next year’—an exercise in linguistic contortion that deserves a mug. That deserves a mug.


The problem for the government is that they’re treating Australians like mugs. The government are saying: ‘We are going to increase the time that it takes for a letter to get from A to B. We’ll extend it by days. We’ll cut service delivery to a couple of times a week. But that won’t cost jobs and that won’t mean less service.’ It is quite extraordinary that this government is prepared to argue in a way that is completely against all logic. They say that they want to stand up for quiet Australians. What they really want is for Australians to be quiet about the impact of changes they are making not just to this but combined with the JobKeeper updated legislation that provided for cuts in wages for some of the poorest paid workers. People like retail workers had their wages slashed by $300. The government wouldn’t even support putting in a safety net at the same level as JobKeeper. It is quite extraordinary.


Under these provisions, we know that people in regional Australia, who already wait longer for letters than those in my electorate—or in the electorate of the member for Bradfield, who was so familiar with different regional areas that he ran for Bradfield and for Cook in preselection against the current Prime Minister; he was flexible about where things were located!—as a result of this will get less service. And that is just one further way that the government is letting down regional Australia.


And where are the Nats on this? We’ll wait and see if they come in and how they’ll vote on this, because the National Party of course have abandoned regional Australia.


So, at a time when families are struggling to pay their bills and we need to create jobs, not cut jobs, this is the wrong move by this government. That’s why we should oppose the suspension of standing orders, because if it doesn’t get up then the regulations won’t come in. So we’ll be voting against the suspension, and then we’ll be moving the proposition, if we are not successful in opposing the suspension. (Time expired)