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Thursday, 18 October 1984
Page: 1971

Senator McINTOSH —I direct my question to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. I note that the Opposition's small business policy released yesterday contains some suggestions about wage policy. What would be the economic and industrial relations consequence of implementing the Opposition's wage policy?

Senator Peter Rae —How does it come within his portfolio?

Senator BUTTON —I assume responsibility for answering the questions in my role as Minister representing the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations. Of course, those matters are of considerable concern to this Government because the wages policy of the present Government has been unique in the history of Australia and an integral part of the economic recovery which has occurred. The Opposition's wages policy, as it is revealed sketchily in the small business policy released yesterday, is a recipe--

Senator Peter Rae —And in detail in the industrial relations and wages policy.

Senator BUTTON —There was never a great deal of certainty about which Minister prevailed in the course of revealing that policy.

Senator Withers —I wish you would stop reading newspapers.

Senator BUTTON —Senator Withers is the only person from whom I would accept that advice. The Opposition's wages policy, as revealed in the small business policy of the Opposition, represents a total rejection of the incomes policy approach adopted by this Government. I make the point that it is an approach which has brought both the lowest level of industrial disputation and the strongest economic recovery for many years. The Opposition's policy will have the effect of weakening the role of the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission and encouraging decentralised bargaining. This would undoubtedly lead to a wages explosion similar to that which occurred under the previous coalition Government about the time of the collapse of wage indexation when the previous Prime Minister put a royal wedding ahead of the implementation of wages policy. That did immense harm to the Australian economy.

The proposal to allow the downward variation of award wages and conditions at enterprise levels opens the door, in the present economic context, to intimidation of workers by employers and will be seen by the trade unions as being highly provocative. This does not mean that these issues cannot be continually discussed in the context of legitimate debate about the future in Australia. But the proposal, as enunciated by the Opposition, would be extremely damaging to the economic recovery which has taken place and would encourage greater confusion and industrial conflict and cause, as I said, economic damage.