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Thursday, 11 May 1972
Page: 2507

Mr SCHOLES (Corio) - Last night 1 referred to this matter during the debate on the second reading. 1 raise it again. 1 do not think that the rate of salary and the rate of increase are the real points at issue. The real point at issue is the Government's inconsistency. The Government has gone into court and said that any substantial increase in the national wage would represent a disaster to the national economy. It did not use those words, but that is what it said. This year the increase in the national wage has been about 2i per cent. It varies because it was a fixed amount, but it was about 2 per cent or 2i per cent. The previous increase, which was nearly 18 months ago, was 6 per cent. This increase was said 'to be a very serious blow to the national economy. The fact that most of it was caused by the 1970 Budget is irrelevant to this debate. But those 2 increases represent 8} per cent increase in 2 years. The increase in the 2 years prior to that was considerably less than that amount. The Minister glibly quotes the average wage increase of 30 per cent and says that this is a justification for the level of increase proposed in this Bill. It may or may not be. I do not really think that the average wage is terribly relevant to anything.

Dr Solomon - We do not have about 2 million arbitration commissioners.

Mr SCHOLES - I accept the point of the honourable member for Denison. He says that if there are not many of you then you can be paid a reasonable wage but if there are a lot of you, like blue collar workers, you can be paid a starvation wage. Is that what the honourable member is saying? There are not many of them therefore it is good?

Dr Solomon - I did not say that.

Mr SCHOLES - The honourable member did say that. He said that there are not many of them.

Dr Solomon - I just said that there are not many of them.

Mr SCHOLES - The inference is that because there are a lot of others it is bad. I just make this point. I hope that the honourable member for Denison and others can understand it. At the moment the problem with Australian wage fixing is that the people who produce goods are required to work for low wages because high wages will damage the national economy. Those people who produce goods must work not less than a 40-hour week and all those people in the community who provide services - the tertiary industries- 7 can work less than a 40-hour week at higher wages and this does not damage the national economy. I ask honourable members to have a look at that suggestion. The people who produce the goods - including the farmers - and who are responsible for the creation of the wealth of the community must work 40 hours at low wages, but those people who provide secondary services and who produce nothing are entitled to less than a 40-hour week and a higher wage. That is the reality of the Australian economy and of the Government's propositions. I am not challenging the relativity of salaries or anything else. The Government is doing that.

The fact of this Bill is that it is a backdoor method of getting through a portion of a Bill which the Government was not able to get past the Senate last year. If the Government were honest about it and really felt that this is a justifiable measure, then it should feel the same way about the position of the other statutory officers. It would not be putting this clause into the Bill and dating it back to last November. It would reintroduce the Statutory Officers Bill in this House and send it to the Senate saying: 'If you are not happy about it, we will have a double dissolution'. Why does not the Government try that? I will lay odds that members of the Democratic Labor Party would back down so fast they would most likely burn their backsides. That is a fact. Why does not the Government do that and try to give all the statutory officers the amount to which they are entitled?

The real position is that the Government has decided that at all costs this increase must be granted. I do not know whether it is justified or not. I have no way of deciding, and I do not think this Parliament has any way of deciding what a conciliation commissioner should receive. The only measure I know of is that when the commissioners were first appointed, thensalaries were fixed at the level of those of members of Parliament.When a committee was set up recently to examine the salaries of members of Parliament, the Cabinet, as. a matter of conscious judgment, decided that an increase not much dissimilar to this in percentage was too high and that it had to be reduced by 28 per cent. If this Parliament;, is to make value judgments on salaries, it would appear that the same value judgments should apply to other people in similar salary ranges. I do not necessarily agree that the Government's decision on parliamentary salaries was based on a value judgment, but the Government did as I have said.

The second question I want to ask is: Where is the precedent in the Parliament or anywhere else for backdating for 6 months a salary increase granted in legislation? I would like the Minister to tell me because I know of no precedent where a Bill has been brought into this chamber backdating a salary increase' for 6 months. It is a long period.

Mr Reynolds - Move to have pension increases back-dated in the next Budget and see what happens.

Mr SCHOLES - We have moved that several times and the Government has said that it would bankrupt the country.

Mr Keogh - There are a lot of them.

Mr SCHOLES - There are a lot of them and their numbers destroy their chances. It is unfortunate that we are even debating this clause in this legislation. Most likely it would have been better, if the Government had wanted to deal with the clause and to leave the other statutory officers out, to have brought in a separate Bill, butit would never have got it through a joint party meeting because the Country Party could not have supported it in that form because of its general attitude to wages. In this particular case I think that every

Country Party member will vote for this increase in salary of more than 30 per cent. As I say, it is unfortunate that we are even debating the clause, but the fact is that the Government's double standards have brought on this debate.

The Prime Minister said here the other night that the Government supported a substantial increase in the minimum wage, but if he reads the transcript of the evidence given on behalf of the Commonwealth Government to the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission, he will find that what the Commonwealth actually submitted was that any substantial increase in the minimum wage would be damaging to the economy. I do not know whether that is supporting a substantial increase in the minimum wage, but that is what is in the transcript. So the Prime Minister, in his normal fashion, has not in fact told the House the whole truth.

Dr Klugman - Or any part thereof.

Mr SCHOLES - I do not know about or any part thereof. They were practically the same words; they were just in reverse. This clause should be defeated and if Government members are to be consistent, they cannot support this clause, for they have stood up in this House consistently, day after day, saying that wage increases are the most evil thing that occur in the community, and that no rises should be granted to those people who work for thenliving, to those people who produce the goods in the community.

I do not oppose any forms of wage increases provided they are decided by the proper methods, and I would not oppose this clause if it were not for the fact that the Government has been totally hypocritical on this matter. The members of the Government are not consistent. They believe that the Australian public are totally and utterly stupid. I sincerely hope that they are not. The Government is putting forward a proposition that, if we take the 4-year period, it is all right for people who depend on the national wage to get something less than a 20 per cent increase in their wages, but it is totally wrong if other people have to accept that same standard. In fact, the Government even applied a double standard to the salaries of members of Parliament and Ministers. It reduced the recommended salaries by 28 per cent before it brought them into the Parliament. The only reason why legislation has been necessary in this respect is because the Senate took away from the responsible Minister the power to fix the salaries personally. That is the only reason why it has been necessary to introduce legislation for salary increases for statutory officers. The Government tried to acquire the power to fix these salaries by regulation.

Friday, 12 May 1972

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