Dec 162006

He says his thinking was influenced by meetings with low paid and unemployed workers from around the country, which he describes as confronting and eye-opening.

ABC News Online.

Hmmmm…..No. Bannerman doesn’t believe this man’s faux honesty. Ian Harper is not a man to be taken lightly, nor is he Chairman of the Fair Pay Commission because he’s a nice guy. He thinks as John Howard thinks on economic issues, especially with regard to market forces determining the value of labour. Apart from being a self-confessed evangelical Christian set upon doing his God’s work – a loud warning siren if ever B-man has heard one – Professor Harper already has form on the issue of just what he considers to be a fair pay regime. It certainly is not the same opinion as expressed by Justice Henry Bournes Higgins in his delivery of the 1907 Harvester Judgement.

Higgins’ judgement is famous because it established a precedent for calculating the ‘basic wage’, defined as sufficient to meet ‘the normal needs of the average employee regarded as a human being living in a civilised community’. Justice Higgins arrived at the figure of seven shillings per day by setting down the weekly expenses that he judged necessary to keep a family of two adults and three children living in what he considered to be a civilised condition. Significantly, the decision was made without reference to the employer’s ability to pay – in other words, without reference to the underlying productivity of the labour being paid the basic wage.(emphasis is Bannerman’s)

The balance between productivity and remuneration, or the cost of achieving that productivity, is the basis of our conciliation and arbitration system which has existed since 1907 until the present day. Or at least until the Howard government managed to get it’s Draconian Workchoices legislation passed in the Parliament. Business, per se, has always had difficulties in accepting that while productivity might rise, so does the economic cost of maintaining it. Slave galley labour vanished with the fall of the Roman empire, or at least, it faded away. Business and industry leaders would still prefer to hear the beat of the strokemaster’s drum, Bannerman is quite certain of that.

Harper’s assessment of the inequity of the 1907 judgement is identical to that of John Howard’s. As espoused in his 31 August 1983 speech to the National Press Club in Canberra, Howard put forward a wage-fixing platform that – in his own words – would ‘turn Higgins on his head’. Yet, in 2005 in an address to the faithful at the Sydney Institute, he stated

“We are talking about laws that date back to 1993, not the tearing up of some ancient right enshrined in Magna Carta by the Barons at Runnymede.”

So, which is it to be. Is Justice Higgins’ shade on it’s scone, or not? Don’t be distracted, reader. J.W.Howard is a leopard and we know about those type of spots, don’t we. He would not have appointed Professor Harper as chairman of the Fair Pay Commission because he, Harper, believed in Keynesian economic principles. Harper believes as Howard believes, that the price of a workers labour ought to be determined by the free market. That aggressive, all-consuming animal sired by capitalism, out of greed. For the worker, for all the platitudes offered by Howard, et al in favour of fairness and balance, the market will always be permitted to decree the worth of his/her labour. Any pretence at long-lived productivity and a better life for all is quite simply that. A pretence. The industrial unrest of the 1890’s is proof positive.

No, Professor Harper may well be a dedicated Christian, but in his heart of hearts, he remains an even more avid Hayek disciple.

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