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Tuesday, 14 May 1957

Mr WARD (East Sydney) .- Any one who heard the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt) speak this afternoon would imagine that he really believed in social justice. He has made a similar speech several times before when this subject has been raised. Let me say right at the outset, that it is useless to compare wages to-day with those of a few years ago unless they are also honestly related to changes in the value of money. To fail to do that is to present a completely false impression of the situation of the worker. There is no doubt in the world that the worker of this country is not receiving wage justice. Neither is he enjoying the improved standard of living that the Minister suggests. The best, and the only effective way of examining this question of living standards is to examine not what the worker receives in terms of money, but what he is able to purchase with the money that he receives.

If the Australian worker was receiving a sufficient wage there would not be such a marked contraction in the consumption of various types of basic foods. The Commonwealth Statistician's figures reveal that the per capita consumption of eggs - a basic Australian food - has fallen since pre-war days by three dozen annually. Butter is down by 3.2 lb. a head of population, and meat by about 24 lb. a head. One can go right through the regimen and find that less of everything is being consumed. Obviously, wages have not been so adjusted as to keep pace with the increase in the cost of living.

One hears Government supporters talking about the ability of industry to pay. The Minister said that neither he nor his Government had ever opposed the adjustment of wages. That is completely at variance with what the Government's advocate had to say to the Commonwealth Arbitration Commission in the recent basic wage case. At page 6 of the judgment the following appears -

The Attorney-General of the Commonwealth intervened in the public interest, but the only issue on which bis counsel made a positive submission was on the application for the restoration of the automatic adjustment system. The Commonwealth opposed such a system, whatever index were used.

Therefore, the Government does not believe in the adequate and proper adjustment of wages. The Minister asked: " Does the Opposition oppose the principle that an industry ought to pay the highest wage that it has the ability to pay? " We say that we are not opposed to that principle, but we believe that the wage of the worker in industry ought to be based, first, upon his needs and the needs of those who depend upon him for support. That should be the minimum wage. Then, if industry can afford to pay more that ought to be added. Obviously, the wage should never fall below what is necessary to provide for the needs of the worker and his family.

Undoubtedly, wages are depressed to-day. The quarterly increases in the basic wage to which Government supporters refer are not really increases at all. The so-called adjustment merely brings the worker up to the position that he was in, relatively speaking, three months before. Who is to determine what an industry can afford to pay? Does the Government suggest that each industry should be taken individually and the wage determined upon its ability to pay? Or should industry be taken collectively? Moreover, what evidence would the commission have before it that would enable it to determine the capacity of industry to pay? Would it have the financial statements and accounts of particular companies? Would the witnesses for an industry be subject to cross-examination? Would the commission take into account invested capital and watered capital? I suggest not. In the past, the court has based its decisions upon what the employers' representatives have told it, without evidence being submitted or cross-examination of witnesses taking place.

The Government says that it is against the imposition of controls. Remarkably enough, the only thing that it believes in controlling is the wage of the worker. I invite Government supporters to tell me why, if it is so important to keep this balance between what management, the investor and the employee take out of industry, profits are not regulated just as wages are, after a proper examination by an arbitration tribunal? Why does the commission not ensure that the profit, or dividend, declared from time to time, is within the capacity of the particular industry? The Minister tried to play upon the emotions of the people by suggesting that because pensions were reviewed annually, wages should also be reviewed annually. But surely it is rubbish to talk about an annual review of pensions! That suggests that there is an annual adjustment of pensions, but nothing of the kind occurs. If it did, the pensioners of this country would have received an increase in the last budget, but they did not.

I would like now to say a word or two about the regimen, the basis upon which the C series index is calculated. It is unfair to the worker and is in need of review. It excludes from consideration a number of the important items in the regimen of foodstuffs consumed by the Australian worker. Of the vegetables that he eats, only potatoes and onions are considered. No allowance is made for fruit, which is an important item in the daily diet of Australians. It is important for the future welfare of this nation. To-day, workers are unable to get sufficient of these things for their kiddies, and those who are dependent upon them. The workers and the trade unions will not accept the decision of the Government or the court that quarterly adjustments should go by the board. The Minister for Labour and National Service has claimed that the workers have received wage justice and social justice, but they have only obtained a measure of justice. 1 use the word " measure " because they have never obtained full justice at any time in the history of this country. They have obtained a measure of justice because of their ability industrially to demand it from the Government and the various tribunals that have been established. I believe that the members of the Opposition are completely justified in their attitude to this question.

It is perfectly true, as the honorable member for Bendigo who initiated this debate said, that the workers have suffered a considerable loss in the various States as a result of these deductions from their wages. The Minister for Labour and National Service talked about what the Government had done to achieve full employment and prosperity, and said that family incomes had been increased because there were more breadwinners. Let us examine this position. Wages have been depressed so much by anti-Labour governments that in many cases the housewife, who ought to be in the home attending to the rearing of her family, has been obliged to go into industry to supplement the family income because the husband's income has not been sufficient to meet the needs of the family. That is a new state of affairs which has been introduced into Australia under the regime of an anti-Labour Government. The workers of this country will not obtain wage justice from this Government or from the courts which the Government influences through the representatives which it sends to the court to argue its case. Naturally, the court takes cognizance of the Government's statements. If the workers are to get wage justice they will get it by two means only: One is their own industrial strength supported by the action of the Australian Labour party; the other is the return of a Labour government. The sooner that happens the sooner the workers will obtain wage justice.

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