The 2016 federal election is about priorities. Whether $50 billion of taxpayers’ money is best used on corporate tax cuts or on health, education and infrastructure investment. In this report we demystify the issues for our members and supporters so you can be well-informed at the ballot box.
The ASU has been monitoring the release of policies over the election campaign. Our analysis indicates that in terms of protecting your rights at work and building a better future, the two major parties are far apart. We're providing this information to assist you in making the best choice for you, your family and your living standards.
As advocates for your workplace rights, we have focussed on workplace policies and other directly connected policies that affect you as a worker, but we also look at other policy areas that impact workers significantly, like health and education.
Click on the sub-headings below to read the reports on each.
Click on the images to view enlarged versions.
The biggest unilateral wage cut ever
The Coalition Federal Government and many employer groups have been engaging in a war on penalty rates. The ASU and unions in general know that penalty rates exist because they represent an attempt at fair compensation for working unsociable hours and furthermore, that many workers make this sacrifice in order to make ends meet.
Penalty rates also serve to encourage work-life balance for the entire community by identifying weekends, evenings and nights as times of rest and leisure. Of course, it can't be time off for everyone (especially our community & emergency services) and in that case, penalty rates reward workers who choose to or must sacrifice this time.
We believe the attempts to cut penalty rates are short sighted with immediate profit gains for a minority of companies the goal. However, the impact on the economy in general of a big drop in disposable income to ordinary workers will be negative, particularly in regional and rural areas.
>>> The table to the right shows what cuts to penalty rates could mean to ASU members in various industries. Click for an enlarged version.
Should a cut to penalty rates of this kind ever happen, it would effectively be the biggest unilateral national wage cut ever!
PROTECT YOUR PENALTY RATES: Put the Liberals last
In just under three years, the Federal Coalition Government has ripped over $1billion out of community, legal, mental health and Indigenous services and programs. At the same time, they have claimed they take the domestic violence epidemic seriously. How can you protect and support victims of abuse when you deprive the relevant sectors of this much funding?
The ASU represents frontline workers in social, community and disability services, and we know how their ability to deliver for the communities they serve has been seriously undermined.
We believe these dramatic cuts reveal a set of warped priorities from the Coalition Government, which chooses to spend its resources rewarding the big end of town instead of looking after the most vulnerable in our society and getting them back on the right track for a good future and better life.
The ASU has called not only for funding cuts to be reversed, but a fairer funding model, enshrining the not-for-profit principle and allowing workers in the sector to be advocates for their clients.
STOP PRESS: update 30 June 2016
Late in the election campaign the ASU has discovered that just before the election was triggered, Coalition Treasurer Scott Morrison sent terms of reference to the Productivity Commission in order to initiate an inquiry into commercialising community services and other human services!
This Federal Government is not just intent on cutting funding to local community services, but subjecting them to competition and privatisation. Our campaign against the cuts included a call to ensure private companies cannot profit from vulnerable people in our society - this inquiry goes against that.
Read the details here: Turnbull’s secret plan for big business to profit off domestic violence, homelessness services revealed
SAVE COMMUNITY SERVICES: Put the Liberals last
- ASUnews: Stop closing the door on vulnerable people - ASU calls for increased funding
- ASUnews: ASU takes campaign against community sector cuts up the yellow brick road to the PM’s doorstep
- ASUnews: ASU community services leaders welcome ALP sector policy
Medicare & health in general
The ASU will always defend Medicare and the principle of universal healthcare. Trade unions fought for a better social wage that gave birth to Medicare, the system now cherished by Australians from all walks of life.
The Coalition Federal Government has made it clear that they are not motivated by the principle of providing universal healthcare to all Australians, a principle which is genuinely met by free access to quality care. Instead, the Coalition appears to be more interested in user-pays medical care for GP visits and medical tests, cost cutting in the health budget (to allow tax windfalls for big business, perhaps) and outsourcing Medicare* elements to corporate interests who would love to take a piece out of our Medicare, ie. privatisation.
