In the immediate aftermath of the Fair Work Commission's decision to cut Sunday penalty rates for retail and hospitality workers, Pauline Hanson was the Parliament's lone voice of reason willing to point out the positive impact the move would have for jobs and small business.
Hanson's reversal of this stance on a Monday night via a facebook Q&A session exposes both her and One Nation as the fair-weather free marketeers many of us suspected they always were.
While the Coalition was meekly citing the 'independence' of the Fair Work Commission as Labor attempted to foist the political fallout of the cut onto Malcolm Turnbull, Hanson took to the ABC and made plain the largely overlooked, yet critical truth about Sunday penalty rates:
I think, in principle, yes, I do because we have to. "I'm hoping to give small businesses a chance for growth. If they looked at these wages, how can you expect someone to pay $34 an hour in wages in a take-away shop, food, retail, yet McDonald's are paying $26. Those employers, I know myself, if you can cut back a little bit there, give them a helping hand, more likely these small businesses will open on a weekend, possibly give more hours and employ more people.
As Hanson rightly contends, while major chains have already traded away Sunday penalty rates in sweetheart deals with Labor affiliated trade unions, small businesses are the lone employers left to foot the bill eye-watering Sunday rates. This rort has led to the current farce where more than 70% of retail and hospitality workers who front up on a Sunday already receive the same and often less than the hourly rate put forward under the Fair Work Commission's cut.
For some context, consider the fact that while a McDonalds in New South Wales pays a Sunday rate of $21.08 per hour, a family owned takeaway shop down the road is made to fork out $29.16.
Without the scale to attract a trade union willing to broker an employer friendly pay deal, not to mention the tens of thousands of dollars needed to shepherd such an agreement through Fair Work, the penalty loadings were hanging small business out to dry. As such, the substantive effect of Fair Work's recent decision will be to bring the wages of a minority of workers in line with what is standard fare across the rest of the industry.
In short, this anti-competitive windfall, made possible by our impossible bureaucratised industrial relations system, was beefing up the balance sheets of the big chains at the expense of enterprising small business owners. Thinking back to Hanson and One Nation's election pitch that they were going to burst Canberra bubble and take a stand against a system working for the benefit of those inside it rather than 'ordinary Australians', isn't this exactly the kind of issue they should be fighting for?
Indeed, wasn't Pauline herself once a humble fish and chips shop owner, forced to compete with fast-food chains in a system stacked in favour of those at the top
Alas, Hanson's backflip reveals her self-described 'principled' stance in favour of penalty rates was subject to the qualifier of political convenience:
Let me make it quite clear. After listening to people coming through my office, and on the streets, and back home over the weekend in the lead up to this, generally the majority of people do not want a cut to penalty rates," she said. "You've got my support. I've listened and this is what you want and I will not support any cut to penalty rates.
This backflip exposes that in substance, Pauline Hanson and One Nation are less of a new home for disenfranchised True Conservatives than a weathervane for populist, misinformed grievance.
The development also serves as a particularly grim omen at a time when the Coalition ought to be steeling it's spine for hard-headed fiscal repair in the lead up to the May budget.
Voters seeking to throw weight behind a party willing to confront the issues of unsustained spending largesse, Australia's waning competitiveness and our fading entrepreneurial spirit would be well advised to look elsewhere than One Nation. Pauline Hanson's brand of conservatism is little better than snake oil.
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