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Tuesday, 17 March 1987
Page: 761

Senator PETER BAUME —I address my question to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. I remind Senator Button that he told the conference of the Women's Electoral Lobby last weekend that, in the short term at least, Australian living standards will need to fall. Will the Minister now outline to the Senate how the standards of living of Australians might fall, over what period and for which Australians-whether it will be those less able or least able to bear the fall in living standards?

Senator BUTTON —I did not say at the Women's Electoral Lobby conference-Senator Peter Baume was there and ought to know better-that Australian living standards will need to fall. I said that Australian living standards have had to fall as a result of a decline in national income. That is a very different proposition but I do not want to argue about that. The fact of the matter is that this is a time of declining national income, and the community has had to adjust to that. I cannot go through all of the areas in respect of Australian citizens where adjustments will have to take place. Adjustments will have to take place, consequent upon reductions in government expenditure, in a wide variety of areas. But let me say that the situation of welfare recipients in this community, particularly welfare recipients with dependent children, has not been comparatively prejudiced by the adjustment which has had to take place. The adjustment has been reflected in restraint mainly in incomes-a 7 per cent decline in real wages during the period of this Government.

Senator Chaney —Talk about low earners with children.

Senator BUTTON —Senator Chaney interjects: `Talk about low income earners with children'. I agree that, in trying to balance the restraint which is necessary, the low income earning section of the community has probably been more adversely affected than many other sectors of the community. The point I simply want to make in this respect is that part of that has been due to wage indexation and wage restraint. The last wage increase granted a flat increase. It was the Government's submission to the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission that there should be a flat increase because that was comparatively more beneficial to lower income earners than to higher income earners. That was the purpose of the Government's submission.

The policy of the Liberal Party of Australia, articulated or yapped over the last two or three years on this issue, has been to have a wage freeze. If there was anything calculated to damage the interests of low income earners it would be a wage freeze, but that has been the consistent policy of Senator Peter Baume's Party, which enjoys the beautiful fork-tongued operation. It complains about falling living standards in a time of reduction in national income and at the same time advocates a wage freeze which would adversely affect particularly low income earners in this community. His Party cannot have it all ways. The electorate and the people will find it out for this sort of fork-tongued approach that it adopts to these issues.

Senator Walsh —They have.

Senator BUTTON —`They have', as somebody has interjected. It is impossible for me at Question Time to go across the whole range of groups in this community, as the honourable senator's question suggested I might do, and to say what the burden has been and how it has been reflected in various sectors of the community. But I take the opportunity of thanking him for his question and for giving me an opportunity to make clear what I was saying at the Women's Electoral Lobby meeting on Saturday, which I think everybody but him seemed to have understood.