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Thursday, 3 February 1994
Page: 317

Mr WAKELIN (1.24 p.m.) —Today I would like to address the issue of the latest economic recovery of the Prime Minister (Mr Keating), and his latest pledges of support to the long-term unemployed in regional Australia. I will begin with two short statements from constituents, which are typical of the job searching and soul searching that is occurring in my electorate of Grey. The first quote begins:

I am writing to you in desperation regarding my immediate employment prospects . . . I called a Member of Parliament in Adelaide recently and told his spokeswoman of my concerns . . . and she said `It's terrible isn't it? They should do something about it'. It's always the they, they never want to name anyone specific.

A second one from a constituent reads:

. . . although being desperate for work and writing letters, making phone calls and filing out application forms throughout the State, the only response is `We will put you on the LIST!'

They are from two constituents in the last few weeks. Letters such as these sadden me. They are all too typical of what I am hearing from people. My main electorate office is located next door to a Department of Social Security and Commonwealth Employment Service office. Every morning, crowds line up on the steps of these offices waiting for the doors to open. They are quiet crowds; they do not talk or mingle; they just wait for the doors to open.

  But one could be forgiven for thinking these constituents will soon be saved. The Prime Minister tells us we have yet another recovery on our hands. Unemployed men and women, including those I see lining up each morning, are no doubt dancing in the street. Not likely! I do not blame the unemployed for regarding the Prime Minister's renewed optimism with caution; they have heard it all before. On 22 March 1990, Mr Keating, on recession, said, `We won't let there be a recession'. On 1 August 1990, he said, `We are not about putting the place into recession'. Then, of course, there was the famous one on 29 November 1990, `This is a recession Australia had to have; I knew there had to be one but I didn't want to tell you'. So it is little wonder my constituents are cynical.

  About one million unemployed people are still searching for jobs to put food on the table. The economic forecasts which thrilled the financial journalists mean little to the unemployed today. They do not just thrill the financial journalists; they thrill ministers and treasurers, as we have seen in the last few days. But they do not thrill the unemployed. The Australian Bureau of Statistics estimated this week that unemployment may be twice as high as we think. We have all known that, but the ABS is starting to get a handle on it. We know now that the number of hidden unemployed—that is, those who would like to work but are not captured in the official unemployment figures—is around 908,000, compared with the official unemployed of 940,000. This means that about two million people would like to work but have no job to go to. Last week, the Prime Minister said the recovery must be shared; it would not just be for the top end of town. I would hardly think that needed to be said.

  This recovery must be a recovery for the jobless. The two million people Labor has left behind should be given hope—we have had enough of hope; we are tired of hope. The government must now deliver. The Prime Minister has placed long-term unemployment and regional development at the top of the federal government's policy agenda in the forthcoming year. What took so long? The long-term unemployed in regional Australia have known for 11 years, that is 11 years of Labor, that there has been a problem out there.

  The larger towns in Grey have significantly higher proportions of unemployed persons than the national average. For the June quarter 1993, the percentage of job search and newstart recipients unemployed for longer than 12 months was 64 per cent in the City of Port Pirie, 63 per cent in Whyalla, 58 per cent in Port Augusta and 57 per cent in Port Lincoln. These figures are clearly well above the national average. We desperately need to encourage development in the region and create jobs. I therefore look forward to urgent action from those honourable members opposite. However, I must advise my constituents not to hold their breath. The Labor government has shown it is just not capable of solving our unemployment problem. The Kelty task force report on regional development called for higher petrol and company taxes. This report was judged by many in the community—most in the community, I suggest—as an uninspiring and patronising document.

  I have been working with my regional development boards in the electorate and meeting with potential investors to raise real, long-term solutions for the electorate. Local governments and development boards are working tirelessly to generate new industries and attract investment. Their ideas for projects include fuel additives plants, container manufacturing, brass production, aquiaculture and ecotourism projects such as an arid lands botanic park. The regions are working together to keep people in the towns, keep the local banks and post offices open and provide a future for their children. They have learned that they cannot rely on this federal government to lead the way with creative development and business incentives. I challenge the federal government to rise to the task of supporting these regions with a new spirit, not one which comes down out of the ivory towers of Canberra, Melbourne and Sydney.

  The hypocrisy of the Labor Party is one of the most distressing aspects of this debate. I thought, as a younger person, that Labor was the party for the battlers. But what has it done for them? Labor has had over 11 years to look after the interests of the people of Australia, and what do we see—one in five Australian children, dependent students, growing up in families affected by unemployment. One-third of a million Australians are unemployed for more than a year. In fact, over 10 per cent of the labour force has been unemployed, and nearer 20 per cent underemployed in every single month since August 1991. That is 1991.

  It is little wonder that Australia's youth suicide rate is at such a high level. That is a distressing fact which the honourable member for Mitchell (Mr Cadman) raised in this place yesterday. We all know that youth unemployment rates are a national disgrace. Australia is supposed to be one of the most egalitarian societies in the world, and yet we are witnessing the entrenchment of a class of long-term unemployed people who do not reap the same benefit from society as their employed cousins. Under the Australian Labor Party, Australia has lost its spirit of egalitarianism. The fair go for all which is branded on my soul appears to have been lost forever.

  I would like to quote from an excellent article by Morris West which appeared in last week's issue of the Bulletin. In that article Mr West talks about our sunburnt country which he calls the `broke, bewildered and besieged' country. He says:

  This Australia, this divided and deeply discouraged nation, this nation which has a million unemployed and is full of fears for its economic future, is being treated to the shabbiest exhibitions of political theatre that we have seen in a long time.

  The principal offender is the prime minister, whose vulgarity is now notorious. He is charged to deal with high matters which touch all our lives, yet he demeans them by gutter language. In doing so he demeans us, too.

  I am constantly amazed at the dichotomy which he exhibits. Clearly he wants to be seen as a statesman dealing wisely and temperately with major issues for the future of this country. Yet the moment he faces a parliamentary or press audience, he acts like a rather malicious comedian playing for cheap laughs, debasing himself and the nation he was elected to lead. His insulting and hectoring style in debate aggravates dissension when we need a sense of national unity.

Morris West is such a good wordsmith that I think it is worth quoting more of his article in the time available to me. He says:

We elected the government, therefore we deserve it.—

I will not include myself in that—

It has been forced to make graceless comprises which have tarnished its image and shaken the confidence of the community.

  The result is that at the very moment when we need common sense and moderation in all our social relationships, we are embroiled in fruitless contention which will profit none of us. There are enough rifts and divisions within the country without digging new ditches to divide us. Put it another way. It is time to put value back into the currency of the parliamentary system.

He continues:

  The prime minister is promoting an Australian republic. The national conference of the Labor Party has already chosen to eliminate our present flag from its logos. The flag can be changed by legislative action but constitutional change to a republican form of government must be put directly to the people. However, a fundamental change has already taken place in the body politic. Opinion is divided, groups are polarised.

  The Mabo verdict on the land rights of Aboriginal people and island peoples has already become an abrasive issue, even though the court ruling itself has been poorly expounded, grossly misunderstood and in some particulars distorted by special interest groups.

I will finish with this quote, which I think we should all ponder:

What we should aspire to be, what we should work most earnestly to be, is a community whose members respect each other and are open to each so that their children can live and work . . . harmoniously together.

Australians, and particularly regional Australians and the long-term unemployed, must not wait any longer. They have already waited too long.