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Thursday, 22 August 1996
Page: 3599


Mr ANTHONY(4.15 p.m.) —I am glad I am entering this debate because when the shadow Treasurer was speaking he hardly mentioned unemployment once. He was talking about human capital formation. It was good to hear the member for Batman (Mr Martin Ferguson) getting on to the topic when he spoke about unemployment, but the key issue that was addressed earlier concerns this budget. I believe it has been a positive budget for Australia and I want to reiterate some of the earlier comments of the Treasurer (Mr Costello).

Credit agencies across the globe are re-rating Australia because of the budget that was handed down. They are re-rating it up, not down, which was the case under 13 years of Labor stewardship. It is important initially to look at interest rates because they are the lifeblood of business, particularly small business. I commend the Treasurer for the fall we have seen in variable home rates and for the two rate reductions. We have seen a fall of half a per cent in fixed interest rates. This is a responsible budget and it is about producing real jobs.

The backdrop that we inherited before this budget was deficit, debt and deceit. I think it is important to recapitulate for the House the exact financial state that we inherited. Through the good policies that we have introduced in the last 24 hours we have, of course, started to tackle one of Australia's major problems, which is the generation of employment. What was our foreign debt? It went from $23 billion to $185 billion. Thank you, Paul. What about the worst recession in 60 years? From 1991 through to today we have seen a Commonwealth debt rate go from $30 billion to $100 billion. We saw a roller-coaster of interest rates which you were proud of when they were peaking at 18 per cent. Unemployment peaked at 11.2 per cent.

Of course, the member for Batman will remember that we had record bankruptcies through the stewardship of the former boss of the ACTU and the previous Prime Minister. Fourteen thousand bankruptcies in small business! This is where employment on a long-term sustainable basis is created. There were 14,000 in 1994-95 and 17,000 in the depths of the depression in 1991-92. But—and I quote—`This is as good as it gets.' That was the year that the bacon was to be brought home.

We talk about a responsible budget. I am glad that the shadow Treasurer mentioned the deficit, because from 1992 through to 1995 Commonwealth revenue went from $95 billion to $124 billion—an increase of 30 per cent. Loans for the Commonwealth over the same period from 1991 went from $32 billion to $100 billion. We had asset sales during that period of $8.7 billion. No wonder we ended up with a major budget deficit and a current account deficit. In the 1980s, infrastructure was at eight per cent. In 1991 it was at 4.7 per cent and it went to minus 2.3 per cent. Infrastructure is critical for Australia, critical for business and critical for real job creation. Of course, there was also a litany of new taxes.

They are so proud of reminding us of the 1991 period during which Working Nation was introduced. During the recession 434,000 jobs were actually lost and 441,000 new full-time jobs were created. That is their proud record after $3.5 billion of taxpayers' money. Unfortunately, though, the structural change that should have happened during the stewardship of Labor—particularly with the labour markets—did not happen. Indeed, one of the incredible things was when Laurie introduced the Working Nation category. The irony is that the member for Batman speaks about the Deans and the Julies but, for every hundred of them, 70 per cent still have not got a job. Working Nation was your proud moment in Australian history, but two-thirds of the long-term unemployed that went through Working Nation still have not got a job. They are still unemployed.

Unfortunately what we did see was long-term unemployment moving to short-term unemployment. We saw the shifting of cheap wage subsidy programs to expensive programs—which, unfortunately, was not the outcome that you perhaps desired—and there was no continuing obligation by employers for them. You are right; they did have their place. They raised the esteem of the unemployed and they gave them hope. But unfortunately for the vast majority it was a false hope, because there were no real jobs created in the end. What this budget and this government are about is fundamental: our aim is to create real jobs.

We talk about case management, but unfortunately the two previous speakers did not really concentrate on the subject. The incentive was not there for the case management system to provide real long-term jobs. They did a marvellous job under the circumstances, but this government will have a different focus. Unfortunately, what we saw during that period was very much a distortion of the figures. Obviously, as we moved towards the 1996 election there was a distortion of the labour market numbers, and that was after 20 quarters of economic growth. They wonder why we are being responsible. We have been handed $69 billion in accumulated debt—debt which has occurred over the past five years under their stewardship.

This budget is a positive budget. It is about putting this country and this budget back in the black. It is about helping the long-term unemployed through small business incentives which are the engine for growth. It is about giving them an incentive, whether through capital gains tax rollover provisions, through reduction in provisional tax or through removing the ridiculous compliance with red tape.

Working Nation was your solution to the unemployment crisis that you created, but the irony is that you whacked in the unfair dismissal law which had exactly the counter effect. Indeed, as I doorknocked the electorate of Richmond on a number of occasions in my quest to enter this parliament, the biggest concern that came through to me was about the draconian unfair dismissal law—whether it was reality or not. The situation was that they were not prepared to employ people because of the fear of protracted labour market legal cases.

I welcome the Australian workplace relations bill which will address this matter and also the workplace agreements which will provide a flexible labour market in a changing labour market, which is not the same labour market as when the trade union movement was initiated in this country. Another positive move by this government is the apprenticeship and traineeship scheme, which is different to Working Nation because it is giving people two to three years rather than just six months. Isn't that a good thing? I hope that, with the passing of the Telstra bill and the formation of the Natural Heritage Trust, there will be a huge amount of money—$7 billion—coming back into the retiring of debt. When this debt is retired it will put this economy into better shape.

The labour market assistance is still $1.6 billion and is back to the same level that existed pre Working Nation. As we know, Working Nation was not a success. Indeed, over this next budget period $5.4 billion will be allocated to labour market assistance. I believe the government has done the right thing in streamlining labour market programs and encouraging those programs that succeed. The government is giving a one-stop shop for the CES and the DSS, which is eminently more attractive and useful to those people who are disadvantaged such as the unemployed and those seeking assistance like the Deans and Julies that the member for Batman so eloquently referred to.

We have provided a safety net for these people, and in regional areas and areas where there is high unemployment extra contributions will be made to help with case management. It is the right mix, it has the right incentive and I believe it will have the right outcomes. It must be remembered that two-thirds of Working Nation did not result in the creation of any new jobs at all. This budget provides incentives and long-term hope for the young and the not so young who lost their jobs during Labor's recession.

This budget is about getting this economy back into shape. We have also put a bit of equity back into this country because we have been prepared to hit high income earners through superannuation and Medicare. This is a way of being more equitable and redistributing some of the wealth back to the people in need. As the Treasurer said before, we have seen a 16 per cent growth in investment confidence over the last quarter. The figure was 4.9 per cent when Labor lost office and it was 16 per cent last June.

This is not a smoke and mirrors budget; nor is it a budget about bringing home the bacon or bashing it on bankcard, as the Labor party did in its previous 13 years of stewardship. This budget provides incentive for families and real hope. It will generate savings. Principally, it is about assisting small business and not major corporate enterprises. It will assist small business and achieve lasting employment generation. This will tackle the great legacy Labor left behind which we inherited and which we are taking responsibility for. This is a responsible budget to bring Australia back into the black.


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Jenkins) —Order! The discussion has concluded.