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Monday, 26 May 1997
Page: 4035

Mr O'CONNOR(9.51 p.m.) —I rise to support the amendments that are being proposed by the honourable member for Jagajaga (Ms Macklin) to this very flawed piece of legislation. We have canvassed here one of the most pressing economic and social problems facing Australia today, and that is unemployment. Yet all we have from the national government is a very tepid response to it. Having cut over $1.8 billion from labour market programs in its first budget, the Howard government has sought to introduce a poorly structured and inadequately resourced program which plays more to the redneck elements in our community who seek to blame the unemployed for the nation's ills.

Since coming to power, the Howard government has progressively dismantled the comprehensive labour market programs of the former Labor government. They now seek to put in the place of those programs a totally inadequate response to this pressing problem. That is why the opposition is proposing this raft of amendments in its attempt to make substantial improvements to the legislation for the benefit of the unemployed.

When we reflect on the dimensions of Australia's unemployment problem and the government's response to it, which is embod ied in this particular piece of legislation, then one can understand the importance of the amendments that are being proposed by the member for Jagajaga. When John Howard as Treasurer in the previous Fraser government left power in 1983, he left Labor with an unemployment rate in excess of 10 per cent and an economy in negative growth, shedding hundreds of full-time jobs per day.

Labor restored the economic health of Australia, breaking the back of inflation and engineering growth rates of around four per cent on average for its last four years in office. It did this at a time of unprecedented change in the structure of Australia's economy and massive changes in the global economy as well. It instituted a raft of labour market programs which attempted in a very real way to come to terms with the needs of the unemployed.

When the Prime Minister, John Howard, came to power in 1996, he inherited an economy where inflation had been beaten, growth exceeded four per cent and job creation ran at an unprecedented rate. Yet in his very first budget and again in his second, the Prime Minister literally threw in the towel on the problem of unemployment. His government was quick to set a target for reducing the paper load for business, but he steadfastly refused, along with the minister at the dispatch box, to set a target for reductions in unemployment.

Dr Kemp —On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker: we have another wide ranging and general speech on this detailed aspect of the bill. I ask you to call the speaker to order and require him to sit down.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Nehl) —I thank the minister. The honourable member for Corio will, of course, limit his remarks to the amendments which are the subject of the consideration in detail.

Mr O'CONNOR —I can understand the minister getting to the dispatch box to raise his point of order on this particular occasion, because really the blame rests with two people: the Prime Minister and this minister—this minister who has done nothing in the measure that he has put before the parliament—

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! The minister is not the subject of the amendments. Please speak to the amendments.

Mr O'CONNOR —If he is not, he should be because he is culpable, along with the Prime Minister, for the state of the Australian economy today and the labour market response of the government to it.

Dr Kemp —Mr Deputy Speaker, on a point of order: the opposition speaker is defying your order. He is not speaking to the detail of the amendments and I ask you to require him to do so.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —I will be the judge of whether he is defying me or not. I thank the minister. The honourable member for Corio in continuation will speak to the content of the amendments.

Mr O'CONNOR —The amendments proposed by the honourable member for Jagajaga seek to improve one of the most flawed pieces of legislation that has come before this parliament this year. I think it is very obvious not only to members on this side but to the Australian community that this minister has really done nothing in this legislation and the program that is the substance of the legislation before the parliament, in the detail that he has presented, to really address the fundamental problems that are facing the Australian economy today.

The response of the minister and the government to a problem where there are over 800,000 Australians unemployed and an unemployment rate of 8.7 per cent, an intractable problem that his Prime Minister left us with—(Time expired)