I thank Senator Walsh for bringing this matter of public importance to the Senate. Over the last 40 years, Australia has gone from being one of the most egalitarian countries in the Western capitalist world to one of the most severely unequal—one dominated by business interests. Key to the growth of inequality and precariousness in Australia has been decades of neoliberal industrial relations policy designed to smash the power of organised labour and reorientate workplace organisations in favour of maximising gain for employers and giving them more flexibility to hire and fire workers.
It's not so much that the Morrison government are trying and failing to address stagnant wages, the dominance of insecure work and the scourge of wage theft; they simply choose not to address them. They have no intention of winding back the systems that, to the benefit of corporations and billionaires, entrench poverty, inequality and precariousness for workers. In fact, they're doing the opposite. There are 1.2 million people who are locked out of work. Then there are others on JobKeeper who are locked into poverty.
This government's core constituency is their big donors and big business, and things are going well for them. Before the pandemic, wage growth was stagnant. Jobs were increasingly insecure, and wage theft was at epidemic levels. Since COVID reared its head, things have gotten even worse. The labour share of national income has fallen below 50 per cent for the first time since 1959, and corporate profits have soared. Wage growth has fallen to record lows, and wages have declined in real terms. As lockdowns have ended and businesses have begun to reopen, the proportion of insecure jobs has exploded. This government has shown no interest in genuinely tackling wage theft. The most important and effective wage theft deterrents, such as making sure that wage thieves know they may be caught out and increasing the powers and resourcing of regulators to investigate claims and enforce the law, don't seem to be on the agenda at all.
Forty years of marketisation, deregulation, privatisation, government outsourcing and good old-fashioned union-busting has created an economy designed to funnel wealth upwards and leave workers with the scraps. Suppressed wage growth, the expansion of insecure work and perniciously increasing wage theft are symptoms of a business orientated system working precisely for the big end of town. Until this government either undergo a fundamental shift in their political orientation or are kicked out, nothing will change. They need to be given the boot.