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Wednesday, 1 April 1987
Page: 1883


Mr STAPLES(3.44) —When I first heard the subject of today's discussion of the matter of public importance, the need for a scheme of compulsory work for unemployment benefit, I thought it was an April Fools' Day joke by the Opposition, a payback for the good natured jest the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) and the Leader of the National Party of Australia (Mr Sinclair) were involved in earlier today which we heard about at Question Time. The subject of the matter of public importance was not the April Fools' Day joke, it was the Opposition. It is sad that the Opposition is not a joke only on 1 April; it is also a joke on every other day of the year. Australia lacks a credible opposition; it lacks an alternative. One of the dangers of an early election is that there is no alternative government. That is more appropriate as the subject of a matter of public importance at this time. Opposition members cannot even decide who is the leader of the Liberal Party of Australia, who is the Leader of the National Party of Australia or even who is in the National Party. They cannot decide on any of their policies. Even on the floor of this very chamber, as with the Equal Employment Opportunity (Commonwealth Authorities) Bill the other night, they could not even decide who in their Party supports their policies.

This is the third debate on a matter of public importance in which I have been involved since we came back to this place in February. To let people know what happens, at 12 o'clock the Government gets word through the Speaker that she has received a letter notifying a proposal for the discussion of a matter of public importance. I would not mind a grievance debate or a genuine debate on a matter which is of real importance to the people of this country but I have wasted my time on three occasions in as many weeks to debate proposals put forward by the Opposition. I would not mind debating matters of public importance if the Opposition had policies and credible alternatives to put to the people of Australia, but it has not. The debate on housing policy was an absolute joke. The debate on the alleged failure of the Government to provide expanded opportunities for young people was a joke. It was the Opposition which raised unemployment, particularly of young people, to an art form. Most of the increases came when the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party (Mr N. A. Brown), who spoke first for the Opposition in this debate today, was the Minister. Now we have this April Fools' Day joke.

What is the Opposition's solution? It is dole bludger lotto, work lotto, pulling marbles out of a barrel to see who will work for unemployment benefit. I could have been at the Government's industry committee talking about the Inglis report. This Government is investigating ways to build on its record of creating jobs and real wealth in this country. It is not indulging in a witch hunt and scapegoating as have the two Opposition speakers in this debate today. I might consider them more kindly if there were the thinnest hope of their having any concern, compassion or real constructive element in their proposition for work for the dole or unemployment benefit. The hand over the heart speech of the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party was a joke. The Opposition wants community employment program projects, for which at present people are paid at award rates for valuable work in the community, to employ people at slave rates. They want slave rates and they want servants to go around the community picking up their litter after them, carrying out their garbage, washing their cars and doing their windows. They want a pool of 700,000 people to be low-paid servants for them. They are not interested in constructive work or in helping people.

This proposal is the greatest falsehood that has been perpetrated in this House for many days. I find it quite despicable. Opposition members are involved simply in a dole bludger bash. They do not like the idea of people being supported by the state; that is what it is all about. They do not like people being supported by the private sector. Opposition members when in government created this unemployment situation. They are interested only in punishment and scapegoating. This is a two-bob populist approach, ripping up the community with dole bludger rhetoric. That `dole bludger' term came out of the mouths of members of the Fraser Opposition. Opposition members want to turn Australians who have wealth and security against the poorer Australians, the people in the weakest position in our society. They want to turn people in Australia who have jobs and security against the sole parents, against migrants, against women. They want to turn people especially against migrants who are the latest arrivals. Opposition members are nothing but a front and puppets for the New Right and for the white shoe brigade. Today, in the newspaper we saw that the President of the Australian Small Business Association, Mr Peter Boyle, said `the unemployed should get the dole for no more than 10 weeks a year, and school leavers should not get it'. Opposition members mouth off the policies of the New Right. They are a fraud.

There is no evidence to support the proposition they have put forward. There is no evidence that the scheme has any value to the community, to the Government or to the individual concerned. Opposition members gave no cost to the program. They criticised the Government's estimate but gave no cost to their program-because they had not thought it out. They have not costed it. The policies that have been thought out and put down would cost the people of Australia $16 billion extra next year if the Opposition got into office. They will not, so the people do not have to worry about that. However, people should worry about the concept of it. The amount of $16 billion, on average, is $1,000 for every man, woman and child in Australia, but it would not be concentrated on every man, woman and child; that cost would be concentrated on the poorest people. And the Opposition lets the people in the white shoe brigade and the New Right get away with it.

