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Tuesday, 18 October 1983
Page: 1839


Mr RONALD EDWARDS(5.00) —I think we have to see today's exercise by the Opposition as having something to do with restoring its position in Queensland. It has done a good job of destroying its party base in Queensland and I suspect that the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Peacock) is trying to breathe some life into that wreck, which will disappear this coming Saturday in the Queensland election. I have some sympathy for the honourable member for Balaclava (Mr Macphee) in this debate. Some of the remarks I am about to make do not specifically apply to him but they certainly apply to his colleagues in the previous Government. Honourable members opposite set out to create unemployment in 1975 and they did so. They set out on an industrial relations policy that was designed to create maximum conflict and they achieved maximum conflict. They set out to destroy wages policy in Australia and they achieved that. Now they are in opposition they have the cynicism to pretend in this House that somehow all that did not occur. The Australian electorate knows that it occurred and that is why honourable members opposite are where they are-in opposition. They will continue to stay in opposition while their policies are so hopelessly irrelevant to the needs of the Australian community.

I wish in a moment to make some remarks about the needs of the Australian community. The reality is that the community knows that honourable members opposite are not talking sense. It recognises that the Government is at least of good intentions and is trying to do a substantial job. Honourable members opposite discredited themselves in their seven years and they will remain discredited while their policies remain irrelevant. It is no good for the Leader of the Opposition to try to replace economic policy with grave sounding words. It is not satisfactory. The Opposition has to have a policy. I think in talking about policy it is quite relevant to talk specifically about wages policy. Honourable members opposite do not have a wages policy. They know it, the unions know it, the employers know it and the Australian community knows it. We do not know whether the Opposition's sympathies lie with centralised wage fixation or some decentralised system of collective bargaining. Certainly, when it was in government it destroyed any reasonable approach to wages policy and it still does not yet have an approach to wages policy.

I take up the point about labour market costs. It seems that honourable members opposite have placed a great deal of emphasis on the proposition that somehow our endorsement of wage indexation in the recently completed national wage case has caused unemployment. Why is it that in the six months to June of this year the consumer price index rose by 4.3 per cent, adult award wages rose by only about 0.3 per cent and yet unemployment still rose? That is not related to labour costs and honourable members opposite know it. Unemployment is related to the discredited economic policy that they foisted on this country in the seven years in which they were in government. This shows up. Why does the Leader of the Opposition give it away all the time? He refers to unemployed people as being in the dole queue. We do not try to discredit the unemployed in that way. The former Government never hesitated to discredit those who were socially disadvantaged. It referred to them as being in the dole queue; we refer to them as those in receipt of unemployment benefit. Honourable members opposite know very well that the model they use-the monetarist model of Friedman-contains an assumption of natural unemployment. It was argued by honourable members opposite when in government that if they could create a sufficiently high level of natural unemployment they would bring down the inflation rate. They were their assumptions, they worked on those assumptions and they failed. They created a very low level of economic activity and an increasing level of unemployment. They know that very well, as does the Australian electorate.

Let us look at some of the figures. The figures are very telling. The number of unemployed people doubled under the Fraser Government. From an average of 302, 000, which represented 4.9 per cent of the labour force in 1975-76, the figure went to 622,000, or 9 per cent of the labour force, in 1982-83. I shall go through those figures again. The number of unemployed in 1975-76 was 302,000, or 4.9 per cent of the labour force. Unemployment had risen, in 1982-83, to 622,000 or 9 per cent of the labour force. Members of the Opposition cannot deny that historical reality. That is what the Government inherited from them. It is one part of the mess that we inherited from it that we are trying to sort out. In November 1975 the unemployment figure was 279,000, or 4.6 per cent of the work force. In February 1983, which was the Opposition's last effective month of Government-although one might say that it was not very effective for the last year or two because it was more preoccupied with trying to survive the next election than it was with government-unemployment totalled 10.7 per cent of the work force, or 747,000 people. The figure rose from 279,000 in November 1975, 4. 6 per cent of the work force, to 747,000, or 10.7 per cent of the work force, in February 1983.

