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Wednesday, 9 March 1977
Page: 24

Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I support my friend, the honourable member for Gellibrand (Mr Willis), who raised this matter of public importance. I congratulate him upon an excellent expose of the Government's hypocrisy on economic matters, particularly on industrial relations matters. During the period September 1973 to September 1974 the share of the gross domestic non-farm product that went to wages increased by 6.2 per cent. It was a record increase in any 12-months period since Federation. It was more than industry could afford to meet every year, but it was not more than industry could have afforded to maintain because for many decades prior to the period September 1973 to September 1974 the share of the gross domestic non-farm product going to wages was very much less than it should have been. If one goes back over the statistics one finds that for nearly 60 years the share going to wages fluctuated only a point of one per cent one way or the other, going up some years and going down in others. But at the end of that period it was no more than it was at the beginning in spite of the fact that the number of people in the work force had increased considerably, that there had been a considerable increase in population participation in the work force and that we had the benefit on top of all of these factors of technological advancement and change.

What we ought to understand is that the expression 'average weekly earnings' is really a misnomer because people believe that when we talk about average weekly earnings of $ 1 90 a week the average wage earner is getting $190 a week. But he is not. The number of people whose award rates equal $ 1 90 a week is less than 30 per cent of the total work force. More than 65 per cent of the total work force is getting wages, inclusive of over award wages and overtime payments, of less than the average weekly earnings The number of people who are getting the mere minimum wage or average award rates is well over one million. Anybody who is trying to live on a minimum wage of $ 101- from recollection I think that is the figure and I note that the honourable member for Gellibrand agrees with me that that amount is correct- and having to rear and educate children just cannot possibly get his head above the poverty level. So we have the situation in Australia today that there are one million people who are in receipt of age or invalid pensions or some other form of social service benefits. On top of that are more than one million who are getting less than the average award rates. We have 250 000 people whose only income is the unemployment benefit. Another 200 000, though not in receipt of the unemployment benefit, are idle when they want to work and are being maintained by either their parents or spouses.

The Treasury is calling out for consumer led recovery. How on earth can we have a consumer led recovery when the situation I have just outlined exists? What the Government does not seem to understand is that it has created an economic climate in which something like 2½ million people are living either below or just above the poverty line. Those who are working are too afraid to spend their money in case they will join the queue. That is why there are record savings bank deposits. Every month sees the breaking of a new record because the situation boiled downand I repeat it- is that those who are working are too afraid to spend and the rest who are not working do not have any money to spend anyhow.

I watched the almost obscene extravagance of last night's revelry here in Parliament House. I looked at people guzzling the finest wines and eating oysters that were still alive to ensure that they were fresh. As I looked at that gathering I subtracted the people who were Labor members of this Parliament and I realised that 98 per cent of the rest were those who supported this Government's contention that workers getting $101 a week should not receive the full benefit of the 6 per cent increase in the consumer price index. How hypocritical can the Government become! How blase can it become when it squanders that amount of money on the kind of obscene extravagance that we saw last night. If Her Majesty the Queen had known that more than 2 million of her subjects in this country were near or below the poverty level she would have been absolutely disgusted to think that her elected representatives in Parliament were parties to this kind of extravagance.

The position of the South Australian and Tasmanian governments is one that I believe is much fairer than that adopted by this present Government. Their attitude is that the 3.2 per cent increase in the CPI that was due to this Government's decision to introduce a compulsory Medibank levy should go only to people who are earning up to $12,000 a year. Their argument is that no one should make a profit out of Medibank. Yet if this Government was to have its way and the 3.2 per cent increase was applied right across the board we would find that Mr Jonathan Stone, a Deputy Secretary of the Treasury, would make a 900 per cent profit on the amount that he pays to Medibank. Even on an after-tax basis he would make a 300 per cent profit. The South Australian Government is against that. It believes that no one should make any profit out of that portion of the CPI that is due to an increase brought about by Medibank.

I agree with the South Australian Government. But that Government then goes on to say that 2.8 per cent of the balance of the 6 per cent ought to be applied to everybody according to what his wages are. The great mistake that the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission made in the first national wage case in May 1974 was this: If the Commission had then introduced wage indexation on the basis of automatic adjustment every quarter with a plateau at the average award rate as the Australian Council of Trades Unions then asked for- the ACTU 's claim was a little higher, $7 a week higher than the Goverment was asking for- and also had taken care to see that industries like the metal industries were given a proper starting point for the new indexation system we would not now be in the position we are in.

When the metal trades case was before the Commission in May 1975 a fitter was getting an award wage of $26 a week less than he should have received because, ever since Mr Justice Higgins had tied the fitter's rate to the carpenter's rate more than 60 years ago, the fitter's and carpenter's margins have been identical. Yet we find that the award rate for fitters had dropped by $26 a week. Until the fitter's award rates are increased we will never get peace in industry, and the Government does not deserve it. We will never get enough skilled tradesmen. One hundred and fifty thousand skilled tradesmen have left the work force already in the last 5 years. Who will be stupid enough to become a tradesman when he can get three times as much for being a clerk?

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Order!The honourable member's time has expired.

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