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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 3 Hansard (6 March) . . Page.. 651 ..

MS GALLAGHER (continuing):

Mr Speaker, it is with pleasure that I introduce this motion to the Assembly. I congratulate the Minister for Industrial Relations, Mr Corbell, on his work on the ACT government's contribution to the submission of the joint Labor governments to the safety net review 2002 by the Australian Industrial Relations Commission. This is also commonly known as the living wage case.

Ninety-eight per cent of ACT workers are covered by federal industrial laws and by decisions of the federal arbitration commission. This means that the living wage case decision will have a huge impact on thousands of families in Canberra. These workers will gain immediate access to the safety net adjustments, if the case is successful. The ACT government's support for the $25 a week increase is another example of this government caring about our local community and taking steps to address some of the disadvantage experienced by the lowest paid workers in our community.

The review of the minimum wage levels has been promoted by the Australian Council of Trade Unions-the ACTU-to achieve wage justice at a time when the numbers of working poor in Australia are increasing. This moderate, responsible and absolutely necessary campaign aims to secure an extra $25 a week for workers earning as little as $10.88 per hour.

This is the sixth living wage case brought to the commission by the ACTU since the 1996 regressive changes in industrial relations. It is worthwhile looking at the guiding principles of action on which the ACTU bases its claim.

The ACTU submission argues the claim for the $25 a week increase is based on the following criteria: a moderate safety net increase will have a minimal impact on inflation, moderate wage increases do little or nothing to diminish job prospects, employees on low wages experience difficulties making ends meet and affording what are generally considered, by the broader community, to be basic necessities. Whilst safety net adjustments are not perfectly targeted to meeting the needs of the low paid, they assist in meeting those needs.

The joint Labor submissions accept these principles. However, in the six years of Liberal government nationally, employer groups and the federal government have opposed the claims, without ever daring to refute the validity of the criteria used. I can only imagine this is because there are no legitimate grounds to refute these principles.

This campaign has been prioritised by the state Labor governments, as evidenced by their joint submission, and should be an urgent priority for the Howard Liberal government. Disappointingly, the federal Liberal government has shown in its submission-lodged last Friday-that it will not support the ACTU's claim for $25. This is no real surprise. Over the term of its office, the federal government has argued consistently that Australia cannot afford pay rises for ordinary workers.

Time and time again, the federal Liberals have denied the needs of Australian workers, allowing the numbers of the very wealthy in Australia to increase, whilst at the same time allowing the numbers of working poor to increase. Australia has become a society of haves and have-nots. Our society is marked by growing income inequality, driven by a welfare reform and industrial relations agenda captivated by deregulation and downsizing.

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