Straight from the Senate - Issue 14

5.00pm | April 02, 2017


1. This week in the Senate I spoke about the Turnbull Government’s attacks on 1800 RESPECT - the national sexual assault and domestic and family violence counselling service.

This is a vital service for the most vulnerable women. However, the future of this service is in limbo thanks to the Turnbull Government. In August the Government implemented a triage system where calls are now first directed through a call centre at Medibank Health Solutions (MHS). In addition, the providers of 1800RESPECT - Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia - had to tender to continuing providing the service and were given four days to complete an Expression of Interest. This is an unreasonable timeframe to give any provider, let alone one that established the service and has run it for six years. The future funding arrangements are still unknown. I have sent a list of seventeen questions to the Department of Social Services about the future of this service and they remain unanswered. The Minister owes it to Australia’s most vulnerable women to provide answers, and resolve this situation.

You can read my speech 

2. On Wednesday I spoke to the media about the report handed down this week by the Senate Privileges Committee into the Government’s raid of Labor Offices during the last election. 

The report has found that in executing raids in the offices of a sitting SenatorSenatorConroy, to recover documents in relation to the NBN, there was improper interference in the functions of the Parliament. This report raises serious political questions for Prime Minister Turnbull and his Ministers. The raids were undertaken to identify NBN staff who blew the whistle on the failures of the NBN while Malcolm Turnbull was the Minister for Communications. On his watch we saw the cost of that project blow out to fifty billion dollars. Despite his promise that every Australian household would have access to the NBN by 2016, there are still more than seven million Australian households without access. This is a failure of enormous proportions. It is hard not to see the relationship between that failure, the Prime Minister’s responsibility for that failure and the extraordinary decision during an election campaign to initiate a raid on the offices of a sitting member of Parliament who had been pursuing that failure.

You can read my comments here

3. On Thursday Senator Cameron and I asked about the Government’s shameful submission to the annual review of the minimum wage. 

Senator Cash could not answer how the minimum wage affects the gender pay gap, and her answer revealed how little she actually understands about it. I spoke in the Senate, explaining to Senator Cash how the gender pay gap actually works. (See below for more detail about this important issue).

You can watch my speech here


This week, my Labor colleagues and I, with members of the crossbench, were proud to defeat the Government’s attempts to water down 18C. The Government was attempting to remove restrictions on “offending”, “insulting” and “humiliating” people based on their race. This is a disgrace. One of Australia’s greatest strengths is our diversity and multiculturalism. I am proud we were able to stop Malcolm Turnbull and George Brandis’ attempts to allow racist hate speech. Racism has no place in our society.

On Friday, Labor Senators stood firm in the Senate against the Government’s tax package including billions in tax breaks for big business. The Government claimed these cuts will boost GDP, but even their own analysis suggested this would be by just 1% in the long term, while significantly impacting government revenue. Late on Friday, the Nick Xenophon Team and One Nation voted for deep tax cuts to business in exchange for an ineffective package on energy. Despite demanding nothing less than a 'resolution' of the energy crisis, the package comprises four studies, a concessional loan drawn from the existing funds in the CEFC, and a one-off payment for aged, disability and single parent pensioners. This goes nowhere near resolving the crisis of investment created by the government's removal of a price on carbon. In sum, the tax cuts will hurt our ability to deliver important services, while the energy package seems likely to achieve very little. On this occasion, the cross bench have delivered for the government - but sadly not for the community.



Penalty rates, the minimum wage and the gender pay gap

In Australia wages growth is stagnate and inequality is at a seventy-five year high. Yet the Turnbull Government supports cutting the penalty rates of Australia’s lowest paid workers and has said that increasing the minimum wage is “not an efficient way to address relative living standards or the needs of the low-paid” because minimum wage earners “are often found in high income households”. 

In Labor we know that Australia’s lowest paid workers rely on penalty rates and the minimum wage and that wages are an important way of combatting inequality. Labor supports an increase to the national minimum wage and all modern award wage rates. 

Yesterday in Question Time Senator Cameron asked the Minister for Employment and the Minister for Women, Senator Cash, how a stagnating minimum wage would impact the gender pay gap. Senator Cash was unable to answer this basic question relevant to both of her portfolios. In her generalised response she also missed one of the key drives of the gender pay gap – occupational and industrial segregation. We cannot just compare high income men and women because women are far more likely to work in low paid jobs in a particular industry or within industries that have very low rates of pay. Thirty percent of the gender pay gap arises from industrial and occupation segregation. What this Government does not understand is that the minimum wage is absolutely relevant for the take home pay of these women and lifting the minimum wage helps to close this gender pay gap. The money that we’re talking about might not matter to Senator Cash but it matters to the people we’re talking about. 

In United Voice’s submission on the minimum wage they gave Ruth’s example of what the minimum wage means. Ruth is a cleaner in outer suburban Sydney who says “recently I had to find the money for a deposit for three [school] excursions. I had to go without groceries that week to make sure we had the money”. It is astonishing that when this is the reality for Australia’s lowest paid workers Malcolm Turnbull refuses to provide support for an increase to the minimum wage. 

Labor will fight for an increase to the minimum wage and will oppose cuts to penalty rates.

In Labor,

Jenny McAllister