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Wednesday, 28 February 2001
Page: 24643

Mr SECKER (2:57 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business. Would the minister inform the House how this government is delivering real wage increases for low paid workers? How will these increases benefit Australian workers and their families? And is the minister aware of any alternative policies?

Mr ABBOTT (Minister for Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business) —I thank the member for Barker for his question. The government is seeking a $10 a week rise for low paid workers at the safety net—

Mr SPEAKER —The minister shall resume his seat. The Minister for Foreign Affairs!

Mr ABBOTT —We are seeking a $10 a week pay rise for low paid workers at the safety net wage case currently before the Industrial Relations Commission, as opposed to the $8 a week rise regularly sought by the Keating government. I would be the first to concede that $10 does not sound like a lot for someone on the minimum federal award of just $400 a week, but the truth is that increases in the social safety net can actually make a much bigger difference—

Mr SPEAKER —The Minister for Foreign Affairs is warned!

Mr ABBOTT —for low-paid workers than wage rises. For instance, someone on $400 a week in wages with a dependent spouse and two dependent children will have, depending on their ages, a total disposable income of $566 a week thanks to the social security system. This is up more than $50 a week on 30 June last year thanks to the new tax system. Thanks to the new tax system, this person is $50 a week better off.

Mr SPEAKER —The member for Kingston is warned!

Mr ABBOTT —Wage rises of between $28 and $53 a week, as proposed by the ACTU, sound generous but they will cost jobs. They will cost an estimated 45,000 jobs, and the biggest cause of poverty in this country is unemployment. Members opposite say that they want to see higher wages, but on this subject they have form. Basic award wages fell in real terms by five per cent during the life of the former government; under this government they have increased by nine per cent. Average weekly earnings were virtually stagnant under the former government; under this government they have increased by 12 per cent. Members opposite actually boasted about reducing the real wages of ordinary workers. For instance, the former Prime Minister Mr Hawke said:

It should be remembered that the fall in real wages has not occurred by accident; it has occurred as a result of, and it flows from, the accord that has been reached between the Labor Government and the trade union movement of this country.

Members opposite were responsible for massive falls in real wages. The member for Hotham, when he was ACTU president, said:

... we've almost made a virtue of the fact that what this system has produced is falls in real wages.

Australians need higher wages and higher employment, and they can have both thanks to the greater freedom and flexibility in the workplace, which is precisely what this government is delivering.