Working Life

New attack on the minimum wage is beyond the pale


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By the Working Life Team

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

MAURICE Newman is hardly a household name, but make no mistake, he is one of the most influential people in Australia.

For many years, Newman (pictured) has been in the shadows on the edge of power as a key confidante of conservative politicians. He was one of John Howard’s closest advisors, and was rewarded with a number of plumb jobs, including chairman of the ABC.

With the election of Tony Abbott, Newman has again been given a key role of incredible influence: chairman of the Prime Minister’s Business Advisory Council. This council will be dictating the government’s approach to economic and workplace policy over the next three years.

Covert power and influence

People like Maurice Newman exert their power covertly, through networking and influence. They prefer to operate that way, to stay under the radar, and present an opaque, non-threatening personality to the general public.

But occasionally, just occasionally, they pop up into public view and give us a taste of what they really think.

Newman – a member of Australia’s business elite stratosphere who made his millions as a stockbroker and investment banker – did just that on Monday night this week, delivering a wide-ranging critique of the recently-departed Labor Government in a speech to the Committee for Economic Development of Australia.

In some respects, it was more of the monotonous, nonsensical views we’ve come to expect from the business community, which despite its total lack of newsworthiness, ends up on the front pages of the Australian Financial Review and The Australian.

But it was Newman’s surprisingly frank contempt for the structures that make up our system of workplace rights and protections that has earned him the title of the inaugural member of the Working Life Hall of Shame.

“While any discussion in Australia about industrial relations evokes screams of outrage and spectres of WorkChoices, we cannot hide the fact that Australian wage rates are very high by international standards and that our system is dogged by rigidities,” Newman is reported to have said.

What is so concerning about Maurice Newman’s comments is that they must represent a widely-held view in the new government that minimum wages are too high and must be cut.

He went onto note that Australia’s minimum wage – which in July rose to $16.37 an hour or $622.20 a week – was far higher than that in the United Kingdom, United States and Canada.

“When we’re $US33,500 and the US itself is only $15,080 you can see there’s an enormous disparity,” he said.

Newman claimed he was not suggesting Australia’s minimum wage should be halved, but it is difficult to come to any other conclusion from his comments, in which he also questioned why business pays workers’ compensation and superannuation, and why employees get paid sick and holiday leave.

For good measure, he also called for a review of the funding commitments to the National Disability Insurance Scheme and to the better schools program (the ‘Gonski reforms’).

A decent minimum wage is a sign of a civilised society

As we have noted many times before, a decent minimum wage is a sign of a civilised society. Australia was a world pacesetter in establishing a living wage at the beginning of last century, and it has always been one of the hallmarks of the fair and egalitarian society we have had since that we support a relatively high minimum wage. It is what distinguishes Australia from much of the rest of the world.

A decent minimum wage is one of the bulwarks that prevents Australia developing a large underclass of working poor, which now so dominates the United States. And it is credited as helping to sustain our economy during the slowdown caused by the Global Financial Crisis, when other nations with a lower minimum wage sunk into recession.

Not only that, but more enlightened public figures in the US, like President Barack Obama and the newly-elected Democratic Mayor of New York City, Bill De Blasio, realise that minimum wages there urgently need to rise or the nation will be stuck in an economic quagmire and poverty and inequality will worsen.

Yet in Australia, it is the throwback views of the business elite, epitomised by Maurice Newman, that are gaining traction.

A surprising critic of Newman’s views emerged yesterday in Professor Ian Harper, former head of the WorkChoices-era Fair Pay Commission.

“When it comes to the competitiveness of the Australian economy, really the minimum wage is not a big deal. Very few Australians are paid the absolute minimum wage,” Harper told the ABC.

“And even if you think about the minimum classification wages, very few Australians are paid that as well. Most Australians who earn wages are paid wages that are negotiated as part of enterprise bargaining agreements, and they’re above the absolute minimum.”

What is so concerning about Maurice Newman’s comments is that they must represent a widely-held view in the new government that wages, especially the minimum wage, are too high and must be cut. Just as many Liberal MPs share the view of the business community that penalty rates must be cut or abolished.

Last month, the Australian Financial Review profiled Newman in its annual power issue and predicted he would be highly influential in shaping the Abbott Government’s economic policies. Interestingly, today’s Fin claims that Newman’s speech was written in close consultation with Abbott’s office.

Newman is also a known climate change sceptic, and his fingerprints can be seen all over that Coalition policy too. In his speech on Monday, he came out as an enthusiastic supporter of the so-called ‘direct action’ approach to climate change and said investing in renewable energy was effectively a waste of taxpayers’ money.

With a key review of public spending already outsourced to big business through the Commission of Audit chaired by Tony Shepherd, it looks like the new government will be doing a lot of listening to corporate Australia, and pay scant attention to the rest of us.

Newman’s comments can only be interpreted as an early salvo on a full-scale assault on wages and conditions.

