The Conservative case for Sunday penalty rates


The political and ideological debate regarding Sunday penalty rates came to a head early this week with Labor attempting to amend the government’s Fair Work Amendment bill that followed the Fair Work Commission’s recent penalty rate decision. Despite it’s failure, with a 73-72 loss, this intervention by the Opposition was still a source of vexation for the Coalition government as Nationals MP George Christensen crossed the floor to vote with Labor in favour of keeping penalty rates on Sunday.

This has left many conservatives and others in the right bewildered and disappointed with Christensen for seemingly aligning himself with Labor on an important economic decision. After all, it is expected of a conservative to support the removal of any form of government intervention in the economy without question. However, this perspective is simply an artefact of a day and age where economic conservatism is confused with economic libertarianism. The two do not always go hand in hand.

Christensen had already introduced a private members bill on Monday in order to overturn the recent Fair Work decision. Yet it was his decision to openly and unashamedly cross the floor that made headlines and shocked many people. This is not the first time Christensen came close to voting with Labour. Last week, he almost voted to hold a new inquiry into banks. If these decisions shock the right-winger, then it shows that traditionalist ideas are still not very well known.

It is important to understand that government intervention in the economy is not necessarily left-wing, as it depends on the argument used. Economic nationalism, for example, distinguished the original right-wing from the original left-wing. The traditionalists and followers of other authoritarian right-wing ideologies during revolutionary France, which made up the original right-wing, opposed the supporters of liberalism and modern capitalism, who were the left. The former preferred mercantile capitalism over the modern industrial capitalism proposed by the latter.

It is this premise that can be seen with many far-right parties, who support the imposition of tariffs on trade in order to prevent the further economic degradation of their countries as a result of free trade. Donald Trump, while not being far-right, also supports some levels of protectionism despite believing in free trade, as he considers it must be fair trade. Economic intervention through protectionism is supported by these parties in order to secure national economic independence and strength, while opposing globalism and neoliberalism (which to them is left-wing). The point here is that economic intervention can still be very right wing.

Similarly, many conservatives support economic intervention in favour of enforcing traditional social and religious values. Through this perspective, Sunday penalty rates are seen as essential in acknowledging the importance of this day as the traditional day of rest as ratified by Christianity. For centuries, Sunday has been the day to enjoy time with family, attend church, and conduct other personal matters that would not be possible on all other days of the week.

As such, because many traditionalists and others of the authoritarian right-wing consider the enforcement of religious values and tradition as an essential role of the state, they support the continued implementation of Sunday penalty rates as part of their mission to ensure religious influence in the government and the judiciary. Of course, many right-libertarians, while supporting the concept of paying higher rates on Sunday, would not be in favour of the state enforcing an actual law, and that view should be respected.

Meanwhile, it is interesting to note that Pauline Hanson actually supports the Fair Work decision despite her protectionist views. She has made clear the benefits of this decision to small businesses, stating on ABC’s Insiders: “I think if we looked at it, we might be able to increase employment by helping small business.” She demonstrated more economic aptitude by stating “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.”

Ultimately, one must remember that economic intervention is prevalent within the right-wing as well as the left. The difference lies on the arguments used, with the left using Socialist-inspired arguments, while the right uses more nationalistic, religious, traditional, or history-based arguments when they support economic intervention. This is a major point of difference between the authoritarian right and the libertarian right, as the latter is against most government economic intervention regardless of social views. George Christensen’s decision to support Sunday penalty rates may be influenced by the religious significance of Sunday, which should not be surprising as many conservatives, unlike Libertarians, support economic intervention for religious purposes.

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