Anthony Albanese says he is amazed lifting the minimum wage is not a bipartisan issue, as Scott Morrison accused him of being a “loose unit on the economy”.
The Labor and Liberal leaders will face off in the third and final debate on Wednesday night, with the cost of living and lifting wages to be key issues.
Visiting the seat of North Sydney, Mr Albanese said Labor supported a rise in the minimum wage which kept wages above inflation, currently 5.1 per cent.
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But he stopped short of saying he would put the figure in a formal government submission to the Fair Work Commission, instead noting: “It’s very clear what our view is and I think the commission probably has heard that.”
The prime minister, who was in the NSW Hunter region ahead of the May 21 election, won’t put a figure on the rise saying it is a matter for the commission.
Mr Albanese said it was a case of Australians currently earning $20.33 an hour who wanted an extra $1 an hour.
“I’m the Labor leader, but I’m amazed that this is not a bipartisan issue,” he told reporters.
“This is a government that … did a budget just a short while ago, whereby they made changes to petrol, they gave a $250 handout, saying there is a cost of living crisis.
“Well, there is a cost of living crisis and people are doing it tough and that is why there needs to be action (on wages).”
Mr Albanese said his comments were consistent with the Reserve Bank saying one of the handbrakes on the economy was a lack of wages growth.
Mr Morrison said a wage increase tied to the 5.1 per cent inflation figure was an ill-thought-out policy and attacked Mr Albanese for being a “loose unit” on the economy.
“It’s like throwing fuel on the fire of rising interest rates and rising cost of living,” Mr Morrison said.
“If you want your interest rates to be skyrocketing, as a result of what Anthony Albanese is suggesting … he’s your guy.
“He thinks he can run around at this election saying he can increase people’s wages and at the same time, see cost of living pressures fall. It just doesn’t work like that.”
The prime minister said wages policy needed to be carefully considered and was best left to the independent umpire.
Mr Albanese rejected arguments a wage rise in line with inflation would result in interest rate hikes, saying Mr Morrison was being “loose with the truth”.
Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce said a 5.1 per cent rise would be inflationary, describing it as “idiotic”.
“The businesses that can are going to put it on the prices of their products,” he said.
The deputy prime minister said falling unemployment would lift wages, as workers would be in a better bargaining position.
“I can assure you, in regional areas if you don’t apply the right amount of money that person just walks to another job very, very quickly.”
Australian Industry Group chief executive Innes Willox said wage growth over five per cent – or an increase to the minimum wage of $42 a week – was unsustainable.
“There are hundreds of thousands of small businesses and for many of them this would be a backbreaker, it’s not sustainable for them to be asked to pay this,” he told Sydney radio 2GB.
The ACTU has revised up its annual wage review claim from five to 5.5 per cent, which would lift the annual minimum adult wage rate to $42,384.84.
So far just under 650,000 people have cast their ballots at early polling booths.
An average of opinion polls published by The Poll Bludger puts Labor ahead in two-party terms 54.3 per cent to 45.7 per cent, or a 5.8 per cent swing since the 2019 election.
© AAP 2022