With attempts at introducing co-payments, reducing rebates to providers of pathology and radiology services, freezing the rebate to GPs for so long that bulk billing is now threatened (doctors can absorb cost increases for only so long and reports of record high bulk billing are misrepresented) and establishing a working group to look at privatising aspects of the Medicare system*, it is clear that if you prioritise a fully funded Medicare that leaves no one at peril of sub-standard healthcare, then we urge you to put the Coalition last on your 2 July ballot papers.
* With less than two weeks until polling day, Malcolm Turnbull back-flipped on the privatisation of the Medicare payments system, promising "never ever" to the concept of Medicare privatisation in whole or in part (apart from elements already privatised). Although that doesn't deal with all our concerns for the integrity of Medicare we cautiously welcome the PM's promise, but we wonder if we can trust his promise, given it is reminiscent of Tony Abbott's promises on the eve of the 2013 federal election: "No cuts to education, no cuts to health, no change to pensions, no change to the GST and no cuts to the ABC or SBS." We know where those promises and others ended up when the first Abbott/Hockey budget was delivered. If your memory is hazy, here's the news program grab where the promises were made: Abbott election eve promises 2013, SBS World News
SAVE MEDICARE: Put the Liberals last
Gonski & education in general
Funding education in Australia has become very fraught and is a key point of difference between the parties at this federal election.
Not only has the Coalition turned its back on Gonski (the needs-based federal funding model for primary and secondary schools) after 2017, TAFE has been decimated and university fees remain at risk of deregulation.
The public education system is a key resource that Australian workers rely on to deliver affordable and quality education to their children and retraining and professional education for themselves.
In an era of fast changing work, the pace is going to get faster, and the need to access educative services to remain job ready will become increasingly critical. Making education more difficult to access, too expensive or of questionable quality is not going to meet the needs of Australians of any age.
GIVE A GONSKI: SAVE TAFE: NO $100K UNI DEGREES: Put the Liberals last
Paid Parental Leave – a saga of shattered promises
The ASU predicted just before the last federal election in September 2013 that the Coalition's excessively generous Paid Parental Leave (PPL) promise was unlikely to be delivered. We didn't, however, predict the spectacular backflip we saw in May 2015 where their PPL promise turned into PPL cuts and insults to parents!
We believe that the saga of paid parental leave under the Coalition shows a real contempt for the Australian public. The promise that went from "rolled gold" before the election and turned into cuts to the existing modest scheme and insults to parents is evidence of a Government that is willing to manipulate ordinary people who are planning for one of the most expensive and challenging decisions in their lives: having a child.
>>> The infographic to the right shows the rollercoaster ride history of the Coalition's policy lurches on PPL - click on the image to enlarge it.
To add further insult to injury, the Government's misrepresentation in the media that their proposed cuts will only affect high income earners is just patently untrue. Many workers on low incomes have access to employer paid parental leave via their enterprise agreements - this amount is deducted from the Government payment under the Coalition's PPL cuts, regardless of how little the affected worker earns.
WANT FAIR TIME TO CARE? Put the Liberals last
- ASUnews: Valuing families & the next generation means maintaining & improving fair time to care
- ASUnews: A rollercoaster is no place for a newborn - a brief history of the Coalition’s paid parental leave policy
Domestic Violence Leave – because everyone recognises there’s a crisis?
The ASU pioneered paid Domestic Violence Leave in Australia at Surf Coast Shire Council in Victoria in 2010. Since then the ASU and other unions have succeeded in making it available to over 1.6 million workers. However, we believe this should be a right available to all workers so we are fighting for it to be included in the National Employment Standards (NES).
>>> The infographic to the right shows why paid domestic violence leave is so important - click on the image to enlarge it.
However, as shown by her resolve to remove domestic violence leave clauses from public service employment agreements, Minister for Employment, Coalition Senator Michaelia Cash, obviously has no interest at all in providing this modest support which actually improves workplaces for both employees and employers.
