By Denis Bright
Hoping a smooth campaign of boring photo opportunities, LNP insiders were obviously shocked by negative reactions to its Return to Neoliberal Normalcy Strategies. The leadership and policy vacuum generated by the LNP has generated unexpected focus on real policy issues which the latest round of pork-barreling has not arrested.
There was real wisdom in Labor’s small target response to the LNP’s bid for re-election. Negative reactions to falling real wages in the context of exploding housing and rental costs are giving new momentum to Labor campaign to achieve government with a substantial majority.
In the once marginal Labor seat of Griffith in Brisbane from the LNP’s 2019 campaign, the Liberal Party accepted the trends in polling by allocating preferences to Labor ahead of the Greens. On the latest YouGov polling, Griffith is now the safest Labor seat with 60 per cent of preferences going to Labor after preferences.
The groundswell for a change of government has built up during the past two years as more working poor and really disadvantaged constituents head to the weekly food distribution at a park near the West End CBD.
This is the darker side of neoliberalism which Scott Morrison refuses to acknowledge in his ideological commitment to the current economic system.
Such heartless attitudes prevailed in the discussion of fair affordable wage policies which have surfaced in the latter stages of the LNP’s plans to return to normalcy by provoking slip ups in those gotcha questions from the assembled media to Anthony Albanese.
Anthony Albanese in government can support +5 per cent increase in the minimum wage through the deliberations of the Fair Work Commission (FWC) on 7 June as promised without compromising any political conventions.
Labor is not attempting to control the deliberations of the FWC which was established during the Rudd-Gillard years to end the excesses of John Howard’s Work Choices. John Howard lot his own seat in 2007. Perhaps the precedent can be extended to Scott Morrison’s own seat of Cook which was temporarily won by Labor in 1972.
A federal government does not have the constitution powers to set wage rates in peace-time. Even the heroic Harvester Judgment of the Arbitration Court of 8 November 1907 was successfully appealed against in 1908. However, it was a moral victory for wages justice through the Arbitration Court and more recently through the Fair Work Commission (FWC) which was established in the Rudd-Gillard years to end the excesses of Work Choices: In the Harvester Decision, Justice Higgins of the Arbitration Court decided that 7 shillings a day, or 42 shillings a week, was fair and reasonable wages for an unskilled labourer. This became the basis of the national minimum wage system in Australia.
It was a ‘living’ or ‘family’ wage, set at a level which would supposedly allow an unskilled labourer to support a wife and three children, to feed, house, and clothe them. By the 1920s it applied to over half of the Australian workforce. It became known as the ‘basic wage’.
Additional amounts were paid to more skilled workers, for example an additional 3 shillings to a fitter or other tradesperson. These additional amounts were known as ‘margins’. In the Harvester Decision, a fair and reasonable wage for more skilled employees was for example 10 shillings a day for ‘journeymen’, or tradesmen.
Visiting the Transfield Factory in Sydney’s Seven Hills in 1986, Pope John Paul II commended Australia’s wage determination system which offered a fairer but not perfect deal for Australian workers. Having worked in a quarry near Nazi occupied Krakow, Pope John Paul was aware of the horrors of degrading workplaces.
Despite all the sweet rhetoric, Australians soon experienced horrors of that neoliberal recession We had to have in the early 1990s (Image Catholic Outlook 2016):
Just 2 per cent of the workforce subsists on minimum wages. It is up to the FWC to deliberate on the flow-on effects of minimum wage increases to other awards.
The LNP is clearly divided on wages policies. Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce indeed claims to be on Struggle Street. He is well aware of the extent of income and social disadvantaged in every country town. National Party votes there rely on persistence of the Joh era populism to keep disadvantaged voters in the fold.
Strutting Out from Struggle Street at Canberra Airport
Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce often complains about his own financial circumstances as noted by Samantha Maiden on news.com.au (21 June 2021):
Resurrected Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce once complained he was so skint he was forced to kill his own meat – but he’s now doubled his pay by returning to the fold as Deputy Prime Minister on $433,575 a year.
The father of six will secure a whopping pay rise in his next pay packet that will increase his pay from his current salary of $211,500 as a backbencher.
Two years ago, the MP revealed he was doing it tough and was slaughtering his own farm animals to help reduce his grocery bill.
Scott Morrison’s warnings against supporting the maintenance of the purchasing power of minimum wages is regarded as one of the worst slips of the government’s re-election bid according to Economics Editor Ross Gittins of The SMH (13 May 2022):
At last, as the election campaign reaches the final stretch, we’ve found something worth debating. Anthony Albanese has found his spine and supported a big rise in award wages, while Scott Morrison says a decent rise for the masses is a terrible idea that would damage the economy.
First the politics, then the economics. My guess is history will judge this to be the misstep that did most to cost Morrison the election. Successful Liberal leaders – John Howard, for instance – knew never to be caught within cooee of a sign saying “wages should be lowered”. It’s not the way to woo outer-suburbs battlers to the Liberal cause.
Perhaps the plight of self-funded retirees will surface during the final week of the campaign. The trend lines in returns from some of the best superannuation funds like Q Super is not very encouraging as shown by the latest performance data to 13 May 2022.
As the latest YouGov polling shows a definitive swing to Labor outside some rusted-on LNP regional seats, the LNP has become an ideological captive of far-right minor parties as in the allocation of preferences to One Nation on the senate ballot paper across Queensland.
A lot can happen in the final week of campaigning as Australia finally returns to that Change of Government era which gave Labor control of both houses as early as 1910 and 1914. As self-proclaimed lovers of traditions the LNP should be pleased that social democracy is working again and finally extending to some of the most marginal regional LNP seats in Queensland.
A majority Labor government with ninety seats in the House of Representatives is still a possibility to achieve a long-term Labor government that is not dependent on constant negotiation with cross-bench members as in the Gillard-Rudd years after the 2010 elections.
Advocates of change should be campaigning until the final vote is cast in this still rampant COVID-19 era when it is still possible to chart a less colonial direction for our country.
Denis Bright is a financial member of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA). Denis is committed to consensus-building in these difficult times. Your feedback from readers advances the cause of citizens’ journalism. Full names are not required when making comments. However, a valid email must be submitted if you decide to hit the Replies Button.
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