Fair deal for the low paid

IN approving a moderate pay rise for low-paid workers, Fair Work Australia has had to balance many factors.

Households are complaining that their spending power is falling as prices of key necessities rise.

But businesses in most sectors other than mining are struggling too, and adding a wage rise to their costs won’t help them stay afloat. The flip side of that is that most low-paid people tend to spend all their money – of necessity – so giving them more to spend should provide an immediate boost to the economy.

The $17.10-a-week pay rise takes the minimum wage to $606.40.

The increase is – in true King Solomon tradition – less than the $26 sought by the union movement but well above the $9.40 promoted by business advocates.

Pressure had been applied to the wage arbiter to boost pay to cover increased expenses anticipated as a result of the federal government’s carbon tax, but Fair Work Australia’s president, Justice Iain Ross, said enough compensation was already being provided through tax cuts and transfer payments.

Justice Ross noted that, over the past decade, average earnings had risen faster than individual rates of pay.

What that means is that people whose remuneration depends on award pay rates have been falling behind in disposable income and purchasing power.

As for the direction of the Australian economy in the weeks and months ahead, opinions vary.

Westpac chief economist Bill Evans has predicted as many as four official interest rate cuts over the course of the coming year. If that prediction comes true, indebted households will get significant cash injections and more people may be induced to borrow.

Against the present backdrop of immense capital investment in mining projects across Australia – and already low unemployment – some commentators are warning of the potential for an inflationary breakout.

Ultimately, Justice Ross’s guiding principle in reaching his decision was that of attempting to provide equal remuneration for work of equal value.

That goal is becoming increasingly elusive in most countries. It is good to see it remains a factor in the thinking of Fair Work Australia.


IT is difficult to recall, 20 years later, that some people once doubted whether anything substantial would ever be built at the Honeysuckle redevelopment site. Even after tens of millions of dollars in public funds had been spent overhauling obsolete and derelict services and infrastructure beside Newcastle Harbour, private dollars were slow to follow. But when the money came, it came in a rush.

True, Novocastrian opinion of Honeysuckle today is often polarised over questions of design, aesthetics, views and open space. But there can be no denying that, in terms of attracting private investment in a major experiment in urban transformation, the project has done much of what it set out to do.

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