Last week Bill Shorten, the leader of the Australian Labor Party (which is currently in opposition) signalled the party’s intent to significantly raise the minimum wage. The media’s reaction was overall neutral, with a preliminary but systematic review finding as many negatively as positively slanted articles about the announcement. This stands in contrast to public opinion, which is overwhelmingly in favour of increasing the minimum wage.
Two days after the announcement a Google news search for “Shorten minimum wage increase” surfaced 17 articles which were directly relevant to the announcement and not behind a paywall. Of those one was determined to be neutral, eight were determined to be positively slanted, and eight were determined to be negatively slanted. Where the angle of the article wasn’t immediately clear, the number of positive and negative phrases were counted. No attempt was made to factor in the circulation of the publications or popularity of each article, no distinction was made between opinion and reportage, or between positive phrases that were quoted and those in the outlets own editorial voice. This means stories reporting the opposiion leaders announcement and including quotes from that announcement were often counted as part of the positive coverage.
The final result of this process was a 50-50 split between positive and negative articles. According to the most recent polling (from 2017 and 2018) commissioned by union groups but carried out by independent companies, the public has a different perspective, with a 2 to 1 split in favour of increasing minimum wages. The first of these polls even found that a strong majority of (conservative) Coalition voters, nearly 60%, believed minimum wages should be raised. 77% of Labor voters held the same view.
Arguments against increasing the minimum wage centered on the cost to businesses, which opponents claimed would be passed on to consumers as higher prices, and hurt workers through job losses. The fact that Australia already has a comparatively high minimum wage was also raised.
The second of the two union commissioned polls asked the public to address this issue directly, asking whether respondents thought “increasing the minimum wage will increase the amount people have to spend, creating demand that will create jobs” or whether “increasing the minimum wage will increase the costs on small business, cost jobs and force small businesses to close.” 64% supported the former of these propositions, and 36% supported the latter.Expert opinion seems to be on the side of the public, rather than the press, with a study by the Australian Reserve Bank finding no negative impact from pay increases on job creation and retention. A researcher from ARB was quoted as saying he could “rule out adverse effects ” on jobs and hours worked, adding “If anything, the point estimates suggest that the job destruction rate actually declines when the award wage is increased.”