Honourable members opposite have discredited themselves. The Australian electorate knows it and they know it. They were the ones who governed during the time of that massive increase in unemployment. It is very clear that the policies they pursued failed. The monetarist policies that honourable members opposite endorsed, of trying to reduce Budget deficits and hold down interest rates and so on, failed. They failed substantially, and that is why the Opposition is where it is. On the other hand, we set about with a responsible economic policy. We recognise that we are not in the business of creating industrial relations conflict, but of resolving it. We recognise that we have some serious problems on hand and we are trying to deal with them. We recognise that if we put money in the hands of wage earners they will spend that money, and spend it on Australian goods and services. Honourable members opposite seemed to think that putting money into people's hands was evil and that the people's spending that money on goods and services would be a social disadvantage. We do not have that assumption. We recognise that that sort of expenditure is valuable. That is why we supported the increase in wages at the national wage case.

What else have we done with respect to creating jobs? We have certainly moved in the housing area to do something substantial in that regard. It is interesting that the great discredit in respect of housing was brought about not by us but by people at the National Economic Summit Conference. Why is it that the Housing Industry Association said that there had been a dramatic slump in industry activity; from nearly 150,000 homes two years ago-two years from April 1983-it had dropped to 110,000 this year? That is what the HIA said. We copped that; we inherited that from honourable members opposite. That was an absolute disaster. Not only was the housing industry in a slump but also people were without homes. The sort of social distress that we have inherited comes directly from the policies of the former Government. We have only to look at the way in which the Australian electorate regards that discredited former Prime Minister, the former member for Wannon. He was cold and aloof to the real needs of the Australian community. Honourable members opposite did not care and turned their backs on the community. They left us with the lowest level of housing activity in 20 years.


Mr Uren —It was only 106,000 this year.


Mr RONALD EDWARDS —That is right. We have set about trying to do something with that situation. We have set out to try to get some activity in the housing industry. We recognise that the housing industry is a major and substantial employer in Australia but we also recognise that there is a social benefit in housing. Our first home owners scheme is designed to provide that benefit. Not only will it create jobs but also it will get people in homes. It will put back into housing some of those people who were homeless under the previous Government. There has been a substantial improvement under this Government. We have seen a substantial improvement in the number of inquiries about the first home owners scheme. There were 65,000 inquiries up to last Friday in the first two weeks of the operation of the first home owners scheme. This scheme has been supported by the Master Builders Association, the HIA, banks, building societies and the community generally. We have implemented a program which will produce jobs. It is already generating jobs in my electorate of Stirling. We already have reports from most of the builders in Stirling saying that there is a substantial increase in demand for trades people. That is good. It is a positive initiative. It is not good enough for honourable members opposite to say in this House that we are not doing anything. The first owners scheme is doing something . It is getting people into houses and it is creating jobs.

Not only was the previous Government's policy discredited in terms of employment and economic activity but it was also discredited in terms of that Government's goal of reducing interest rates, because interest rates remained high. Yet already we have seen a 0.5 per cent reduction in interest rates under this Government. We can anticipate in the future further reductions in interest rates. That 0.5 per cent reduction has been of substantial benefit to people buying homes and people with existing loans because it means up to $15 a week in people's pockets. We care about that. We have a responsibility to look after the Australian people and we want to make sure that they are in houses. We have that circumstance.

I believe that honourable members opposite completely missed the point. It is not a question of simply dressing up in this House a statement for next Saturday 's election in Queensland; it is a question of recognising the grave situation that this Government inherited. We inherited a very grave situation when we took over government from honourable members opposite. The Australian electorate recognised that they mismanaged the economy and that is why they are where they are. We recognise that we have a responsibility to do something about getting the economy going and we have started on that process. We started on that process in a very graphic way. Let me give the House an instance. Recently in my electorate someone qualified for the first home owners scheme and, with two children, moved out of a caravan into a home. A person on a very moderate income and his wife, for the first time in their lives, have a chance to own their own home. Our policy is designed to deliver housing where the need is. At the same time the spin-off from that policy is in creating jobs.

The attitude of the Government towards unemployment is embodied in its attitude towards wages. We believe that with a responsible policy, by recognising that unions and workers play a substantial role in Australian society and by supporting the recently granted wage increase, we are bringing about a substantial improvement in the Australian economy. That will show up in the near future. The recent trend has certainly been a very good trend indeed. I believe that honourable members opposite have been discredited and that the electorate knows it, whereas this Government is proceeding confidently and determinedly on its current path.


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Mountford) —Order! The discussion is concluded.