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Tuesday, 14 May 1957

Mr ANDERSON (Hume) .- The fact that only five members of the Opposition are present in the House at the moment is an indication of the fraud and humbug of this urgency motion. The Opposition claims to represent the worker, yet this is all the interest it can take in an important motion such as this! On this side of the House nobody questions the integrity of the motives of the ' honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Clarey) or the honorable member for Blaxland (Mr. E. James Harrison), but once the Labour party introduced the other speaker, the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward), into the debate, the true bearing of its case became clear.

Every speaker from the Opposition side of the House has said that he wants to have the quarterly wage adjustments restored. We are told, too, that the regimen is unjust; yet it is proposed that that regimen should be used in determining the restored quarterly adjustments! The case made by the Opposition is based purely on emotional grounds. It has popular appeal in what the Opposition claims to be its fight for higher wages and social justice. Honorable members opposite are told to come into the House and say these things. They do not really believe them. If they based their case on logical grounds, the Government might have some difficulty in answering it, but their case is always based on emotional grounds.

The last speaker did not come along with some simple fact and say, " Look, there is no social justice in this ". He dealt only with legal quibbles before the Arbitration Commission. That was his strongest point. But the working man does not want legal quibbles or theories. He wants cold hard facts, and he does not get them from the Labour party. The worker does not understand obscure economic theories. He gets in his hand, say, £12 10s. cash; he says he is entitled to more and he wants to know why he cannot get more. On our side of the House we try to do the maximum for the worker. The Commonwealth Arbitration Commission has gone back to the principle of the capacity of industry to pay, which is the fairest principle of all, besides "being supported by logic. We have to get down to logic; not down to emotion.

While the honorable member for Bendigo was discussing the merits and demerits of industry's capacity to pay, he did not mention the tremendous improvement in the conditions of labour that have taken place during the last six years. I refer to the introduction of long service leave, the provision of annual leave, and numerous other improvements that have been effected by the arbitration courts. A comparison is made between the awards of the State courts and those of the Commonwealth courts. I was interested to hear an interjection by the honorable member for Stirling (Mr. Webb) in which he said that the basic wage had been frozen under this Government. I remind the House that, at that time, there were five Labour governments in the States and that all their courts immediately followed the lead of the Commonwealth court and froze the basic wage. So, it was not a question of the colour of the government which caused the Arbitration Court to change its policy. It was purely economic laws coming into operation.

Consider what has happened in New South Wales. It is common knowledge that the Parliamentary Labour party overrode the State industrial commission and reintroduced quarterly adjustments. The result is that through the economy of New South Wales that evil thing has been reflected. Education has suffered, hospitals have suffered, and industry has .been set back. Not a single industry in New South Wales has not suffered grievously from that ill-judged action of the Cahill Government. The price of potatoes has controlled the economy of New South Wales. The price of potatoes caused wages to rise, but the workers still could not buy potatoes. If they had been able to buy potatoes perhaps it would not have been so bad, but they did not buy potatoes. Nevertheless, the whole of the economy was governed by the price of potatoes.

Houses are unprocurable in New South Wales because of the prohibitive cost of building, due to the change of wage policy. It has affected every branch of industry. The honorable member for Blaxland spoke about the purchasing power of wages in the different States. Surely that depends upon whether a State government is good or bad. The honorable member for East Sydney sought to mislead the public by talking about the decline in the consumption of butter and other foodstuffs. But our population has changed entirely in the last six years. There are 2,000,000 new people in this country, and they have different tastes. The honorable member did not mention that. He said that the only thing that was controlled in Australia was wages, and he asked why prices were not controlled. I say that there is no control of wages. The Arbitration Commission fixes the minimum wage, but nobody in Australia, as far as I know, is on the minimum wage. Therefore, the question of price control does not enter into the picture.

Can industry pay more? I have here an analysis of Australian industry showing how each £1 received for goods sold is divided -

Paid out for materials - 10s. 4d.

Wages and salaries - 5s. 4½d.

Set aside for depreciation and plant - 4¼d.

Spent in selling product,1s. 9½d.

Paid out in taxation -1s.0½d.

Set aside in reserves for improvements - 5½d.

Paid out to shareholders in dividends - 7¾d.

Honorable members opposite want to increase the wages component, which already is nearly 16s., because the cost of materials consists largely of wages. Any such increase would have to come, of course, out of the 7½d. that is paid out of dividends. It is nonsense. This side of the House wishes to get the maximum it can for the wage-earner, for many reasons, one being that it helps the Government. The more prosperous the people are, the easier is the Government's task. The more we can raise the standard of living in Australia, the better we can make conditions for people, such as pensioners, who are on fixed incomes. But our efforts must be based on cold, logical facts. The only way for the workers to obtain higher wages is for them to increase production. An appeal to the emotions, and to the avaricious side of men's nature, is not the way to obtain improved conditions for the wage-earners. Every Government supporter in this chamber would welcome an increase of the people's wealth. Are not Government supporters supposed to represent the rich? They are supposed also to be interested in company investment and company profits, but where do company profits come from? It is the purchasing power of the people that earns them. The more the wage-earners get, the greater will be Australia's prosperity. That is a hard-and-fast economic law.

How are awards to be determined? This is a field for impartial tribunals such as the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission, in the federal sphere, and the State industrial tribunals in the State spheres. They examine the case put to them, and they award the maximum wage that industry can afford. As the honorable member for Bendigo has said, over the last six years, the conditions of the workers have improved tremendously. This improvement will continue, and will even be accelerated, if the workers come to understand that if they produce more, not by greater effort, but by greater application, they will be entitled to more for themselves, and will receive it. History has shown that this is so. But we must remember that we have to compete on the markets of the world. Despite this, Mr. Cahill, the New South Wales Premier, increased wages for the sole purpose of obtaining some miserable political advantage.

Mr. ACTING DEPUTYSPEAKER.Order! The honorable member's time has expired.

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