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Tuesday, 9 March 1971
Page: 698

Mr WHITLAM - My question without notice to the Minister for External Territories concerns the recommendations made last September by the board of inquiry under Professor Cochrane into rural wages in the Territory of Papua and New Guinea. He will remember that the board recommended a' new ordinance to raise the provision of cash, rations and accommodation from a figure of $4.83 a week to a figure of $5.90 a week and at the end of 12 months to $6.40 a week. Is it a fact that the Administration has decided against introducing any legislation to implement the recommendation for $6.40 at the end of the 12months? Has it decided to introduce legislation next month which will fix the total wage at the apparent equivalent of $5.90? Will this figure include 50c deferred wage, which was not recommended by the Cochrane committee, and only $1.42 in cash as against $2.53 recommended as a first stage by the Cochrane committee? What arethe reasons for these rejections-

Mr SPEAKER - Order! The honourable gentleman's question is far too long and I think it appears to be one which is suitable for the notice paper.

Mr WHITLAM - But then 1 will have to wait a month for an answer.

Mr SPEAKER - I suggest that as the honourable member's question appears to be involved it might be better suited for the notice paper.

Mr WHITLAM - The Minister is familiar with the details and there is only one sentence remaining in the question.

Mr SPEAKER -I suggest that the honourable member does not go any further than that.

Mr WHITLAM - 1 ask the Minister: What are the reasons for these rejections and reductions of the amounts and components recommended by the Cochrane committee?

Mr BARNES (MCPHERSON, QUEENSLAND) (Minister for External Territories) - In the November sittings of the Territory of Papua and New Guinea House of Assembly rural wages were increased by 50c. In the meantime the Administrator's Executive Council discussed the recommendations of the Cochrane report. As a result of those discussions legislation was introduced in that House to provide a minimum wage of $5.90. There is also legislation which provides for a minimum wages board to inquire into wages. 1 point out that this is a matter of great concern to the economy of the Territory. We are paying a considerably higher wage than are those countries which compete with the Territory on world markets. The Administrator's Executive Council is fearful that a decision to increase rural wages in 2 years time to $6.40, as recommended by the Cochrane inquiry, might have very serious repercussions on the economy of the Territory. 1 think it is right that we should heed the recommendations of the Executive Council because products such as copra, coffee and cocoa are produced in other countries which have the lowest standard of living in the world. If wages in the Territory go above an economic figure the Territory will be out of business. I support the action of the Executive Council in this regard. In any case the House of Assembly will have this legislation before it and will be able to give its views on the matter. I know that the Leader of the Opposition does not have very much respect for the opinions of the House of Assembly - he has said so before - but I assure him that this Government has respect for the opinions of the House of Assembly.

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