Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 3 Hansard (6 March) . . Page.. 654 ..
MS GALLAGHER (continuing):
There can be no doubting that these social issues require a broad focus on education, training, housing, childcare and other government facilities. However, material wellbeing must also be sustained through wages growth. Criticism of wage levels should be part of the criticism of the Liberals' cutbacks in unemployment benefits. Concepts like mutual obligation have also undermined the legitimate needs of worthy people.
The ACT economy and the Australian economy are in a good position to support this wage rise for those most deserving and needy. In the ACT alone, our economy is still growing, and consumption has increased. By every economic indicator, both in the national arena and the states and territories, there can be no excuses for not allowing this rise in the living wage. I am very hopeful that the commission will rule in favour of the ACTU case.
It is very disappointing to see that the federal Liberals will not support the claim. Their rhetoric of fairness for all and support for battlers, which has worked so well for them over the past three years, is not being applied when they are asked to support moderate wage increases for the lowest paid in the community.
By supporting this motion, the ACT Assembly will be supporting the rights of low income earners to receive a better living wage. If achieved, this will not, by any means, alleviate the financial and social disadvantages endured by low income earners but it will provide them with some relief.
I commend this motion to the Assembly and I seek members' support for it.
MR PRATT (3.56): Mr Speaker, I wish to speak against the motion. In response to Ms Gallagher, I put on record the following points: The ACT Labor government has joined with the other Labor states to support the ACTU submission to the Australian Industrial Relations Commission for a $25 per week increase in all award rates. At least that is how I understand it. This claim is simply economically irresponsible. It is much higher than the current wages growth of about 31/2 per cent. It would add immeasurably to labour costs, when the superannuation guarantee is due to increase from 8 per cent to 9 per cent in July 2002.
This means, Mr Speaker and members, an increased burden for small business and family businesses in the ACT. Ms Gallagher has probably not taken that into account. That is not a criticism. I am just saying I wonder whether all of the macro issues have been considered in this particular exercise.
The Commonwealth government has a counterclaim before the commission of a $10 per week safety net increase for the lowest paid employees. This is an increase which should be made available to award rates, up to and including the tradesperson's rate of $505.02 per week, under the Metal Industries Award.
If this much more intelligent submission succeeds, it means that instead of sending family businesses broke, wages for low paid workers will have increased in both dollar and real terms. Up to 1.8 million workers across the country will have benefited in the last six years. That, of course, means a significant number of workers in the ACT will have benefited from that initiative.