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Tuesday, 20 September 1983
Page: 1005

Mr HOWARD(6.07) —I would not want debate on this legislation to conclude without making a very short contribution. In a parliamentary sense this legislation represents the end of the wage freeze and, therefore, the last opportunity to say a few things about it. I think the most distinctive thing about the wage freeze is that, undoubtedly, it will be about the best thing on the economic front that the Hawke Government has going for it in 1983-84. I say that quite deliberately for three reasons: Firstly, there is no doubt at all that we would have faced a higher level of unemployment had it not been for the wage freeze. Nobody should pretend that anybody has a magic solution to our present level of unemployment. I do not pretend that I do or that there is any monopoly of wisdom on that subject on the Opposition side of the House, nor indeed should honourable members opposite imagine that they have any monopoly of wisdom as far as the problem of unemployment in Australia is concerned. I have said before-I say again-that I think it will be many years into the future before our present level of unemployment is significantly lower. I believe that if it had not been for the wage pause, which was an emergency initiative in an emergency situation, our levels of unemployment would have been very much greater.

Secondly, undoubtedly the wage pause is making, and will continue to make, a contribution towards reducing our level of inflation. I welcome the fact that the Government feels able to predict a lower level of inflation through 1983-84. I simply draw to the attention of the House the contribution that the wage pause has made and will continue to make to that reduction in the level of inflation.

The third point I would like to make to the House is that the Opposition believes very strongly that the Government is returning to full wage indexation way ahead of the time when it is appropriate to do so from an economic point of view. There can be little doubt that full wage indexation will deliver to those Australians fortunate enough to have jobs larger wage increases than would market conditions had we a free market for labour in Australia at present. Any suggestion that a free market for labour in Australia at present would enable the Australian work force to obtain full wage indexation of the type proposed by the Government would be unacceptable to most people.

I say only two other things. I believe the wage pause has been a very conspicuous success. As I said a moment ago, it was an emergency initiative for an emergency situation. It drew a wide measure of support from the Australian community. There was good will towards the wage pause right across the spectrum. If I may use that hallowed expression, there was a good deal of consensus across political lines as to the desirability of having a wage pause at the end of last year. It is a pity that the new Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) in March of this year did not use his undoubted popularity and authority as a newly elected Prime Minister to obtain from those in the Australian community whom his constituency embraced support for a continuation of the wage pause. I believe he would have made a greater contribution by doing that. He may well rue the day that he did not use his authority to secure that. I believe he could have done so. Had a strong stand been taken by the Prime Minister and the Government in a leadership role, the wage pause could go on until at least the end of the year. Those opposite will say: 'What is another few months?' In our present circumstances another few months could mean a considerable number of jobs.

I conclude my remarks by saying that I think the wage pause will be the best thing economically that the Hawke Government has going for it in 1983-84. As one involved in putting it together at a political level at the end of last year, I believe it has been a great success. I believe it was a great success because people of different political views and different economic and philosophical commitments saw the need for an emergency initiative in an emergency situation. That common desire produced what I think was in all the circumstances a highly successful initiative.