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Wednesday, 24 May 1972
Page: 2000

The PRESIDENT - Order! I remind Senator Bishop that everyone listens to what he has to say. I suggest that he cease interjecting.

Senator WEBSTER - I realise that Senator Bishop acknowledges the points I have made and realises the immediate expense that is placed on an employer from a calculation of these various benefits. He fully agrees with me that the figure would be around that mark. Indeed, I say to Senatar Bishop that my calculation of the figure that is required is much higher than the figure I have just mentioned. I think that if the honourable senator thinks about it he will agree.

On the basis of what I have just outlined, goods must become very expensive - and well we know that this is the case at the present time - and services in the community must become particularly expensive. Every honourable senator knows the rate that is required by ordinary labourers today to perform any sort of task. I believe that the erosion of the benefits of these community achievements - benefits such as those I have mentioned - will in the end result in a situation of disastrous wage induced inflation. Again I say that the ultimate seriousness of this situation is brushed aside by most people in the community. I believe that those who are harmed at present are those who some years ago retired on a fixed remuneration. I am talking about those who fought very early in their careers to set aside an amount that would be payable to them either through insurance or superannuation. The value of the remuneration paid to these people has been very seriously eroded and they are in dire plight today. I notice that Senator Milliner has not consideration for these people whatsoever and just waves his handkerchief to indicate that perhaps he should cry over the matter. But to me this is a very serious matter which flows further to other individuals in the community whom I represent in the Senate. I speak of those involved in primary production who are working for the benefit of Australia to see that Australian goods are placed on export markets.

The cost of living has undoubtedly risen in recent years. However, I think it is fair to say - and I imagine that all honourable senators in this place will agree with me - that the rate of inflation or the rate of increase in the consumer price index, as we should perhaps term it, has been very slight compared with increases in the average wage year by year. I have referred to this on previous occasions, if we have a situation in which it can be proved that generally the cost of goods has remained at a reasonably stable level or has increased at a slight figure but, on the other hand, the figure in relation to the average weekly earnings and the percentage change related to previous years has escalated, this cannot but pinpoint and endorse the AttorneyGeneral's comment that at the present time it is wage-induced inflation. The Opposition can perhaps take this further into their minds. If it is a little difficult to comprehend in those words then I ask that I be permitted to incorporate in Hansard a publication which I have received from the statistical service of the Parliamentary Library Legislative Research Service. It indicates the average weekly earnings and the consumer price index from 1961-62 to 1970-71. I seek leave to incorporate the publication in Hansard.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Brown) - Is leave granted?

Senator Poyser - No; let the honourable senator read it out.

Senator WEBSTER - 1 hope that the Government will take the same attitude as is being taken by some of our foolish honourable senators on the Opposition side who say that they want this publication read out. I thought that the brilliance of those honourable senators would be better spared by their being able to read the publication. I do not doubt that they will not be able to take it into their minds, particularly Senator Poyser. But I shall read it out, because it is interesting.

Senator Georges - I ask the honourable senator to give us a precis.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT - Order! 1 have already pointed out to honourable senators on the Opposition side that there is far too much audible conversation.

Senator WEBSTER - -Thank you. Mr Acting Deputy President. I again appealto you - to save time in this lengthy debate - that this item from the statistical service of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Library be incorporated in Hansard.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT - Senator Webster, you have asked leave and it has been refused.

Senator WEBSTER - I am asking again in an attempt to save time.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT - I shall ask again. Is leave granted for the incorporation of this statistical publication? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The document read as follows):


Senator WEBSTER - Thank you. I knew that wisdom would prevail.

Senator O'Byrne - I ask the honourable senator to explain the document.

