Prime Minister Scott Morrison says he wants to see wages rise and claimed they will increase faster under the Coalition, ahead of new figures that could show inflation outstripping pay increases for workers.
Mr Morrison spoke ahead of the latest Wage Price Index figures, as wages and cost-of-living dominate the debate ahead of polling day on Saturday.
The Prime Minister, speaking to media in Geelong, also said there would be no return to lockdowns under the Coalition, saying he didn't want to "crush" the dreams of Australians getting back into work and trying to move past the pandemic.
He also accused Labor leader Anthony Albanese of getting ahead of himself by telling News Corp he would be ready to attend the Quad meeting along with Labor's foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong days after the election, if the opposition won government.
Mr Morrison said wages were going up but "inflation is the challenge" as the cost of living outstrips wage rises.
"Wages are going to go up because unemployment is coming down," he said.
"The way wages goes up, is when you get unemployment down and you get businesses that are able to earn more so they can afford and pay higher wages.
"Now I want to see wages go up. I want to see the minimum wage go up. Of course I do."
Mr Morrison said the minimum wage rise had to be set by the Fair Work Commission, in another apparent rebuke of Mr Albanese after the Coalition accused the Labor leader of intervening in the agency's wage setting decision.
Questioned about when Australians could expect their wages to stop going backwards, Mr Morrison said it would happen faster under the Coalition.
"What I can tell you is it'll take even longer if you have policies, as the Labor Party propose, which means not managing money, not being able to afford the promises they're making, that only puts further pressure on inflation, and more upward pressure on interest rates."
Asked about the number of COVID deaths in Australia, Mr Morrison said the government would not return the nation to the period of lockdowns and daily press conferences about the pandemic in 2020 and 2021.
"We're living with the virus and we're ensuring that our economy is coming back to life, and people are getting back into jobs, and I'm not going to crush their dreams by taking Australia backwards into that environment again," he said.
"Of course, we'll monitor carefully any issues that relate to new variants, but when it comes to going forward, Australians want to move ahead."
Mr Morrison said every death linked to the virus was a "terrible loss". But he again boasted of Australia's fatality rate compared to other countries, referencing a New York Times article which suggested 900,000 deaths could have been avoided in the US had it followed the path taken by his government.
Asked what steps could be taken to curtail cases and deaths, Mr Morrison pointed to a winter preparedness plan developed by national cabinet. He dismissed suggestions that a fourth dose should be administered to the wider population, saying that wasn't the recommendation from health officials.
Mr Morrison said he had been in contact with the chief medical officer about new variants, and that the governments was watching the evidence carefully.
"If there are issues that arise, then we will act on them, but the advice we have is consistent with the approach that we've continued to take and there hasn't been a change to that."
The Prime Minister also made an unsubstantiated claim that Mr Albanese was "keen" to reimpose COVID restrictions.
COVID has been a largely peripheral issues during the federal election campaign despite rising cases and deaths ahead of an expected winter surge
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