I want to start where Senator McAllister left off in taking note of the answers given today to those questions referred to with regard to the minimum wage and the annual wage review. It is important to point out elements of the answers that were given today with regard to the importance of business as employers and the need not to impose on businesses undue burden. They are the ones paying the wages and, if a business is burdened to an extent where it becomes unviable, a non-commercial entity, then the business closes down, the jobs go and those people Senator McAllister referred to in her contribution then do not have jobs to pay for the expenses she mentioned—groceries, schooling and things like that.
It is also important to go over some of the points that were made in the answers by ministers in question time. I think the most revealing of the points made was the fact that the government’s submission to the annual wage review is extremely similar to the submissions that have been made by successive governments over many years. As we know, in the years prior to 2013, we had a Labor government, led by Prime Minister Gillard and Prime Minister Rudd, and, of course, we had an employment minister who happens now to be the Leader of the Opposition. So we need to look at what they did when they were lodging submissions to the annual wage review. Points that were made included this. Bill Shorten, as the responsible minister, said that the minimum wage should increase but not be ‘set so high as to place undue financial burden on businesses, discouraging them from employing low-skilled workers’, whilst also noting that Australia has one of the highest minimum wages in the developed world. That is absolutely correct and that fact stands today. We cannot ignore that fact. This notion that business is some sort of monolithic cash cow that can churn out pay rises instantaneously is just not realistic. We have to remember that in this debate.
In her contribution, Senator McAllister also referred to the debate on penalty rates, and the same thinking should apply there, too. There is this notion going around that business can and should be able to afford pay increases all the time. The reality is that the increased burdens, the increased expenses to business and costs on running a business—small business, particuarly, where many of these low-paid workers are employed—can send these people out of business. The end result of that, of course, is that there are no jobs; they get no pay at all.
Going back to the points that have been made by ministers previously: there has been incredible consistency in the government’s submissions to the annual wage review over many years. As Senator Cash said in her answer: in 2011, 2012 and 2013, all of the submissions repeated the same information, and this notion that was advanced by Senator Cameron—by interjection, I think, not in asking the question—that the advice was to get rich parents or marry up is a ridiculous suggestion in my view. No-one said that; no-one would ever suggest that. The fact that that suggestion is being made by Senator Cameron in his interjection when the submission made by this government to the annual wage review is consistent with the submissions by previous governments, including Labor governments, was made at a time when we had an employment minister in the now opposition leader, Mr Bill Shorten—is he suggesting that the submissions back then had the same message for low-paid workers? I don’t think so; I think he knows how ridiculous that assertion was.
I conclude by saying: it is just cheap politics to try and pick selective quotes out of the submission to mount a case that this government is somehow the enemy of the worker, when we are doing precisely what governments before us have done. We are also supporting small business—and business generally—to create jobs and to assist them to invest so that they can keep the economy ticking over.