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Tuesday, 30 April 1957

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - The honorable member has not quoted accurately the statement which was released by me yesterday when the basic wage decision was announced. I did not deplore the basic wage decision in any manner whatsoever. In fact, I referred with approval to a statement in the judgment that there had been a substantial change for the better in the Australian economy since the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission last examined this question - a change for the better, not without some contribution from the policies pursued by this Government.

The commission went on, itself, to point out what I was stressing. Although there are benefits for the wage-earner in this increase, unless the cost rise which otherwise may occur is offset by increased efficiency and productivity, there is a danger of an increase in the cost level. It should not be necessary for me to emphasize to members of this House the consequence of any significant rise in the cost level of this country. Already we are up against quite serious problems in marketing some of our primary and manufactured products overseas. If the cost level rose higher and these difficulties increased to the extent that we were shut off from markets overseas, then employment opportunities could be reduced.

I did not say yesterday that the rise should not have been granted. The commission itself made it clear in its judgment - and it was the best-informed judgment, I suggest, of any body of men in Australia on this point - that it was within the capacity of the community to pay an increased wage of the amount specified. I have the judgment before me. On page 24 it is stated that there will be - a tendency to increase prices of goods available locally. That tendency may be offset to some extent by the increased flow of imports, but more is needed than reliance on that deflationary factor. Therefore-

These are the words of the commission - it behoves employer and employee to work together for greater efficiency and reduced costs of production.

That was the essence of the statement that I made, stressing what the commission had itself stated in its judgment. For my part,

I welcome the fact that the Australian economy has shown sufficient improvement to warrant the increase which the commission has awarded, and 1 sincerely hope that, as a result of the improved efficiency and the higher productivity of management and labour, those to whom this increase has been awarded will reap the full benefit of it, and that its value will not be whittled away by higher living costs.

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