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Tuesday, 18 October 1983
Page: 1831


Mr PEACOCK (Leader of the Opposition)(4.10) —After listening to those on the Government side and hearing what transpired, I suggest that perhaps one avenue of breaking through the unemployment barrier would be by way of a legal- led or lawyer-led recovery, judging by the writs that are allegedly going around .


Mr Lusher —A liquidator-led recovery.


Mr PEACOCK —A liquidator-led recovery might be another way of putting it, having regard to the interests of some honourable members. The Opposition has proposed this discussion of a matter of public importance, namely 'the Hawke Government's endorsement of high and rising unemployment as inevitable', because there is no doubt that unemployment is the most fundamental and urgent problem facing Australia today. Hundreds of thousands of Australians have been forced from the dignity of work into the indignity of the dole queue. Hundreds of thousands of Australians live in fear of their jobs. It is a problem which threatens the very social fabric of this country. It alienates our youth and it generates despair. All the September 1983 unemployment statistics have done is to re-emphasise the failure of this Government's approach. The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate has now reached a post-war record of 10.4 per cent. Unemployment amongst teenagers rose to 27.5 per cent in September compared with 19.9 per cent a year ago. The unemployment rate amongst women rose from 10.4 per cent in August to 11 per cent in September. The Government clearly expects and accepts that unemployment will inevitably keep on rising. It accepts that in 1985-86 the number of unemployed Australians will be almost as high as it is today and it is trying to condition the Australian people to accept this.

The Opposition totally rejects this pessimism. Australia can reduce unemployment if we promote growth. Australia can reduce unemployment if we have a wages policy which reflects a jobs policy. Australia can reduce unemployment if we reverse many of the thousands of regulations which reduce growth and Australia can reduce unemployment if we accept that it is profits which generate investment and it is investment which generates jobs. The Opposition acknowledges the extent of the problem of restoring full employment. In fact it requires the creation of 150,000 to 200,000 jobs in each of the next 10 years or an economic growth rate of close to 5 per cent per annum, almost double that over the 10 years to 1981-82. The sad reality is that the Government has already given up trying to achieve these targets. The sad reality is that this Government came to power with so much opportunity. The international economy was emerging from the recession. Australia was emerging from a drought and the Australian Labor Party claimed a special relationship with the unions which would give the unemployed a chance.

All honourable members on this side of the House would remember how the National Economic Summit Conference was to set the scene and, of course, in some ways it did. There was a clear recognition that the greatest challenge facing Australia was the generation of permanent jobs. There was a clear recognition that this could be achieved most rapidly by making Australian industry competitive again and it was clearly recognised that to be competitive again there had to be a restraint on wages and restraint on government taxes and government charges. Now the Government seeks to replace that consensus with another consensus, namely, that almost one million Australians have no choice but to look forward to the hopelessness of the dole queue. The Summit recognised the overriding need to be competitive. The Opposition's policies recognise this but the Government now rejects them. The Government after all supported the end of the wage pause, the granting of an initial 4.3 per cent wage increase and the support for full indexation for years to come. The Opposition would have continued the wages pause until the end of 1983 and wage increases in 1984 would have been geared to generating jobs. The Government raised taxes and raised charges in the May mini-Budget and the August Budget. The Opposition would not have loaded industry with these charges. By just these two fundamental thrusts the Government has institutionalised Australia's uncompetitiveness and lost the opportunity to create hundreds of thousands of permanent jobs.


Mr Hodgman —Shame on them.


Mr PEACOCK —Shame on them. Those are not just our words. When the shadow Minister interjects in that way I am reminded of the lost opportunity referred to by Sir Arvi Parbo, a man acknowledged by the Government as a great Australian and a great industrialist. Indeed he was eulogised by the Government on frequent occasions. What did Sir Arvi say, correctly, recently about the lost opportunity ? I will quote him:

It is a great pity that what was probably a unique opportunity to correct, in a very short time, a large part of Australia's existing cost disparity with the industrialised world was missed. In plain words, this means that, far from regaining our lost competitiveness, we will continue to lose more.

Does not that sum it up well? By the two fundamental thrusts on wages and charges the Government institutionalised Australia's uncompetitiveness and lost the opportunity to create hundreds of thousands of permanent jobs. The Government tries to excuse its support for wage indexation and more unemployment by talking of the long term importance of maintaining the prices and incomes accord. Every day the Government twists and turns. One of the most tragic examples is the approach of the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Willis), who is sitting at the table, on the tragic problem of youth unemployment. In September 1983 a record 27.5 per cent of Australian youth was unemployed. Yet the Government persists with its excuse that nothing can be done about it, that the whole priority has to be to maintain the accord. I noticed, only in the last day or so, that even the Australian Council of Trade Unions cannot support the Government's youth unemployment schemes which Mr Dolan calls 'a waste of money and not very well thought out'. The Opposition does not criticise the principle of short term job creation schemes for youth. What we criticise is the refusal of the Government to face the facts presented by its own advisers that there are ways to moderate the youth unemployment problem.

