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Friday, 26 May 1972
Page: 2203

Senator MILLINER (Queensland) - This afternoon we have heard some very good debating points from the Attorney-General (Senator Greenwood) and Senator Carrick. But debating points do not get down to the real issue of this matter. Senator Carrick said: 'Are you game to get up and say that barristers and solicitors should not have been allowed to increase their rates of salary or their charges?' Members of the Opposition accept that challenge, which was addressed to Senator Cavanagh. I feel that Senator Cavanagh would say precisely what I now say: 'Yes. We would have taken action to do those things.' Senator Carrick has addressed the question and I have answered it. He cannot want any more than that. Opposition Senators in the last few days have made many allegations which still have not been answered. Senator Carrick has asked a question and it has been answered. I feel sure that had Senator Cavanagh had the opportunity to answer he would have done precisely as I have done.

The Attorney-General said that there are different rates in the respective States. We are aware of the differing rates in the respective States, but the point is that when the trade union movement points out the higher rates that workers receive, for example, in New South Wales - in Sydney in particular - and in Melbourne, compared with the rates of workers in other States, the Attorney-General denies to those workers what he now professes should be their entitlement. He cannot have it both ways. He decries conciliation. Senator Cavanagh pointed out what Senator Wright said this morning, yet this legislation tries to do entirely the opposite to what Senator Wright said should be done. These are exercises in futility. Senators all represent people in the community. Can any honourable senator, in conscience, vote for this particular section of the community to receive this substantial salary increase retrospective to November - a salary increase of 54,400 - and then go amongst the common people of Australia and say: You have to be satisfied with $2 a week'? Can the Government-

Senator Murphy - It was a cruel and inhuman decision.

Senator MILLINER - 1 think so, but 1 might be accused of being emotional if I say that. But it was a cruel decision and the Government was party to it because it went into the court and advocated that there should be no substantial increase. Apparently that had some influence on the court as the court awarded an increase of only $2 a week. But it did not award that increase on a retrospective basis. Yet a month or 6 weeks later the Government introduced legislation to provide a salary increase of $4,400 to a section of the community and, what is more, on a retrospective basis. Do members of the trade unions get increases on a retrospective basis? No, they get them on a prospective basis. How does the Government justify its double standards? The Opposition is aware of the disparity between the salary of Commonwealth conciliation commissioners and that of State conciliation commissioners, but it cannot do anything about that. It is up to the Government to control that situation. As I said the other day, it has failed to do so. The Government has failed to make the adjustments necessary to bring this into effect. I repeat that the Opposition believes it is wrong to apply double standards. Therefore it has decided to oppose this clause. But the matter should not rest at that point. The Opposition does not believe in freezing wages and it does not believe In-

Senator Greenwood - Is that so?

Senator MILLINER - Before I have a chance to advocate anything the cynical Attorney-General (Senator Greenwood) rushes in. It is a tragedy that a person who has not the slightest interest in the welfare of the workers should be in charge of a Bill of this nature. He has indicated that that is his attitude all along the line. I hope that the Attorney-General has listened to what I have said and that he will try to act on anything I have said which has any merit m it at all. I repeat that the Opposition is sorry that the actions of the Government have forced it to oppose this clause, but it believes that a consistent attitude should be adopted towards all salary and wage increases in Australia today. What would be wrong in the Government convening an objective meeting of the trade unions, the employers, the white collar unions and, if you like, representatives of the State governments to try to find out precisely where we are going in the future.

Senator Webster - From where did you get that idea? When did you think up that idea?

Senator Milliner - I told Senator Webster the other day that I had given away saying unkind things about him, but he should not tempt me any more as I might go back to doing so. The Commonwealth says it does not have the powers to fix prices. I accept that. But if it got together with the State governments they may be able to introduce some level of price justification. That would stop unjustifiable price increases. We could then discuss objectively the entitlement of the workers of Australia to a fair living standard. In fairness to honourable senators on the Government side of the chamber I should say that I do not think that they would agree that $51 or $52 a week is a fair living standard for anybody to receive today. I say that because I know some of them personally and I know that they would not like to see their sons or sons-in-law living on a wage of $51 or $52 a week. I believe that there is an area for conciliation in all these matters.

I repeat that the Opposition does not believe in wage fixation and it does not believe that there should be a ceiling on salaries, but until such time as the workers get their piece of the wealth of Australia the Opposition will most certainly continue to oppose legislation which seeks to give to people who are in receipt of a salary of $11,000 a year an increase of $4,400 and to make the increase retrospective to 6 months ago. No consideration whatsoever is given to granting retrospectivity to the workers. The courts grant workers only prospective increases. The increases are granted not from the date on which the decision is given but from some future date. Surely none of us here could agree with that sort of discrimination.

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