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Thursday, 6 September 1984
Page: 565

Senator COOK —Is the Minister representing the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations aware that yesterday at a conference before the President of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission, Sir John Moore, both the Australian Council of Trade Unions and the Confederation of Australian Industry voluntarily agreed not to proceed with the national wage hearings scheduled for this month? How will the fact that there will be no immediate wage increase to workers affect their living standards? How will the freedom from wage increases affect business confidence and performance, particularly in the pre-Christmas trading period?

Senator BUTTON —I do not pretend to have any detailed knowledge of what took place at the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission hearing yesterday, but I have seen reports in relation to the ACTU and CAI complementary comments on this matter and that, as suggested by Senator Cook, there will be no proceeding with a wage case, as suggested by Senator Cook. With the tax cuts which will take effect from 1 November and a number of other measures which have been put in place by the Government and discussed at great length in the course of debate about this matter in the Senate, there will be no adverse effects on the standard of living of wage earners. This Government has been very concerned to preserve that standard of living during its 18 months in office. We see a continuation of that process through the provisions of the accord. That will be of prime concern in any re-negotiation of the accord which might take place over time.

I think it is very important that there be continuity in respect of these matters because continuity in respect of wages and conditions of employment provides the opportunities for all sorts of other things which are important to the general welfare of Australian industry and the community. In regard to the effects on business confidence of the decision not to proceed with the national wage case in view of the consumer price index figures for the relevant quarters, I have no doubt that they will be substantial. I think it was only yesterday that I was asked a question about the level of industrial relations disputation in this country. Again, I make the point that the Government has presided over the most tranquil period of industrial relations in this country since 1969.

Senator Crichton-Browne —At what a price!

Senator BUTTON —Senator Crichton-Browne, who spent his first three years in the Senate bitching about industrial unrest during the period of the Fraser Government, now says: 'At what a price'. The real price, of course, is that he is sitting over there and we are sitting over here. That is the price he objects to.

Senator Crichton-Browne —And is not the community suffering?

Senator BUTTON —That is the price he objects to. The other fact that Senator Crichton-Browne objects to is that if the community is suffering as he alleges then he is totally incapable of persuading it of that fact. That goes back to the first part of the question as to whether the standard of living of the average Australian has been preserved. The answer is yes. The consequences of the current period of wage fixation have been very beneficial in terms of business confidence and that is reflected in a wide variety of indicators. They support that view.