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Tuesday, 14 May 1957

Mr MCMAHON (Lowe) (Minister for Primary Industry) . - We have heard one of the typical inflammatory speeches of the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward). The honorable member has not tried to make a contribution to the industrial growth and strength of this country. He has not tried to ensure wage justice for the working people of this country. He has set out only to foment political strife. He has set out to cause trouble if, by his worst efforts, trouble can be caused: It is nothing new to have him coming to the House, not to try to make a contribution to the debate, but to try to confuse the issue and make a complete nuisance of himself.

What is the Government's approach to this problem? I think that by this time most honorable members will have realized that, by means of our arbitration practice and methods of wage fixation, the Government hopes, and every sensible member of the community hopes, that every working man may receive wage justice. In other words, the Government hopes that working men may receive the maximum that Australian industry and services can afford to pay. I start from there: What more can we do to help the worker? At many Cabinet meetings there is some discussion on this subject, and it is directed towards giving wage justice and satisfaction to the working man. It is hoped to effect this through the Arbitration Court, a judicial tribunal that can look at the facts, weigh the evidence and, on the basis of that evidence, decide what it thinks can be done.

The honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Clarey) spoke of the enormous benefits of arbitration, such as the reduction of hours of work and the increases in wages and margins. It was a delight to me to hear him, and to know that this process is still going on. But it is extraordinary that the honorable member now wants the findings of the court to be reversed. The court itself has made the decision that payments shall be made to working men on the basis of the highest amount that industry can pay. It has also decided that a review shall be made each year in order to find out by how much productivity has been increased in order that some amount may be passed on to the working man. Therefore: T find enormous difficulty in following the logic of the honorable member, and I wonder whether he has given this subject the consideration that it deserves, conceding that he is probably one of the best informed men in this House on wage problems.

I come back to the real question that is involved here; that is, the logic and the common sense of the argument that the Opposition has put forward. We all know the basis of the Harvester award. I need not repeat the facts other than to say that the judgment was based upon the needs of the family group. As prices changed, it became necessary to make adjustments in order to make good the loss of purchasing power that the rise of prices had brought about. But as the wealth of the community increased, the Arbitration Court itself decided that it would adopt a different method. It decided that instead of basing wage increases on mere needs it would base them on the highest amount that industry could afford to pay. This basis had no relationship to price variations. The logical association between needs and changes in prices did not exist between the highest amount that industry could afford to pay and changes in prices which might subsequently occur. The honorable member for Bendigo and all other honorable members know that there is no logical association between the new method of assessing the basic wage and the old method of assessing the basic wage, which was associated with quarterly cost of living adjustments.

In addition, the Opposition has not bothered to quote the judgments of the court. The Opposition has not cared to say, if an award is based on the highest amount that industry can afford to pay, on what basis any adjustment to that amount should be made. During the course of the relevant judgment the judges said -

The contention that total prices and total incomes were two sides of the same thing could not apply to any economy dependent on exports and imports.

They went on to say -

The assumption could not be made that either the " C " series index or the interim price index measured with reasonable accuracy the general price level or the cost of living.

Therefore, if the Opposition wishes to sustain a logical argument it must adopt a way of making adjustments other than the regimen or the C series index. The court itself has made that fact perfectly clear.

There are two other sections of this problem with which I should like to deal. The first concerns the question of whether the working man has, in fact, lost anything by reason of the change. The Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Holt) has said that in comparing changes in average weekly earnings with the C series index we find that from December, 1953, to December, 1956, average wages have increased by 17 per cent. and that the C series index figure has increased by only 11 per cent. Therefore, we are entitled to say that, insofar as wage justice is concerned, the action of the Arbitration Court was right, because the worker has received an increased percentage of production. The corollary is that the argument of the Opposition that the wage-earner is not joining in the general prosperity is not true.

What have the New South Wales Premier and various trade union leaders said about quarterly cost of living adjustments? I mention the attitude of the Labour party to indicate one fact - that party will blow both hot and cold on any problem. When it suits it, it will take one approach; when it suits it to take another approach, it will do so. The morality and logic of such an attitude is not sound. When quarterly cost of living adjustments were abolished, Mr. Cahill, the Premier of New South Wales, said -

Every time the wage goes up, prices race to a new peak. In the final check, it is always found that wage and salary earners are proportionately so much worse off.

Mr E JAMES HARRISON (BLAXLAND, NEW SOUTH WALES) Mr. E.James Harrison interjecting,

Mr McMAHON - Nevertheless, we get this humbug from the honorable member who has just interjected and from other honorable members opposite. When it suits the Labour party's argument to applaud the fact that quarterly cost of living adjustments have been abolished, it does so; but now when, because of political motives, honorable members opposite think they can gain some advantage, they are prepared to adopt a different line. I repeat what my colleague and friend, the Minister for Labour and National Service hassaid: We have a high degree of prosperity and full employment. The court is regularly examining wage adjustments and, when it thinks that industry can pay more, it makes an adjustment. The last adjustment was the substantial increase of 10s. a week. I want to make my position and the position of the Government quite clear. We believe in arbitration, as does the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Clarey). We think the court has the working man's interests at heart and we think that, if it is left free from criticism by political adventurers, it will try to make certain that the working man receives his due and enjoys his benefits as the prosperity of this country rises.


Order! The Minister's time has expired.

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