100 years of the minimum wage and the Australian tax and transfer system: what has happened, what have we learnt and what are the challenges?

Author/editor: Bray, J.R.
Published in (Monograph or Journal): Australian Tax Forum
Year published: 2015
Volume no.: 30


The Australian minimum wage, as with Commonwealth income tax, had its origin in the early decades of federation. This article reviews the development of these, along with government transfers, to find whether, in the lessons of the past 100 years, there may be insights into the challenges for the income tax system in the next century. Over the last century, the role of the minimum wage has changed. Most significant has been its transition from a family wage to a wage for a single person. While the income tax system has at times played a role in seeking to achieve horizontal equity, this has increasingly been achieved through transfer payments. The history of these changes highlights the extent to which features of systems can become locked-in, the long time scales associated with achieving reform, the risks of losing achievements through inertia, and the need for, but difficulty in achieving, coordination across the tax and transfer system, and with wages.

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