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Friday, 13 September 1985
Page: 532


Senator MAGUIRE —Has the Minister representing the Treasurer noted calls by Opposition front benchers for an Australian wage setting system based more on collective bargaining and less on arbitration processes? Would such a wage system involving collective bargaining make it difficult to discount wage rises for specific factors, such as the inflationary effects of a devaluation of the dollar?


Senator WALSH —Not only would it be difficult, without a centralised wage fixing system, to discount wages because of the effect on the consumer price index of the devaluation of the dollar; I think it would be impossible to do so. If that is not correct, if any of the smarter members of the Opposition have developed a mechanism for a general discounting of wages in a deregulated labour market, I would welcome an explanation as to how it is done, because it seems to me that the two are mutually exclusive. We cannot have across the board discounting in a deregulated labour market. We can have discounting through the prices and incomes accord or a similar policy-which this Government has achieved-or no discounting at all. I do not believe there is any third choice.

This draws attention to yet another fundamental contradiction in the muddled economic policies which the Opposition has produced in recent months. There is the fundamental contradiction between a policy position in general that welfare payments should be based on need and the simultaneous promise to repeal the assets test; the contradiction between the so-called privatisation argument and the failure to address matters such as Tasmanian railways. I mentioned that earlier because although I do not believe that the Commonwealth Bank, which pays very healthy dividends to the taxpayers, should be flogged off to foreigners-which Mr Howard wants to do-I would welcome any bid for the Tasmanian railways to relieve Commonwealth taxpayers of the responsibility of funding the losses there. But I have yet to hear from Mr Howard, or even Senator Walters, any commitment to a Liberal government withdrawing from the Tasmanian railway system. I would certainly welcome such a commitment from Mr Howard or even Senator Walters that a Liberal government would privatise it.

In summary, this illustrates that the Opposition has a very muddled view of the economy and of economic policy, riddled with contradictions and mutually exclusive policies and propositions.