Shop Trading Reform Amendment (Easter Sunday) Bill 2011

I rise to speak on the Shop Trading Reform Amendment (Easter Sunday) Bill 2011 and at the outset say that I and the Labor Party oppose this legislation.

It is ironic that on the day the Premier sleepwalked his way through the 2011 Victorian Families Statement his Minister for Innovation, Services and Small Business second read the antifamily Shop Trading Reform Amendment (Easter Sunday) Bill 2011. It is almost fitting that it was a former Kennett government minister who introduced this bill, because it has Kennett government spite written all over it. On the same day the Ryan-Baillieu government produced the bill that will ruin Easter for retail workers and their families the Premier mumbled these words in his families statement:

… it is important that the government considers families in the course of its decision making …

He went on to say:

The coalition government has already moved to ensure families are at the centre of our decision making. All decisions of cabinet now consider in advance the benefits for families.

The evidence would suggest otherwise — that no consideration of families was given with this bill.

In her second-reading speech the minister talks about freedom of choice. The only freedom of choice in this legislation is the freedom of choice of the big retailers and the big shopping centres.

Let us put our shop trading and public holiday provisions into some perspective.

Right now in Victoria our shop trading and public holiday provisions are the most deregulated of those of any mainland state — before this antifamily legislation. There are only three and a half non-shop trading days: Good Friday, Easter Sunday, Christmas Day and half of Anzac Day. Other than that, shops can trade 24/7. Compare that to what occurs in the other mainland states. New South Wales has 41/2 days, Queensland has 5 days, South Australia has 101/2 days and Western Australia has 10 days. In all mainland states shops are required to close on Easter Sunday.

This legislation is an affront to people who want to participate in the religious celebration of Easter and to all families who want to spend more precious time together. Good Friday, Easter Sunday and Easter Monday are all public holidays. The reason Easter Sunday has not previously been listed as a public holiday is that historically Sundays have been non-shop trading days and have been treated the same as public holidays.

Shops have been closed and penalty rates have applied.

The Bracks Labor government proudly introduced legislation to ensure shops were closed on Easter Sunday, with certain exemptions: petrol stations, chemists and small shops.

Mr Watt — Hardware stores.

Mr MERLINO — Hardware stores. Labor’s policy is not only that shops should be closed on Easter Sunday but also that it should be a public holiday. Compare the difference between what happens in New South Wales and what will happen in Victoria once this bill has passed through Parliament. In New South Wales Easter Sunday is a non-shop trading day and is a legislated public holiday. Where exemptions are granted they are conditional on their being voluntary for workers.

The legislation says that an exempted shop is staffed only by persons who have freely elected to work on that day.

Honourable members interjecting.

The ACTING SPEAKER (Ms Beattie) — Order! I understand members are excited at the thought of another very late night sitting, but I would like a little bit of quiet.

Mr MERLINO — It is staffed only by persons who have freely elected to work on that day without any coercion, harassment, threat or intimidation by or on behalf of the occupier of that shop. Is there any such thing in the legislation before the house? Absolutely not. Under this legislation workers will be forced to work on Easter Sunday.

In New South Wales shops are closed, it is a public holiday and penalty rates apply to compensate for workers who work on Easter Sunday, and it is voluntary. Importantly, that legislation was supported in a bipartisan manner by both the Liberal and Labor parties in New South Wales. On the other hand, in Victoria shops will be open and, contrary to the comments of the minister, small businesses in shopping centres will have no choice but to open if the big retailers do and workers who are rostered will be required to work. It will not be voluntary, and workers will not get the benefit of appropriate public holiday penalty rates for compensation when they are forced to work.

The claim in the statement of compatibility with the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities that employees can simply choose to take leave on Easter Sunday shows how out of touch this minister is with the retail sector. That is not how it works. The hurdle to taking leave, particularly on weekends, is high and often the only course for retail workers is to go to official arbitration. Many choose not to do that, and they have an unsatisfactory outcome.

In the last census, 63.9 per cent of the Australian population described themselves as Christian. The retail sector would reflect the broad make-up of our population. Just as it was ironic that on the day this antifamily legislation was introduced the government released its 2011 Victorian Families Statement, it is equally ironic that in the same week we also heard a lot about Christian values during government members’ inaugural speeches.

For the benefit of those who so proudly boasted of their Christian values, let us consider what Easter means. I will quote from Catholic Bishop Christopher Prowse:

It is the most important religious festival for the whole year.

The most important religious festival for the whole year. Bishop Prowse went on to say:

… to minimise trading not just gives great opportunity for people to attend religious services, but also for families to reunite.

Anglican Bishop Philip Huggins said:

Easter Sunday is a holy day which would only be impoverished by the sheer banality of longer shopping hours, rendering more difficult the family life of staff and small business owners …

We all need times, whether we are Christian or not, when we can just take a breath.

In the context of this debate, what we heard last sitting week and what we are going to hear today, I think this quote from Charles Reade is appropriate:

All pious words and uncharitable deeds.

All pious words and uncharitable deeds — that is what we hear from those opposite.

There is nothing more pathetic than a politician who puts on their ‘Captain Christian’ cloak for public consumption, but when the time comes to stand up on behalf of their faith they are nowhere to be seen. That is pathetic and shallow.

I ask the pious member for Frankston, who gave such a memorable inaugural speech: where was he when this legislation was debated in the Liberal Party room? He had gone missing; that is what he was doing. Did he defend the Christian values that he says he holds so dear? To the 57 per cent of Christians who live in Frankston, many of whom would work or would have family who work in the retail sector, what does he say? What does the member for Frankston say to the retail worker who is unable to see their daughter participate in the Easter concert at St Anne’s on Easter Sunday? What does he say to them?

The Member for Forest Hill spoke proudly of his longstanding Christian heritage. He also spoke — —