For these reasons and more, Maurice Newman enters the Hall of Shame, a place where we will shine the spotlight on those in business, politics and public policy who by words and by deeds pose the greatest threat to the lives of working people.

He has definitely earnt the dubious honour.

Working Life is a forum to share ideas and opinions about work and life, both light-hearted and serious. The opinions presented on Working Life are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent policies or views of the ACTU.


Creative Commons License
We believe in the free flow of information, and content on Working Life is available to be republished online or in print under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.


  1. Irma Kovac
    Wednesday, 13 November, 2013 at 1:46 pm · Reply

    I say let Newman and all his cohorts work for the minimum wages and live on it for a year,or at least a few month. i like to see them trying those self indulging hypocrites.i hope they choke on their greed.

  2. Jason
    Wednesday, 13 November, 2013 at 2:54 pm · Reply

    Libertarian Disease is spreading. It infected USA, then Europe, and now it’s appearing in Australia.

    The only cure is immediate eradication of the disease. Just say no to Libertarians.

    • A Libertarian
      Wednesday, 13 November, 2013 at 8:47 pm · Reply

      Libertarianism is not the problem. Greed and selfishness is the problem. Libertarianism at it’s core is just a belief in personal liberty and self determination. Libertarians can support socialist ideals of a mutually supportive system of community and government.

  3. Cassandra
    Wednesday, 13 November, 2013 at 7:33 pm · Reply

    Newman’s address shows how confident (cocky) the business community is now that Abbott & Co are in power and his Queensland Namesake and the other Liberal Premiers are implementing anti union and anti worker policies as fast as they can. An opportunity like this might come around only every 50 years or so unlike Labor when it controlled both the Federal and State Governments and left much anti worker legislation on the books the Tories seize the opportunity to ramp up the attacks even further.

    Backed by a doting media more and more of these real faceless men of the Australian economy are glorying in their 15 minutes of infamy by spruiking in any forum that will have them in the full knowledge that the media will print their opinions as if they have just descended from Mt Sinai after an audience with the Almighty carrying the Tablets .

    Unfortunately the tablets are not of wisdom but are economic laxatives they expect us all to swallow .

    It is interesting that the likes of Newman called Labor’s policies “Class Warfare” despite his class getting richer and richer and any losses they incurred in the last 6 years were solely due to the collapse of their vaunted economic policies in the USA! However it is now OK for them to declare economic warfare on the very people who put their government of choice in power!

    When will we ever learn?

  4. renna ross
    Wednesday, 13 November, 2013 at 8:27 pm · Reply

    why is it australias wages are too high? maybe the rest of the world is too low!We’re not the ones sitting in the gutters because there’s no jobs around to pay our rent/ loans etc. Maybe these rich “know it alls” should pull their head out of the clouds & wake up to themselves.

    • paul b
      Saturday, 16 November, 2013 at 6:55 am · Reply

      the rich get richer and hate the workers more ,they hide under the covers at night worrying they may be attacked by working mums ,wait till they roll out Christianity like the yanks ,vomit bags on standby !!!

  5. paul b
    Saturday, 16 November, 2013 at 6:52 am · Reply

    They are a sack of rats and dumb as dog poo ,workers work get paid and buy the bosses goods ,try selling $35,000 cars to someone that earns $8 per hour ,I just don’t work.

    I want to know when their space ship takes off for there home planet so I can watch ,they sure don’t live on this one .

    I sadly miss the union/ left wing /anti war days of my youth ,now people think they are millionaires and worry about facebook ,they are being sucked in .


  6. Anne Marie
    Saturday, 16 November, 2013 at 1:18 pm · Reply

    What a sad leadership. Fearful of not having enough even though they have the most. Global corporates ruling the world. Not much has changed. Elites rise to the top repeatedly in history. And then there is revolution. Our current government are smarmy, underhanded egoists. However, as someone else implied, when an electorate goes for the “change option” because they are tired of lack of cohesion in one party, they get cohesion alright. A forceful alliance against low to middle income workers and women of course. The overwhelmingly male cabinet has complete disdain for women. Most part time, casual and low income workers are women. Given that women comprise at least half the electorate I have to say we also get what we deserve for voting for the illusion of solid leadership. Lack of engaged citizenship is the responsibility of all of us. It actually does not take much effort to recognise that major corporate media moguls manipulate public opinion and governments. It seems to me that the revolution will not occur until more people hurt.

  7. George Naumovski
    Saturday, 16 November, 2013 at 3:02 pm · Reply

    The main policy of Conservative/tory governments is the “slave & master” rule, the Australian people have voted for the “slave & master” rule and now have to live with the consequences.