The Opposition wants to make the poor unemployed pay for its scapegoating. It thinks it is a good idea for some people to live on $99.20 a week or, in the case of a 16- or 17-year-old, $50. Let us see Opposition members do it. I do not think they could. They want to punish people because there are no jobs for them. They are covering up their own inadequacies. They are whipping up the unthinking members of the community and others who are as callous as they are. As I said, they just want a great big pool of cheap servants. We should not worry about the Australian Nationwide Opinion Polls Pty Ltd survey the Opposition quoted, which was commissioned by this Government to research community attitudes to issues affecting young people, because it quoted only part of the survey, it says on page 36: `There is groundswell support for working for the dole'. The Opposition should have read on one or two more sentences. The survey continued:

It is based however on the belief that it would be constructive in terms of building confidence, motivating young people and providing experience. There is very little consideration evident of the practicalities and costs of implementing a compulsory scheme.

That is exactly the point on which the Opposition has been laid bare in this chamber today. Opposition members have exposed their lack of understanding. There would be some excuse for the general community not understanding the complexities, implications and costs of such a scheme, but there is no excuse whatsoever for the Opposition not understanding them because it has been in government for 30 of the last 37 years. It should know. It should be able to come into this place and provide to us the costs of implementing such a scheme. But Opposition members have not. They have had 25 minutes to do it, yet they have not done so. There is some excuse for the community. The community does not understand the problems and implications that can occur in regard to the issues facing government but the Opposition should understand and it does not. That exposes what a cheap, shallow fraud this whole exercise is. It is an ideological band-aid. Band-aids do not cure problems; they just cover them up.

I said at the beginning of my speech that the Opposition has no policies. It has no employment policy. Its education policy is a recipe for disaster and will not add to employment or help the economy. It has no industry policy to compare with our policy. Our policy has produced jobs. It has no training policy. Our training policy has produced hundreds of thousands of jobs. Its industrial relations policy is a recipe for conflict, wage rises and inflation. It has no economic policy, no taxation policy and no social security policy. By comparison, our employment, industrial relations, economic, industry, education and social security achievements and active policies have created phenomenal growth, jobs, constructive development and wealth. We have provided three-quarters of a million jobs and reduced unemployment by 2 per cent since we came to office. Our performance in these two areas is far better than the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development average figures. I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard a table that clearly shows that.

Leave granted.

The table read as follows-

International Comparison of Employment Growth and Unemployment Rates*

1983

1984

1985

1986(e)

%

%

%

%

Employment growth

Australia...

-1.8

3.3

3.0

3 1/2

United States...

1.3

4.1

2.0

2 1/4

Canada...

0.8

2.5

2.8

3

United Kingdom...

-0.5

1.8

1.3

(b)

OECD Europe**...

-0.4

0.2

0.5

(b)

Total OECD***...

0.5

1.6

1.2

1 1/4

Unemployment rate

Australia...

9.9

8.8

8.1

8

United States...

9.6

7.5

7.2

7

Canada...

11.9

11.3

10.5

9(b)

United Kingdom...

11.6

11.6

11.8

11(b)

OECD Europe**...

10.2

10.7

10.9

11

Total OECD***...

8.8

8.4

8.3

8 1/4

* Source: OECD Employment Outlook, September 1986/OECD Economic Outlook No. 40, December 1986.

** Four major European countries.

*** Total of 12 countries.

(e) Forecast figure.


Mr STAPLES —We do not believe that compulsory work for the dole is appropriate because most of the genuine unemployed really are looking for work. We have developed schemes for weeding out those who are not genuine. Compulsion would put us in danger of contravening important international conventions. The immense costs have already been pointed out. Between 15,000 and 20,000 unemployed young people are expected to participate in the community volunteer program in 1987. There are advertisements in the paper today, as there will be on Saturday, for innovative projects. I invite honourable members to look at those advertisements.


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Leo McLeay) -Order! The honourable member's time has expired. The time for the debate has concluded.