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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 3 Hansard (6 March) . . Page.. 655 ..

MR PRATT (continuing):

State Labor governments are falling into line behind the ACTU and supporting the $25 a week increase. This is not a responsible approach. Instead of congratulating the ACT government, Ms Gallagher might want to think about the small, often struggling, ACT businesses her motion will condemn.

We, here in the ACT, should no longer be satisfied to be merely a public service town. We have been trying to grow our small business enterprises. To support this motion, to congratulate the government on its initiative, is a step in the wrong direction. Congratulations of government, by government, for what government should do anyway is perhaps a bit contrite.

Further, I would stress that the previous government had put in place the poverty task force, and now the government has its reports. If the government takes notice of the reports coming out of that, then we will ensure that nobody is disadvantaged. In fact, the previous government was extremely compassionate, as Liberal governments are intrinsically capable of being.

Uncompassionate administration is when Labor governments push up costs beyond what is affordable-perhaps to the point of the destruction of local job capabilities. I would simply point out that the destruction of small businesses by pushing up their costs will only diminish the number of jobs available. This is not what we, here in the ACT, wish to see, if we want to bring the maximum benefit possible to the maximum number of workers in the ACT.

MS DUNDAS (4.00): Mr Speaker, I rise to speak in support of this motion. I note that the submission which forms the heart of this motion is a comprehensive document that addresses a number of issues relating to the working lives of the low paid, rather than simply stating support for the ACTU's claim.

I believe the claim by the ACTU for $25 a week is reasonable and fair. It is unlikely to have adverse consequences for the labour market and the economy generally, as Mr Pratt has raised.

Given the increasing prices of essential utilities like electricity, gas and phone connection, this claim is not only reasonable, it is essential-if we are to protect even the basic living standards afforded to the lower paid. Or perhaps we think it is all right if people have to go without heating, or have to disconnect their phone in order to make ends meet. This is happening already. There are cases where the ends are obviously not meeting. I am sure we all know of examples.

As Mr Pratt has indicated, the federal government has a counterclaim of $10 a week. That will do little to even maintain current stretched conditions for the lower paid. At the same time, the federal government has tried to portray the ACTU's higher claim as bad for low income people. This, I believe, is an obvious insult.

The argument that increasing low paid workers' rates of pay by $25 a week will lead to massive job losses is a familiar and tired argument in debates about industrial relations. This effect is not well established. However obvious it might seem to the federal government, a number of empirical studies contradict it.

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