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Wednesday, 30 May 1984
Page: 2149


Senator MAGUIRE(3.22) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the paper.

I wish to speak on the report entitled Non-Wage Incomes the Professions, which has been prepared by the Department of Employment and Industrial Relations. This report had its origins in the National Economic Summit Conference of last year, when a number of groups in the community came together to discuss Australia's economic problems and to try to devise a strategy to overcome them. At the Summit consensus developed in regard to goals to be sought in Australia. In particular, the Summit participants decided that there was a need to have a joint goal, a simultaneous objective, in Australia to fight both inflation and high unemployment. That was a move away from the goal of the previous Government , which basically was to fight inflation first.

The Summit held the view that there was a need for restraint on the part of all sections of the community and all income groups, including non-wage groups. The Summit followed the period of the introduction of the so-called wages pause, which was a very inequitable excuse for an economic policy. It was a policy which basically required sacrifice in regard to income claims on the part of only one section of the community-the wage and salary earners.

As a result of the Summit meeting and negotiations with the Australian Council of Trade Unions, the prices and incomes accord was signed and agreed to between the two organisations-the Government and the ACTU. It is a most comprehensive agreement which covers a wide range of matters and goes beyond pure industrial conditions and wages and incomes. The basic objective of the accord was to stop the economic recovery we are now witnessing in Australia being choked off by an inflationary surge. The view was taken that a key element in fighting inflation must be to ensure that the total of income claims made by all sections of the community is moderated. It also provided that the burden of sacrifice and moderation should be shared by various sections of the community.

The accord provided for a number of measures, including those dealing with the non-wage income sector in the community. It provided for the prices surveillance authority. It specifically refers to surveillance of prices, particularly those set by large corporations which have market power. It certainly calls for equity in regard to the setting of prices as a form of income. The Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) also wrote to the chief executives of a number of large companies asking them to moderate certain types of incomes paid by those companies in the form of dividends and executive salaries. As I mentioned, the accord referred specifically to this area of professional incomes, which is the subject of the report we have before us.

Following the Summit the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Willis) wrote to various professional groups about the need for restraint. At that time it became apparent that a very real problem and a very major problem was the sheer lack of information and data in Australia on levels of professional incomes and, perhaps just as importantly, on how the various professional groups in the community actually arrived at their fees for their services. At that time some groups' fees were set by public tribunals. The fees of the medical profession and the pharmacy profession were set by tribunals.

This report looks at the activities of 11 professions and how they set their fees. It certainly helps fill in the information need that was apparent in Australia last year when the Government began to address these problems. It is very interesting that the arrangements for fee setting in the various professions range from being highly centralised in the areas of medicine, pharmacy and optometry, to being very decentralised in the case of dentists, whose fees are basically organised at the State level. The report puts on record the fact that fee setting arrangements of the legal profession are the most diverse in Australia. So the report details and puts on the record very useful information on professional fee setting in Australia. I am sure it can only improve the level of understanding on this matter.

Question resolved in the affirmative.