Malcolm Turnbull has said the nation’s sluggish wage growth will pick up this year, arguing if the economy continues to expand, workers’ pay packets are certain to soon follow.
The pledge comes as the latest Newspoll shows a slight rebound in popularity for the Coalition, as Mr Turnbull widened his lead over Bill Shorten as preferred prime minister.
Appearing on ABC’s Insiders program on the eve of the first session of Parliament for the year, Mr Turnbull heralded Australia’s jobs growth, but conceded wages were “going up, but not going up enough”.
“You’ll see that over the next year and following,” he said.
“As long as you get continued economic growth, you will see more demand for labour, and that will see wages move up.”
The first Newspoll figures of the year, released Monday morning (AEST), reveal the Prime Minister now leads Opposition Leader Shorten as preferred leader 45 to 31 – reflecting a four point rise for Mr Turnbull and a three point slide for the Opposition Leader.
The Coalition also received its best two-party preferred result since April last year, trailing Labor 48 to 52.
In an agenda-setting speech in Toowoomba last week, Mr Turnbull indicated that wages would improve, but did not give a timeline.
On Sunday, the Prime Minister was pressed to tell workers when they would see an improvement, given company profits and productivity were up.
Asked why he still had faith in “trickle-down economics” and why further company tax cuts would benefit workers, Mr Turnbull said reducing the corporate rate would give the private sector the “incentive to invest”, leading to more jobs and higher wages.
“Because if you get more economic growth, you get competition for labour,” he said.
“The laws of supply and demand have not been suspended.”
Asked why wages had only risen by 2 per cent last year when company profits had increased by 20 per cent over the same period, Mr Turnbull replied: “I don’t accept the validity of that description.”
If trickledown economics works, when will it start? When will wages go up and when will our jobs stop being casualised? #insiders
— Sally McManus (@sallymcmanus) February 3, 2018
Wage growth a key battleground
Both leaders have identified the economy and cost of living pressures as priorities for the political year, with an election due before May 2019.
Wages, which are growing at a near-record low of 2 per cent, are expected to be a key battleground.
That comes despite the economy creating 403,000 more jobs last year, which Mr Turnbull heralded as “the highest jobs growth since records began”.
In December’s mid-year budget update, the government lowered wage growth expectations to 2.75 per cent, down from 3 per cent in May.
In a speech to the National Press Club last week, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten argued “for millions of working people, business as usual, wage stagnation as usual, simply isn’t good enough”.
Mr Shorten said big companies were keeping workers’ wages low “because they can”, and hit out at the Turnbull government for “attacking unions who fight for pay rises for workers”.
Hinting at the need for industrial relations reform, Mr Shorten described the minimum wage as “no longer a living wage” and said Australia needed to “fix the disconnect between wages and productivity”.
On Sunday, Mr Turnbull accused the Opposition Leader of having “the most anti-business, the most anti-investment, the most anti-jobs policy of any Labor leader since [Gough] Whitlam”.
“It used to be common ground that, if you encouraged the private sector to invest, you would get stronger economic growth and more employment,” he said.
“[Paul] Keating argued for that. [Bob] Hawke argued for that. [Neville] Wran argued for that. Now we’ve got Bill Shorten going back several generations to the anti-business left-wing policies that most people thought the Labor Party had cast aside back in the ’70s. He’s reviving them.”