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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 3 Hansard (6 March) . . Page.. 652 ..

MS GALLAGHER (continuing):

Under the federal government's social agenda we have seen major assaults on the welfare state and trade unionism, with devastating results. We have also seen Australian workers subjected to the GST and other associated costs, which impinge on the standard of living of many, and the community as a whole.

John Howard promised that no Australian worker would be worse off under the GST. The facts and figures of the living wage case show the reality of life under the Liberals-and the lies the Liberals continue to peddle. The federal government's submission to the IRC suggests that low paid workers will be better off, if a system of tax credits is introduced. This is in preference to accepting a flat dollar increase. Some could argue that this indicates, on the Commonwealth government's behalf, acceptance of inequality in the current tax regime and inequity in current wages outcomes.

Whilst there may be some benefit in looking at ways tax credits may assist lower income families, it cannot be used in isolation. To use the words of Greg Combet, secretary of the ACTU:

Tax credits are not an alternative to decent minimum wages. Australians need decent minimum pay rates as well as a decent tax system.

One of the problems with the federal government's submission is that it supports a meagre wage increase of $10-hardly an amount that will impact on a family's weekly budget-whilst promising to look at introducing a tax credit system. That may or may not, if introduced in the future, be a benefit to low income workers. It is unlikely that this will assist families in 2002.

It is no surprise that some employer organisations are backing the federal Liberals and argue that $25 is too much to pay. Some of them agree to a $10 per week increase but some, like the AHA, argue for a wages freeze.

Mr Speaker, workers in this country deserve a wage system which, at the very least, allows people to live above the poverty line. They deserve a wage system which allows them the freedom and flexibility to make life choices without fearing impoverishment or family and social dislocation.

This wage increase is needed. If achieved, workers would receive a $25 increase above the minimum wage, which is currently just over $400 per week. For workers trying to raise a family on this wage, this increase is desperately needed. I do not imagine that anyone in this room would be willing to live on $413.40. They would be unable to raise their families on that amount, without significant difficulties.

The relevant legislation guiding this case is the Liberals' own handiwork-the Workplace Relations Act 1996. Section 88B (2) of the Workplace Relations Act provides that the Industrial Relations Commission must ensure that a safety net of fair minimum wages and conditions of employment is established and maintained. In executing this function, the commission must look to the need to provide fair and minimum standards for employees in the context of living standards generally. They must consider economic factors, including productivity and inflation, the desirability of attaining a high level of employment; and, when adjusting the safety net, the needs of the low paid.

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