HON. WAYNE SWAN MP
FEDERAL MEMBER FOR LILLEY
PRIVATE MEMBERS BUISNESS (INEQUALITY & CEO PAY)
FEDERATION CHAMBER, CANBERRA
MONDAY 21 NOVEMBER 2016
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I thank the member for Scullin for moving this important motion, because inequality of wealth and income is the central challenge of our generation. There is no doubt it is casting a very dark shadow over the global economy and over national economies and societies. We see now that capitalist countries are increasingly dominated by a plutocratic family model of inherited privilege which is usually backed up by an overpowered and overpaid financial and corporate elite, which is why it was not surprising last week to see our Prime Minister out there doing a Napoleon. Not the emperor—no, the pig; the pig from George Orwell's Animal Farm, because our Prime Minister is as blind to the consequences of growing inequality as are his business backers in the Business Council of Australia. Both suffer from what I call a 'blindness of affluence'.
In a speech to the Business Council last Thursday he said: “policy changes must be seen to be fair”.
Wrong, Prime Minister! Policy changes must be fair. This Prime Minister has been so concerned about income inequality that in the past seven years, since he became Leader of the Opposition in 2008, a government minister and now Prime Minister, he has mentioned inequality just five times. That is five times in the last six months.
Last Thursday our multimillionaire Prime Minister told the annual BCA dinner that Australians will have to accept policies that create short-term winners and losers. This is the Prime Minister who went to the last election with a $50 billion handout to multinational companies and radical proposals to undermine the voice of working people—to attack their wages, their unions and their working conditions.
He has done this in the full knowledge of IMF warnings about the unequal distributional impact of these policies and the peril they bring to global economies. The IMF says that a growing economy cannot be built on a shrinking share going to working people. Ignoring this advice, there he was at the BCA dinner last week—like Napoleon, the pig from Animal Farm—spruiking the benefits of his trickle-down policies and preaching to those outside the room that the winners in the room did not even really like the milk and apples, they just took them for the good of society. In the room they must have grunted with enthusiasm when the Prime Minister told them over their abundance of milk and apple that inequality is something that must be viewed over a lifetime. Of course he left by getting up on his two legs and hopping on his VIP jet, and off he went to Peru.
For those who are familiar with Animal Farm, over the long term the seven commandments they operated by were reduced to one single law:
All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.
That is the basis of trickle-down economics. This is not just about income and wealth; it is about political power exercised to entrench disproportionate influence over government.
Australia, over the years, has done a better job than most other countries in sharing the benefits of growth—especially better than the United States. But in recent years we have started to go backwards. The annual wages growth in September of 1.9 per cent was a new record low. The private sector has now seen wages grow by less than 0.5 per cent in seven consecutive quarters, and still the Prime Minister and his government seek to attack penalty rates and the minimum wage. The Prime Minister has frozen the wages of Medicare workers at $62,000 a year for over three years. Meanwhile, 85 per cent of the Australian Public Service have had their salaries frozen for around three years. In Australia over the last 30 years the proportion of the total income of the top 10 per cent has gone from 24 per cent to 30 per cent. In the United States it has gone from 31 per cent to an obscene 46 per cent. This change has been driven by obscene levels of executive pay.
Ordinary workers sit by and watch obscene executive pay increases. Only last week in Queensland we had the spectre of the former Minister Macfarlane, in breach of the Prime Minister's ministerial code of conduct, take up a position with the Queensland Resources Council, along with a board appointment to Woodside, in total bringing in a near seven-figure sum. How on earth does the mining industry think that its peak representative body will be taken seriously as an honest broker? Last week in LA the three Murdochs pulled in $84 million a year between them. Executive packages like these tell working people that the wealthy have captured policy-making.