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Thursday, 9 December 1976
Page: 3601

Mr YOUNG (Port Adelaide) - Honourable members on this side of the House wonder why, when the Government is charged with perhaps the gravest charge that can be laid, that it has been responsible for a drop in the living standards of the people of this country, it decides to put up a rejected front bencher, instead of a Minister or one of its spokesmen on economic matters, to say that it seriously believes that the Opposition charge is ill-founded. To engage in pretence by putting forward a back bencher, who served on the front bench in Opposition last year but who was rejected this year as the Government spokesman, is to make a joke of this debate. This debate is no joke. This year was the first year for many years that the Australian people have had lower standards of living forced upon them. This will continue through 1977. The Opposition will be warning the people of

Australia, as will the trade unions, what this Government is about. The only people today who are better off than they were a year ago are some of the very major rnining companies and the Prime Minister's Press Secretary who received $30,000 in overtime this year. They are the only people who are better off. Members on the Government benches should look at the figures put out by Professor Henderson to define what he calls the poverty line to see where he sets what could be described as the poverty level in Australia. More and more people, as a result of this Government's policies, have been forced to live below the poverty line described by Professor Henderson.

Average weekly earnings in Australia are now over $180 a week. Approximately 30 per cent of the people in Australia, including those of us who serve in this Parliament, are among those who receive more than average weekly earnings. But the average weekly earnings figure must be exposed in Australia because it does a great injustice to those people who receive less than that amount. That figure is arrived at after politicians and judges and all the professional classes are thrown by the Government into the same barrel as the workers in factories throughout this country. The Government comes up with a figure for average weekly earnings in Australia of $ 1 83. That figure is a joke and ought to be exposed as a joke. The vast majority of people in this country do not receive average weekly earnings. Under this Government more and more people are being forced not just below average weekly earnings but below the poverty line of $140 a week for a man and his wife and 4 children, as described by Professor Henderson.

These are the figures that ought to be looked at. That is the amount of salary that people ought to look at when they talk about the living standards in this country. The only answer which this Government gives continually to the economic problems in this country is to belt the wage and salary earner. He has to carry the burden. I have said twice already this week but I will say again that before devaluation the Government said continually that the mining companies and the rural sector were carrying an unfair share of the burden. So the profits of Utah mining company rise from $132m to $179m while this Government refuses to pay benefits to an unemployed student. That is the Government's idea of living standards in Australia and all Government back benchers are condoning one of the great crimes of this country by saying to all the school leavers: You will have to live off your parents, live off your own homes, until such time as we decide to give you unemployment benefits in February'. In the context of the standard of living in this country, that is an absolute joke.

Consider what this Government said in its preelection promises. It said: 'We are not going to have the dole bludgers on the Gold Coast'. What a joke it was to suggest that in the term of office of the Labor Government from 1972 to 1975 that there suddenly appeared in Australia millions of young people who were living off unemployment benefits and who did not really want to go to work. There are thousands of young people in Australia now- 40 per cent of the unemployed- under 20 years of age who want to go to work. What is the Government providing for them? The whole strategy of the Budget was to retain the unemployment levels exactly as they had been. It now becomes obvious that the figure will increase until the Budget of 1977. What is the standard of living of those people? The school leavers who have been added to the number of unemployed people are not only being denied a job but also are being denied any sort of economic independence. If the Government wants to know whether its policies are working, it should look at the most recent public opinion polls. Why is the Government 9 per cent less popular today than it was one year ago? It is because of the inhumane policies, particularly the economic policies, which have been expressed by the Government, through the Treasury, since December last year.

The Labor Government was the first Government in the history of Australia to keep its promise to lift pensions to 25 per cent of average weekly earnings. From 1949 to 1972 pensions, as part of average weekly earnings, fluctuated between 18 per cent and 21 per cent. The Labor Government lifted pensions to 25 per cent and the pensioners throughout this country knew when increases were to take place, in the autumn and in the spring, and they knew that their standards of living would lift along with the standards of living of those people who were receiving average weekly earnings. What is the position today? The honourable member for Berowra (Dr Edwards), who is a former professor of economics, should do some quick arithmetic. The pension now is 22 per cent of average weekly earnings. Already, the old conservative ideology is showing itself in the way that this Government is treating the pensioners of this country. So, from the time a person leaves school till he goes on the pension, this Government has implemented policies which drastically reduce the standard of living of people in this country.

How will the Government deal with the problems for 1977? It has been stated that as a result of the effect of devaluation on inflation, the inflation rate will be at least 1 5 per cent in 1 977. Who is to carry the burden? Are we to ask the mining companies, Utah and Hamersley Iron, to carry the burden? The Government says that the mining companies are carrying an unfair share of the burden and that it will try to lift their profits. It is the wage and salary earners who will be told, in the first national wage case, that they must carry all the burden. Instead of being able to keep up with the cost of living they will be asked to accept half or less than half of the increase in the cost of living that has taken place in the December quarter as a result of Medibank. The Labor Government established a national health scheme to overcome the problems of the 1 500 000 people in this country who were not covered by health schemes. Everybody was covered by Medibank. This Government promised last December that Medibank as well as indexation would be retained. Promises are broken by this Government as if they were never made. They are broken every day. The Government said: 'We will maintain Medibank. We will maintain indexation'. Honourable members on the other side of the House must use earplugs when Ministers talk to them in the Party room and tell them what they intend to do. The Medibank levy will now increase the cost of living in this country. The Government says that the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission must not pass on this cost to wage and salary earners.

The cost of living in this country will increase in 1977 by 15 per cent or 16 per cent and honourable members opposite are asking wage and salary earners to accept a 5 or 6 per cent increase in earnings. By their push to try to lower the living standards of the people they are inviting industrial anarchy in this country. As a Party which has been associated since Federation with all the humane policies that have been brought down in this Parliament, we will fight tooth and nail on every policy which relates to a lowering of living standards that the Government brings down in this Parliament. Honourable members opposite think that the only possible way to come up with a recipe to overcome economic problems is to attack wage and salary earners, pensioners or people who are handicapped. If they can remove the coal levy to help mining companies or if they can devalue to help mining companies and large pastoralists they will do so time and time again. The Leader of the Opposition, by bringing forward this matter of public importance, has exposed to the people of Australia the fact that this is the first year for a long time that we have had a lowering of living standards. It should not have happened. It has been brought about by the direct action of this very conservative, reactionary and anti-wage and salary earner Government.

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