The Government's Bureau of Labour Market Research has identified high youth wages as one of the reasons for high youth unemployment. In the Budget Papers the Government concedes:

. . . the higher susceptibility of juniors to deteriorating labour market conditions (has been) largely a result of junior wage rates which have evidently been set above the relative work value of the employees concerned.

Yet the Government and the Minister persist with the delusion that none of these 'provides sufficient evidence to justify any particular policy initiatives regarding youth, wages and subsidies'. The fact is that as the BLMR has reported the current ACTU policy is for an increase in youth wages relative to adults and the fact is that the Government does not want to offend the ACTU. The Government is basically obsessed with the accord. What we say is: 'How about an accord with the unemployed or how about an accord with the youth of this country?' The Opposition's programs will give hope and jobs to these Australians but the Government's policies will only create a gulf between the privileged with jobs and the unprivileged outsiders without jobs. This Government is basically all talk; it is even all talk on its alternative of kibbutzes. The Prime Minister ( Mr Hawke) first presented the idea in 1979. At the end of 1983 he is still talking about it. There are no plans, no details and no wonder the Young Labor Movement-not the Opposition-calls the idea a complete misunderstanding of the problems of youth unemployment. The current occupant of the prime ministership also talks about reducing the demand for jobs by increasing the participation rate in higher education. Both the Australian Labor Party platform and election policy commit the Government to eliminating the gap between the dole and the tertiary education assistance scheme. Yet in the August Budget the Government increased that gap by 200 per cent. By August 1984 it will be $15 a week more attractive to be unemployed than to study. The Prime Minister, in his election speech, said:

We cannot afford to waste the talents and destroy the hopes of our young people in the dole queues. We cannot afford to lose so many able students from our high schools, colleges and universities.

How quickly things seem to change. As the Treasurer (Mr Keating) put it, these promises and rhetoric have now been 'reprioritised'.


Mr Howard —Reprioritised?


Mr PEACOCK —Not just in that area. The promises to small business have also been 'reprioritised'. What a wonderful word.


Mr Sinclair —It means reneged.


Mr PEACOCK —It means more than reneged. It has associations with an administration of a close ally of ours, who would use 'wordspeak', 'Hawkespeak' and 'reprioritisation' to change programs, allegedly by changing labels. The promises to small business have also been 'reprioritised'. It is small business which employs over 50 per cent of the private sector work force. As our shadow Minister for tourism and small business, the honourable member for Higgins (Mr Shipton), has pointed out time and again, small business will generate the majority of the permanent jobs that Australia desperately needs. Yet what was done in the August Budget? As the Council of Small Business Organisations of Australia said, and again these are its words, not ours:

The Government has not implemented one plank of its action campaign for small business announced during the election campaign.

It now threatens to strangle both big and small business with a wide-ranging prices surveillance authority which is nothing like that originally promised. The reality is that the more we care about unemployment the more we need to care about profitability and growth in the private sector. That is the Opposition's approach, and we do not run away from it. Profits and jobs: The nexus is obvious . It is the basis of our wages, our tax and our business policies. The Government takes the opposite approach. Clearly it does not care if high wages send companies to the wall. It simply thinks, and I quote from the Government's submission to the national wage case, that 'this is part of the normal process of growth and re-adjustment within the economy'. The Government can see 'no compelling reason why these firms or industries should be subsidised by the wage system'.

The Opposition will never pretend that anyone has the policies to fix the unemployment problem overnight. It was claimed by the Government during the last election that unemployment could be turned round quickly-500,000 jobs in three years. There is a clear path however, to lower unemployment if we promote growth , if we recognise what this Government refuses to recognise, that is, that it is profits and investment which generate both growth and jobs. The nexus is obvious . The strategy has to be to create more opportunities, not just to compensate Australians for the lack of opportunities. The tragic reality is that the Government has just given up on this score. Its policies do not promise lower unemployment; they just entrench the current unemployment level. Worst of all, the Government is trying to condition Australians to believe that high unemployment is inevitable and outside the control of Australians and the Government. The Opposition rejects that defeatist attitude, history rejects it, and so must all Australians.