TACKLE DOMESTIC VIOLENCE: Put the Liberals last
The devil we've known before and the devil we don't know
The big unknown: Coalition's response to the Productivity Commission Report into Workplaces
Unions suspected the Federal Government's Productivity Commission inquiry into workplaces was just a way to justify the workplace changes they wanted, but at arm's length. The Commission's final report followed the script. Will it be a Trojan Horse sent in to raid our rights at work yet again after the election?
The Federal Government has promised a response to the Productivity Commission's report before the election and so we wait. At the time of writing this report, it is one week to polling day and not a peep has been heard from Mr Turnbull or Senator Cash.
This delay in itself is contemptuous of Australians because it makes it difficult for your Union and other interested parties to respond to policies in enough time before the majority votes. We suspect it's intentional, so we have to advise our members to expect the worst under a returned Coalition Federal Government.
Although the Productivity Commission recognised that the Fair Work laws were working quite well, they delivered for the Coalition a range of recommendations that would cause havoc in workplaces and invite exploitation. These include cutting penalty rates (see section above) and changing arrangements around minimum wage setting that would interfere with incomes keeping pace with the cost of living.
Worst of all is the recommendation for the introduction of "enterprise contracts" that disempower workers and force them to accept unfair conditions. Low paid, young and other vulnerable workers will be worse off under these hidden 'take it or leave it' deals that require absolutely no oversight by a competent authority!
And still, all we are hearing from Mr Turnbull on workplace policy is *crickets*.
VOTE FOR YOUR RIGHTS AT WORK: Put the Liberals last
- ASUnews: Productivity Commission final report points loaded gun at workers
- ASUnews: Unions reject unfair PC recommendations
Australian Building and Construction Commission - the elephant in the room
The ABCC was the main reason why we find ourselves in the midst of this protracted double dissolution election campaign, and yet, more silence from Mr Turnbull.
The ASU has been campaigning against the ABCC for many years: the original Howard-era ABCC, which was dismantled by Labor, and then the impending arrival of ABCC mark II. Regardless of any other factor, the ABCC is an affront to our system of justice in Australia and undermines equality before the law for all workers.
We also have been unable to get any information out of Minister for Employment, Senator Michaelia Cash, to confirm whether or not ASU members will be captured by the ABCC's reach.
Again, with silence, we have to assume the worst case scenario. We are recommending to our members that because of the dire risks that a re-established ABCC creates for them directly, putting the Liberals last on ballot papers is in their best interests.
PROTECT EQUALITY BEFORE THE LAW: Put the Liberals last
- ASUnews: ABCC could interrogate Local Council Workers: Librarians, Lifeguards, Early Childhood Educators & Office Staff
- ASU flyer - ABCC chaos looming for ASU members
Further information & resources
In addition to this summary of policy areas we believe are important to consider before voting, you may also like to look at the following resources:
- Our 2016 Federal Election Campaign webpage
- Federal Election news feed covering issues in greater detail
- Facebook posts & comments providing an exchange of views - join the conversation
- Twitter stream for up to the moment info
We encourage our members and supporters to read widely about the issues that matter to you before you vote.
Think about your values before you vote
The Federal Government we get after 2 July will affect us all, whether at work or elsewhere. When you number the boxes at a polling booth, we urge you to consider your values above a promised refurbishment of the local sporting ground, as appealing as that prospect may be. We urge you to consider policies that will have much greater reach in affecting your living standards and quality of life today, tomorrow and in the long term. On assessing the various policies in the context of the aspirations of our members, we encourage you to put the Coalition parties (the Liberals and the Nationals) last on your ballot papers.
We hope you've found our report useful but remember that regardless of who wins Government, one thing will remain unchanged: the ASU and the union movement in general will continue to fight to protect and advance your rights at work so we can all build a better future for ourselves and our communities.