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Thursday, 1 June 1972
Page: 2489

Senator WRIGHT - On 18th May, Senator Donald Cameron addressed a question to me as the Minister representing the Minister for Labour and National Service, concerning a comparison between the Commonwealth Unemployment Benefits paid to an unemployed station hand with 5 children ($47.50 per week) and the minimum wage for a station hand working 44 hours a week under the Federal Pastoral Industry Award ($46.40 per week).

I undertook to have the figures checked and obtained further information. The following answer has been received from the Minister for Labour and National Service.

The figures in the example quoted by the honourable Senator are correct. However it is important to define the role of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission when it determines a minimum wage. Indeed in its most recent judgment on the National Wage Case 1971-72 of 5th May, when dealing with the minimum wage for adult males the Commission said:

When the minimum wage for adult males was first established in 1966 it was described as being designed 'to meet the circumstances of employees in the lowest classifications who are in receipt of award rates and no more' and it was on this basis too that the current rate of. $46.30 (for Melbourne) was fixed in 1970 (See B6017 p.13). In assessing the rate on that occasion the Commission stated. 'We are prepared to assume, as the Commission did last year, that people on low incomes have special problems which we can to some extent alleviate', but it pointed out that it was 'an arbitral tribunal and not an administrative social welfare agency'.

Similarly, when speaking of the Pastoral industry generally, the Commission in that judgment also said:

Because of the special history of the provisions in the Pastoral Industry Award, because that award is not before us and because we have not heard The Australian Workers' Union we feel that we should make the observation that neither our decision regarding wages generally nor that relating to the minimum wage should automatically apply to that industry. Whether in fact they are made to apply will be a matter for the Commission however constituted which has to deal with them when an application is made by The Australian Workers' Union'.

In passing it would not be inapporpriate to draw attention to other existing provisions of the present Federal Pastoral Industry Award. These include that employees may also be provided with living premises either free of charge or at a rental of not more than $2 per week and the provision of meat of a quality equivalent to that used at the homestead for not more than 5c per pound. I do not believe the comparison which the honourable Senator seeks to make between these matters is either tenable or appropriate.

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