Page 1087 - Week 04 - Wednesday, 16 March 2005

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balances these against economic concerns. This is an equitable exercise in seeking to ensure that low-wage, full-time workers are not struggling below the poverty line.

In considering changes to this system, the principle of fairness must be retained. The process of determination of the living wage case is a reflection of the competing interests inherent in Australian workplaces every day. This presents us with an opportunity to consider how best, how fairly, to balance competing interests and redress poverty concerns for Australian workers.

MR MULCAHY (Molonglo) (3.53): I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak on this issue. It is the first time, I think, since my election and Mr Gentleman’s election to the Assembly that we have actually had a debate or an MPI on industrial relations matters. There is always an attempt in this sort of context to try to stereotype or characterise the position of the Liberal Party and our colleagues in the Australian government, the federal government, as one that is against improvement in people’s living standards; that we take some enjoyment out of people being in poverty and misery. It has certainly not been my experience in life that that is a philosophy embraced by anyone within my political grouping and, frankly, it is not a view that is favoured by employer organisations. I have headed up several of them in my career and I have had the privilege of working in industrial relations in one form or another for, I guess, 30 years but being employed in that field since the early eighties.

The experience I have had to date is that it really comes down to a fundamental matter of understanding economics. The fields of industrial relations and economics do go hand in hand, although invariably it does not happen in terms of the political process. If we are in an environment where the economy is not well run, where we have bad economic managers or where a global circumstance even impacts on the state of play, we will see working poor, we will see people hurt, we will see businesses fail—and all that goes with that. To try to look at wage claims and wage increases in total isolation of the overall economy and other elements that are coming into play is somewhat naive.

In the context of the safety net review, this is a periodic event on the calendar and it is one such hearing or matter which I have been involved in on many previous occasions in various forms. We are in an interesting position in Australia at the moment. Our economy has experienced something in the order of 13 years of strong economic growth and unprecedented levels of employment and that has got to be one of the most important things in our society—ensuring that people who wish to work are able to work and are gainfully employed.

The position as presented by Mr Gentleman would suggest that we are in an environment with massive numbers of people who are on the poverty line and that misery prevails on all fronts. I do not deny that there are many disadvantaged people in our community. I and other members on this side—and, I am sure, members opposite—have devoted time and resources to helping those who are disadvantaged. Indeed we just had work for St Vincent de Paul a few weeks ago where many were involved.

But, that being said, I think that one has to acknowledge that the vast majority of Australians are living in conditions and circumstances that they have never previously enjoyed and of a very high level. We have the highest rate of home ownership in the world. We have record levels of unemployment that continue to go through new barriers

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