  8. anand naidu
    Sunday, 17 November, 2013 at 8:56 pm · Reply

    Maurice Newman has been sent by Tony Abbott to give a message to all the Australians that we earn to much.Just wait and see what Tony Abbott will do to destroy the lives of all low income Australians.I just feel so sorry for people who have voted for this Liberal party in the first place.Our lives will be totally ruined by this liberal government

  9. Michael Lundberg
    Tuesday, 19 November, 2013 at 12:10 pm · Reply

    DISGRACEFUL for the Prime Minister of a nation with the world’s NO.1. economy to resort to this kind of management of slashing the minimum wage, cutting assistance to low income earners, people on disabilities that effects the 2.2 million Aussies living below the poverty line in this country INCLUDING CHILDREN FOR GOD’S SAKE….This says to me LACK of ability to create new income streams or lack of courage to share excessive wealth in the form of billions in (clear profits) being made across the country …This says to me we have a PM in charge that is just another dime a dozen manager and NOT a Real Leader!

  10. Eric
    Tuesday, 19 November, 2013 at 12:12 pm · Reply

    Maximum wage is the burden. People with large back accounts can only buy so many tv’s.
    Stop giving million plus bonuses to selfish a’s that don’t plan on helping the world.

  11. brodie
    Tuesday, 19 November, 2013 at 12:28 pm · Reply

    If the wage was any lower then I would have to live in a tent. If you want to decrease the minimum wage then decrease all cost of living pressures people cant pay bills as it is earn less and we will all be bankrupt the where would Australia stand.

  12. Lesley Graham
    Tuesday, 19 November, 2013 at 12:40 pm · Reply

    Unfortunately the electorate has paid the price of wanting as was mentioned a cohesive party. Along with the interference of both Murdoch and Rinehart et al in the last election this maybe the wake up call that Australians need to tighten up laws protecting ordinary folk on low incomes. The rest of the world went through the GFC that is why they have such low wages, but like anything they will rise once the European and American economies start to improve. The likes of Maurice Newman may kowtow to big business, but they need to pay attention to what is going on in America at the moment, with the fast food industry workers organising themselves into unions and the power is building and the large corporates such as Walmart , McDonalds, Wendy’s etc may fall due to the low wages they pay there workers, and the fact that they expect there workers to draw on food stamps and publicly funded medical care and bill support, goes to show this is a large reason why there economy is in such a mess, because the minimum wage is far too low to survive on, therefore this means that low paid workers cannot afford to spend money apart from rent and maybe some small bills. This means, the higher income earners taxes are used to prop up the working poor, and for the life of me I can’t see why dont the liberals get this, or the business communities get there collective heads around this concept, because once you reduce minimum wage government is forced to dip into the coffers to support the poor, ask the Americans they are doing this to the tune of 7 billion dollars a year thats a huge price to pay for corporations that are wanting to run the show. America is a prime example of distorted and dysfunction that corporations can inflict on a government this occurs when there are so many vested interests in congress. The implementation of the concept of Separation of powers needs to be examined in respect of how corporations infiltrate congress and allow big business to manipulate the governments function and capacity to make decisions that affectnot only the whole country, but how the tax system functions and is utilised.

    • Cassandra
      Tuesday, 19 November, 2013 at 7:00 pm · Reply

      “This means, the higher income earners taxes are used to prop up the working poor, and for the life of me I can’t see why dont the liberals get this, or the business communities get there collective heads around this concept, because once you reduce minimum wage government is forced to dip into the coffers to support the poor,”

      Ah! People like Newman get it alright! That’s why they whinge and put pressure on the governments to REDUCE their taxes and their company wages bill. This means higher personal profit for them and higher profits for their companies while the cost of this huge subsidy is transferred to the government – that is the PAYE taxpayer who cannot avoid paying the full whack the law demands.

      If the Government finds it hard to pay social security & pensions then Newman & Co’s answer is to cut it further or to get the government to ‘fire sale’ OUR assets or let them take over the profit making ones or ‘contract’ for the loss making ones with a government subsidy turning the loss into a profit for them.

      Stupid politicians like the Liberals and ,sadly, a majority of those who vote for them cannot see that they are being taken for a ride. Where do governments go for loans to make up the deficit – yep to the private sector who happily give them the loans – at a suitable interest of course! WIn, Win for the private owners of capital, Lose,Lose for us mug voters.

  13. Greg
    Tuesday, 19 November, 2013 at 2:52 pm · Reply

    This is just another right wing fascist manoeuvre to further control the people of Australia. These so called economist couldn’t live on the minimum wage if their lives depended on it. And the ideas they so brilliantly come up with have all been tried in other countries like USA for example and it doesn’t work!

  14. Deb Standen
    Tuesday, 19 November, 2013 at 3:09 pm · Reply

    If everything, including food, was not the most expensive in the world, wages might be decreased
    But profits and upper management and CEO wages would also have to decrease first!!!

    Let those that can afford a decrease start the trend !!

  15. Paulie Bar
    Thursday, 6 February, 2014 at 5:16 am · Reply

    I think he is 100% right. It is ridiculous to pay someone $16.37 an hour to do a job that requires absolutely no skills and no training. Why would any young Australian try to better themselves if they can make $16.37 an hour being lazy and stupid.
    Just show up and make $33,000 a year !!

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