Page 1088 - Week 04 - Wednesday, 16 March 2005

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of success, particularly in terms of when we last achieved the sort of figures we have today. We have very quickly forgotten that era that was presented to us by the Labor administration nationally when year after year of record interest rates inflicted unemployment on large numbers of people and all the terrible devastation that inflicts on households when the breadwinner or both breadwinners are unemployed.

The ACTU has made a claim in the safety net review, seeking a $26.60 per week increase in all award rates. This increase would be unfair to those who are lower paid, low-skilled workers, because, as those minimum rates are set at a level that becomes unaffordable for many businesses, the opportunities simply are not presented.

It is regrettable that Labor feels constantly beholden to union leaders, many of whom, I might say, I think now have moved a long way from their original commitments and values and are very much now more preoccupied with involvement in peripheral issues; they are interested in the big money of superannuation. Ensuring that the average Australian family is secure and employed and has got continuity of income is not so important any more. The agenda has become so broad and diverse that the main game has been forgotten.

I believe that an increase of the sort of magnitude proposed by the ACTU would be unfair to the unemployed. Large increases in award wages price people out of the market and deny people at the lower end of the scale entry into the employment market. You only have to talk to young people who are frustrated with trying to get employment to know how disheartening it is for them at that stage of their career, trying to get into the work force, when every door is closed. We have the situation here where a young person living in Canberra has one chance in 150 of getting into the ACT public service, because they do not employ people any more who do not have a tertiary education. We keep hearing statements from both sides of politics that the be-all and end-all is not university education, but in fact the doors of one of the biggest employers in this territory have been closed.

In terms of this advocacy of the high level of pay claim that has been demanded by the ACTU, I acknowledge that the state and territory governments came up with a more moderate figure of $20 a week, and I acknowledge publicly that that was a more sensible approach than the one advocated by their colleagues in the trade union movement. When you talk of these figures of $8 or $10 or $11 or $12 dollars, it does not sound too much money at all, but in fact when you multiply them across the work force in a business or across a country, it runs of course into many, many millions of dollars.

So the fact that the ACT government itself is not in accord with the ACTU is a step towards some measure of progress. But the issue still comes down to what is a fair increase. Despite the statements earlier from the Chief Minister suggesting that I want people to have their pay cut, nobody in Australian politics that I have heard of suggests that we cut people’s pay. People have talked about rates of increase—that is the issue—and what is affordable and we talk about the size of public sector establishments. They are quite different things.

I draw to the attention of members an article I read that was published only this week in the Australian of work undertaken by the Melbourne Institute. It actually showed that, under the ACTU’s claim, a single-income family with a small child would be

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