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Tuesday, 20 September 1983
Page: 992

Mr SAUNDERSON(4.48) —I support the Salaries and Wages Pause Act Repeal Bill. It is part of our comprehensive prices and incomes policy, which the Opposition has yet to come to grips with. I will summarise our policy again. It is comprehensive and can be seen to be so as one lists the stages we have gone through. The accord which came out of the National Economic Summit Conference comprises an agreement between employees, unions and governments. Of course, it did not have any agreement from the Opposition which only wants to knock. Then we have the national wage case in which we have argued for the automatic introduction of indexation at six-monthly periods. This Bill simply ensures that Commonwealth employees and people who rely on government remuneration tribunals for their increases will get them. That is something the Opposition seems to have forgotten. It is very keen on knocking unions, unions officials and people demanding excessive wage increases. It seems to forget that the wage pause it introduced when in government also affected such people as chemists and the fees of government employees who are hired as private consultants in the health area.

This Bill simply restores the situation so that these people will all be treated in the same way as other people who come under the jurisdiction of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. As we know, the case for the reintroduction of indexation has been finalised. We expect a decision shortly. This Bill will ensure that everybody will be able to receive any benefits that flow from that hearing. The previous speaker, the honourable member for Mitchell (Mr Cadman), showed a lack of knowledge of this Bill and what it means, as well as of what our case has been before the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. He simply indicated that he thought that, because people would get an increase now, when January came around they would automatically get another increase. Obviously he did not read the second reading speech of the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Willis) and has not studied the case we have argued before the arbitration court. What we have indicated is that the cases will be heard six monthly, so the next increase will not arrive until March.

Honourable members opposite have made a lot of play of the impact of wages on prices. I suggest that we look at history since 1975, during their period in office, and at the relationship of wages to inflation, as well as at what has happened with employment. We can see that it is very hard for them to mount any case in support of there being a relationship between wage increases and unemployment and inflation. Between 1975 and 1981 was the period when we saw the previous Government arguing before the arbitration court either that there should not be any increase at all due to a rise in the consumer price index or that it should be less than the full increase in the CPI. In fact, of the 18 decisions of the Commission 12 gave less than the CPI increase. What happened during that period? Did inflation go down? No, it went up. Did unemployment go down? No, it went up. In both cases the result was the exact opposite of what the Government was arguing would be the situation.

Mr Porter —What did wages do?

Mr SAUNDERSON —During that period wages were depressed because, as I said, 12 of the 18 decisions gave workers less than the CPI increase and wage increases fell behind the inflation rate increases. In fact, inflation was getting away. It was inevitable that, as a result of that situation, indexation would be broken down. Indexation, the one factor that would have ensured a stable situation on the industrial scene, the previous Government set about to destroy. Once indexation was abandoned because it had become unworkable due to the interference of the previous Government in the arbitration court, due to its arguing for paying less than was equitable, we saw a period of confusion. The then Government, because it had no alternative to indexation, simply said: 'Let's leave it to market forces'. We saw wages moving rapidly because people, with no clear guidelines on how to operate, were going out on their own and getting increases. During that period there was a great deal of confusion. The Opposition has yet to get together a policy on this. The shadow Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations talked about what he saw as a policy for the Opposition. One can only wonder whether it is the policy of the Opposition, the policy of the spokesperson for industrial relations or what. We have not yet had a definitive view from the Opposition.

The objective of this Bill and our policies is simply to bring about a situation whereby we can bring disadvantaged people into line with everybody else. The Opposition is trying to move amendments and to talk about the relationship of wages and inflation, but it is not bringing forward any argument to prove that relationship. What was really behind the Opposition's wages pause? Did it represent the development of a strategy which was going to bring about the recovery of Australia? When the wages pause legislation was introduced in December 1982 what was the situation in relation to Commonwealth employees? If we look at history we find that the vast majority of Commonwealth employees had received wage rises during the six months prior to the introducton of the wages pause. Who was caught up then? As I said before, the people who were before the tribunals were people such as chemists, doctors who were private consultants and Defence Force personnel who had been waiting two years for wage increases because the then Government had been procrastinating and not providing that to which they were entitled. They are the ones who were caught up, not the vast majority of public servants who had received wage increases.

What was the situation then with the economy? It was disastrous. Inflation was still running high and unemployment was becoming excessive. Was there a demand for increased wages outside the Public Service? No, there was not. In fact, in the period just prior to the introduction of the wages pause trade unions and employees were not going for wage increases. The wages pause was simply an exercise by the then Government to try to show that it had some developed policy . It grabbed together things which it believed it could hang its hat on and say 'Here is a policy', knowing full well that there was no real demand for increased wages and it was unlikely that there would be any major push for increased wages because of the downturn in the economy. It thought that this would be something it could sell, so it embarked upon promoting it. It said that it was imposing a wages freeze on public servants, knowing full well that they had received their increases and would not be asking for increases during the period in which the wages pause was operating. It was typical of that Government . It had simply missed the boat in terms of what it said it was going to achieve .

The pause has gone for a period of 12 months. If we look at the industrial scene we see that most people have not had an increase for well over 12 months. Many have not had an increase for two years or more. Have we found any improvement, as forecast by the previous Government? It said that if we had this wages pause it would cure everything. Has that happened? No, it has not. What has happened since March this year is that that Government was thrown out of office because people saw that what they had was a totally incompetent group of people who were incapable of developing a wages policy and a united front of employers, employees and government bodies which would enable Australians to pull together. It was thrown out of office. The Labor Party was put into office and since March this year we have seen a renewed confidence in employers, employees and the Australian public in general. As I said before, what we are really seeing is the development of our policy bringing together all aspects in the wages area and moving forward in achieving the objectives of our policy and what we were elected to do. I support the Bill. I believe that Opposition members have condemned their own amendment with their lack of real insight into what they are speaking about.