MATTER OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE:THIS GOVERNMENT'S FAILURE TO RESPECT THE CONTRIBUTION OF AUSTRALIAN WORKERS

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THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP
DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION
SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION AND TRAINING
SHADOW MINISTER FOR WOMEN
MEMBER FOR SYDNEY

MATTER OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE: THIS GOVERNMENT'S FAILURE TO RESPECT THE CONTRIBUTION OF AUSTRALIAN WORKERS

HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, CANBERRA

WEDNESDAY, 20 JUNE

We’ve heard a lot in this place in recent days about aspiration, and what’s become blindingly obvious is that aspiration means very different things to different people.

This morning I had a visit from Raj, Ernestina and Namgay cleaners from Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra, telling me how insecure contracts, split shifts, low pay are making it difficult for them to make ends meet; working in the same jobs for years without pay increases, hoping their contracts are renewed, fearing they won’t be.

They aspire to decent pay and secure work.

Yesterday I met Alanna– an apprentice and TAFE student from Queensland, who is an inspiration – taking an Apprenticeship in heavy Diesel Engine maintenance.

She has aspiration – she wants to be an Assets and Facilities Manager.

And yesterday I met with electrical trades apprentices – all of them worried about the Governments cuts to TAFE and whether their jobs are going to be well paid when they finish their apprenticeships.

Today I met Carly – an apprentice fitter from Tomago.

She’s got aspirations as well – for a decently funded TAFE system and a good job when she finishes.

What about the aspiration that 8,000 Telstra workers had today, to keep their job, to keep a roof over their heads, and what does the Minister for Urban Infrastructure say?

He shrugs his shoulders and says “As a former telco executive I can say these things do happen from time to time”.

As though these people have no right to aspire to secure employment and a good job.

These workers, and the others I talk to right around Australia, have aspirations:

  • Good pay and conditions – and wages that keep up with the cost of living.
  • Secure, stable, well paid jobs where they feel confident where the next pay cheque is coming from.
  • Aspirations that if they work on a weekend or a public holiday that they will get penalty rates to compensate them for time away from their families.
  • They aspire to an affordable roof over their heads
  • A good education for their kids.
  • Aspire that when they are sick they will be able to walk into a hospital and get the best health care available, no matter their pay-packet or their wealth.

And we in Labor share these aspirations with them – that’s what we want for them too.

And we want them to get tax cuts.

We want bigger tax cuts for anyone earning up to $125,000.

Sometimes in this place you get a cut through moment, when those opposite say what they’re really thinking, when they drop the facade, they don’t run out the pat lines, when the spin falls away.

Yesterday in Question Time we had a couple of those moments.

When the Leader of the Opposition asked the Prime Minister whether a 60-year-old aged care worker from Burnie should aspire to be an investment banker from Rose Bay, so that they could get a $7,000 a year tax cut instead of ten dollars; he said that she should “aspire to get a better job”.

Get a better job” – his exact words.

Everyone in this house knew what he meant:

  • Become an investment banker.
  • Make more money.
  • Accumulate more wealth.
  • Put your money into shares, or the Cayman Islands.
  • Get yourself a mansion.

That is what aspiration looks like to this Prime Minister.

It’s the only aspiration that he understands

You know what –
          …caring for the elderly and vulnerable people, to
bring dignity to their later years, ensuring that they receive love and affection:

- that is something to aspire to.

Working to educate the very young, providing them with a loving and supportive environment when their parents are off at work and preparing them for their school years:

- that is something to aspire to.

Spending your life in the service of others – whether it is keeping their workplaces clean and safe, serving in a shop or a restaurant, building offices and homes or growing the food that we put on our plates:

- that is something to aspire to.

The Prime Minister thinks that reason any person would do these jobs is because they can’t get a better paid job.

The Liberals always talk about job snobs but they are the true job snobs.

No concept that there is dignity in work.

That people are proud of the work they do in aged care, childcare, building, faming, retail, child protection, manufacturing – they don’t all secretly want to be merchant bankers if only they could.

People in these professions would like better pay, they would like their penalty rates restored, they would like better wages growth than they have had in recent years.

But they are not just motivated by these things.

That they are also motivated by love of their community, compassion for others, job satisfaction and a desire to be of service to the nation.

And that is something this Prime Minister will never understand.

When the Prime Minister talks about aspiration he means aspiration only for yourself, not for your community or your nation.

Being prepared to crawl over anyone who gets in your way.

Survival of the fittest; rule of the jungle; dog eat dog; trickle-down economics.

Opting-out of paying a fair share of tax because you can – because your adviser has set you up in a tax haven in the Caymans.

That’s the Prime Minister’s worldview to a tee.
And if he was still working at Goldman Sachs, or working for Kerry Packer, or presiding over Australia’s worst corporate disaster at HIH - that would be his prerogative.

But he is the Prime Minister now. And he is supposed to be the Prime Minister for all Australians.

That arrogance, that out-of-touch perspective which says where you are born is where you stay, get what you’re given and be grateful – that’s hurting Australia.

That idea of cold charity and tough luck – that’s hurting Australia.

Yesterday, in all that red-faced, hoarse, vitriol – a performance only equalled by his tantrum on election night - the most cutting insult he could conceive of was ‘university educated’.

In the world this Prime Minister inhabits, if you’re a working class person if you come from a family where you are the first to go to university that makes you a class traitor.

Universities are OK for him, he can go to Oxford; universities are a necessity for people of his stock.
They’re allowed in the club.

But if you’re anyone else:

  • if you don’t have ancestors who bought the first run of shares in Westpac,
  • if you’re a kid from a country town or the outer suburbs,
  • then trying to get a degree just means you’re getting ideas above your station.

Apparently, we should know our place.

That’s what he means when he goes on and on about ‘social climbers’.

How many times have you heard him use that term?

He means: stay put, stay where you belong – and make sure your kids do too.

Let me tell you something.

We don’t call it ‘social climbing’ in the Labor Party.

We call it justice.

We call it fairness.

We call it opportunity for all.

We call it giving everyone the chance to fulfil their potential, to lift themselves out of poverty, to give their kids a chance to live a more comfortable life than they had.

This Prime Minister has never had to rely on Medicare, he’s happy to cut it.

This Prime Minister won’t need the pension – he’s happy to cut it.

He thinks public transport is an amusing hobby, not an essential service.

Who doesn’t know what it’s like to stand outside a cold bus stop in the Western suburbs of Melbourne at 5:00 am in the morning –

Or to spend time you could be with your kids commuting from the Central Coast to Sydney because you can no longer afford a house in the area you work and grew up in.

He went to Sydney Grammar and Oxford University so he doesn’t mind cutting funding to public schools, TAFE and universities and denying working class and middle class kids the education he took for granted.

He’s never relied on penalty rates – he doesn’t even know anyone who does – so it’s no skin off his nose if they get cut again.

Every Christmas he waxes lyrical about his relationship with the cleaners in this building but he is happy to see their wages cut and lose their jobs in a contract change.
He doesn’t get it, he never will.

This is a man with millions of dollars – and not a single cents worth of empathy.

He’s got shares in everything – but he doesn’t share the values of the Australian people.

He was born out of touch, he’s lived his life out of touch and he’ll always be out of touch.

And to all the aged care workers out there, caring for some of the most vulnerable Australians, or the cleaners like Ernestina, Namgay and Raj.

That is something to be proud of.

You’re doing a great job.

You don’t need a ‘better job’ – you deserve a better government.