Senator WEBSTER - I shall explain it to honourable senators. It is a chart showing the average weekly earnings in the community.It sets out the amounts from 1961-62 to 1970-71. Next to those amounts are figures that show the percentage change on the previous year. Taking the 10 years of change, and the percentage change year by year in relation to average weekly earnings, there have been increases of 2.6 per cent, 2.7 per cent, 5.3 per cent, 7.4 per cent, 4.7 per cent, 6.6 per cent, 5.8 per cent, 7.5 per cent, 8.4 per cent and 11.3 per cent. Those percentage changes are up to the year 1970-71. But if we look at the consumer price index - if honourable senators can keep those earlier percentages in mind - we find that from a base year 1966-67 the percentage change in each year commencing from 1961-62, has been an increase of 0.4 per cent, 0.2 per cent 0.9 per cent. 3.8 per cent, 3.6 per cent. 2.7 per cent, 3.3 per cent. 2.6 per cent. 3.2 per cent and 4.8 per cent. Ft can be seen that in not one year in the last 10 years has the average weekly wage merely equated the rise in the consumer price index. But in 7 of those 10 years the percentage change in the average weekly earnings has more than doubled that of the increased percentage in the consumer price index. As anybody must realise, this situation cannot but lead to an inflationary situation in the community.

Senator Bishop - Can the honourable senator explain to us how the average weekly earnings can push prices up in the same ratio or more?

Senator WEBSTER - It is very difficult to attempt to explain.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Brown) - Order! It has been pointed out to you, Senator Bishop that you were heard in silence in the course of your address. 1 ask that the same courtesy be extended to other speakers.

Senator Georges - That excludes me because I am never heard in quietness or with courtesy.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT Order! I shall be the judge of that.

Senator WEBSTER - I wish to refer to one other very important matter which I see in this wage-induced inflation. I feel that it is a matter to which the Government must give early and urgent consideration. I see a situation which has come about where the granting of a percentage increase to a basic rate by the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission is interpreted by all sectors of the community as a further requirement for a percentage rise to every class of employee. To me this is an entirely unacceptable proposition; but very few honourable senators have spoken against it in the Senate. Let me give an instance. A $5 or $6 rise which has been granted as, say, a 10 per cent rise on the earnings of a particular class of employees leads to a demand for a 10 per cent rise for employees who may be earning $10,000 or $15,000 a year. A $5 a week rise which has been calculated as being a requirement for an employee who is earning $50 or $60 a week is taken to mean a requirement of a $1,500 or $2,000 a year rise- or $20 to $30 a week rise - for some person who is on a higher salary.

Senator Devitt - Tall poppies.

Senator WEBSTER - The honourable senator is not saying that what I am saying is all poppycock?

Senator Mulvihill - He said 'tall poppies'.

Senator WEBSTER - I misinterpreted the honourable senator. I think honourable senators will agree, because I think 1 heard an honourable senator at question time today say that somebody had been granted an $80 a week rise. Certainly I have a feeling that in very many Federal Government and State Government circles this proposition has not been denied. I think that in these future years this is something at which we will have to look very carefully. I say again that if a 10 per cent rise is granted to somebody earning $50 or $60 a week this should not be interpreted as necessitating a 10 per cent rise for somebody earning $15,000 a year. This is one of the dangerous causes of wageinduced inflation. It will bring about a breakdown in the system of wage payments which we have in the community at present. I believe that this Bill proposes new opportunities for the development of conciliation where there are stoppages or other matters which lead to a breakdown in relations between employer and employee. I believe the Government hopes that by this Bill stoppages may be averted. It hopes that the loss of manpower which has occurred in the community certainly will be lowered in the coming years. The Bill proposes that more conciliation be induced into the various discussions between employers and employees. It further purports to extend control over the actions of organisations. This can be seen in clause 141. It proposes to give further financial assistance to ordinary members of trade unions to see that unions are properly controlled. I think that Senator Mulvihill made some reference to this when he brought forward the comments about smaller and larger unions.

As 1 read it, I believe that the Commonwealth offers financial assistance to individuals in certain cases where they wish to ensure that unions are being properly controlled. Amalgamations will require a ballot of organisations concerned in any proposed amalgamation. It will be seen that amalgamations should take place only where rank and file support is evident for the proposal. The problem of agreements negotiated outside the court has been one of the disasters in our community. We can see this currently in the instance of the waterside workers making their arrangement with ship owners who, in general, happen to be overseas ship owners and who probably agreed to the arrangement while not being in Australia. This is greatly to the disadvantage not only of people who import goods to Australia but also of people who export from this country. I believe that the problems are very difficult to define, but I think that this particularly fine piece of legislation will, in some measure, equate the situation. The Bill has my full support. I certainly believe it to be in the public interest, and I congratulate the Minister on bringing it before the Senate.

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