Scott Morrison softens language on wage rises amid pressure on cost of living

Scott Morrison has softened his language on wage rises as he faces mounting concern about the cost of living.

The prime minister on Tuesday also urged drivers to dob in operators suspected of jacking up petrol prices.

Morrison made the comments in the Northern Territory ahead of Wednesday’s release of the latest wage statistics, which will show whether the Reserve Bank’s prediction of an increase in pay has materialised.

Last week, Morrison labelled Anthony Albanese a “loose unit” for endorsing a 5.1% increase for minimum wage workers, a rise of just $1 for workers on $20.33 an hour.

Morrison has repeatedly claimed that Labor’s support for a real wage rise – one above inflation – would only add to “inflationary pressures”. On Thursday, he said that “any potential support you might have got and wages will be clawed back in even higher interest rates and even higher inflation”.

On Tuesday, Morrison was asked why he was warning against a $1 an hour raise to the minimum wage while his government was proposing to unleash $5bn from first-home buyers’ superannuation to allow them to purchase $100bn of housing.

Morrison told reporters in Zuccoli, in the seat of Lingiari, that the government was “supportive of wage rises”.

“We think that wage rises are good things and we want to see the wage rises occur … on a sustainable basis, and the best way for that to happen is to get unemployment down, ensure the economy grows and that businesses are succeeding which enables them to provide sustainable wage rises for workers across this country,” he said.

Morrison said that seven of the last eight minimum wage decisions by the Fair Work Commission resulted in real increases, compared to only three of six under Labor – despite minimum wages being set by the independent umpire.

Morrison is under pressure over cost of living due to runaway inflation, tipped to reach 5.5% by mid-year and 6% by year’s end.

In its May statement on monetary policy, the Reserve Bank claimed its business liaison was reporting employers “are paying larger wage increases or that they expect materially higher wages growth over the coming year”.

But Wednesday’s release of the wage price index looms as a threat to Morrison because if the figures do not show an increase in wage growth, Labor will renew its criticism that “the cost of everything is going up except your wages”.

On Tuesday, Morrison repeated his claim that Albanese was “very loose” on economic management, but refused to commit to release modelling underpinning his claim that the price impact of the super for housing policy would be “marginal”.

Instead, he referred to earlier comments from the treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, that only an estimated $5bn would be removed from super. Morrison later told Today Extra the policy was “informed by Treasury analysis”.

On Mix 104.9 Darwin, Morrison was grilled about why petrol prices were stubbornly high despite the government temporarily halving the excise tax in the budget, a cut of 22 cents per litre for six months.

Morrison claimed there were “strong laws” to ensure petrol stations pass savings on to consumers, warning they “can be prosecuted”.

He suggested listeners report “specific bowser prices” to the competition regulator. Prices “will move around – they go up and down”, he said.

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