Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (18:29): I thank the member for Corangamite for bringing this motion before the parliament. I think it is really important that we talk about the fact that the budget so recently announced included this exposure of a cut to real wages over the coming forward estimates, the four years that the budget covers. You would've missed it if you were waiting for an explanation or even an admission of that by the Treasurer when he did his budget night speech. Unsurprisingly, there wasn't an attempt by the Treasurer to draw significant attention to the fact that the budget showed that, effectively, people across our communities over the next four years are going to actually see a cut to their real wages—that is, the different between wage increases and the cost of living increases.

My colleague the member for Corangamite made the point that the former finance minister had made it clear—whether he meant to do so or not I leave to others to judge—that low wages growth was a structured reaction to the economy by the Liberal government. What we hear consistently is a range of myths, and in this debate I want to take the opportunity to discuss those. I'm sure some of them were covered in the statement made previously by the member opposite. It is interesting that, of the three speakers they put up to defend this, there has been only one person brave enough to actually stand up and contribute to the debate. That might tell us something about how keen they are to defend the baked-in wage cuts in the budget.

An honorable member: That's a good point.

Ms BIRD: The first thing that's consistently said to the community is that it's all about employment. It's all about employment—of course it is! Of course jobs are critically important, but if you go to any household, whether it's a single household, a couple or a family, the thing that they will tell you is that there is nothing more demoralising than having to patch together a bunch of casual jobs to try to cover the bills that you're faced with. It is not only having a job; having a job that pays a wage that allows you to live with dignity and enables you to provide for your family is just as important to those households. That's what we have seen go backwards. If it were just about having a job, the person with three jobs should be thrilled. In actual fact, they have three jobs because wages are such that they have to have three jobs. That's not a choice.

This argument that, as my colleague just outlined, it's jobs versus good wages is an absolute false dichotomy. You can have jobs growth and you can have economic development, and you are more likely to have those if you have good wages. That's the economic reality. What contributes to wages? Obviously, we have in Australia the Fair Work Commission and enterprise bargaining. These are mechanisms by which people seek a fairer share of the growth and profit that's happening in our economy. This government has taken every opportunity, when people have had submissions for wage rises, to go before the Fair Work Commission and argue against them. As my colleague just said, very often they're out there telling the public and, indeed, reporting to the parliament that times have been great, that they've handled the economy so well and that there's good growth. But then, when workers want a bit of that through a Fair Work Commission determination or enterprise bargaining, suddenly the economy has got real problems and we can't afford to do this.

People need a decent wage for themselves and their families. It makes a difference in our communities. Governments can do more to contribute to that cost of living side of the equation. They can seriously address the cost of child care. They can have serious policies to address the cost of housing. These are things Labor has already put forward so that the family budget can actually provide for working parents. They would have access to affordable child care and could put a roof over their heads. The real shame is this baked-in, ongoing wages cut in a budget that has a trillion dollar debt behind it. There's no more about debt and deficit trucks going around! If it's that big, surely we can back people's wages. (Time expired)

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Irons): There being no further speakers, the debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.

Watch Sharon’s speech here.