Page 1093 - Week 04 - Wednesday, 16 March 2005

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MS GALLAGHER: You know, this question has been asked over and over and there are no figures to support it, otherwise it would be operating in every industry, not just in those on award rates. If that argument were to hold fit, why would it just be those on the minimum wage over whom the sky was going to fall in? It is not logical. In the ACT there are 40,000 workers on award rates, and these are the workers we want to look after. These are the ones for whom we say, “Yes, 20 bucks a week to help you and your family—or you, if you are a single person—to meet increased costs and to be in line with other outcomes.” They are the people we are after supporting.

Mr Mulcahy did not say what he would support or what he thought would be a fair wage outcome, but the ACTU has sought $26.60. I have not seen the employer submissions, but traditionally they will sit around $10 or $11, and the governments have called for $20. As I said—I do not think Mr Mulcahy was listening—those submissions, which you can read because they are public documents, provide very strong economic data to support the call for $20 a week. It is not $20 out of the blue, because we think that is what they can afford; that is the submission we have provided. Last year I think the claim was similar. I think the ACTU’s claim was for about $27, the territory and state governments supported $20 and the commission found for $19. The sky did not fall in when that happened.

If you look at the US model—which I think is the system we are heading to; I think even the Prime Minister has said that he likes the US model—the US Congress has recently rejected an increase to the US minimum wage. The US minimum wage is now stagnant at $5.15 an hour—so that is $A6.70 an hour. In March this year Edward Kennedy moved to raise the US minimum wage by $2.10 over the next 26 months and lost the vote—46-49. In America, about 7.3 million workers would have benefited from that wage being lifting, and they missed out.

Mr Mulcahy said Australia is the best place, and that we have the highest minimum wage. We are proud of that. We are a country of wealth. This is about sharing wealth and making sure that those who are the lowest paid get a decent wage. I do not know if you would come to work, Mr Mulcahy, for $12.30 an hour. Would you? I do not know if any of us in this chamber would—and do the work that is required of the people who are working on the minimum wage. You say that, because it is more than the American model, then we are doing okay and that that is an argument not to increase the minimum wage by a fair measure of what everyone else is receiving in Australia at the moment.

Everyone else is receiving wage increases of around four per cent. In saying that the people affected by the living wage case should not earn that, you are saying that they are not good enough to earn what everyone else is earning, and that is wrong; it is not a sound argument. We will continue to support fair wage outcomes for Australia’s lowest paid workers, regardless of what the federal government does to the industrial relations commission’s powers to arbitrate and make decisions in this area. We will continue to argue for the lowest paid workers, to make sure that they get a fair go, even if the federal government decides that they do not deserve one.

DR FOSKEY (Molonglo) (4.18): Like Mr Gentleman, the Greens regard the national living wage case as vitally important to all Australians. It is the mechanism by which our society establishes a community standard below which we do not go in remunerating

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