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Monday, 26 May 1997
Page: 4040

Mr ALBANESE(10.10 p.m.) —I rise to support the amendments moved by the shadow minister tonight and to oppose the legislation unless those amendments are carried. I think that the legislation before us is extremely damaging to the people of Australia. It sends exactly the wrong kind of message out. It says that the unemployed are to blame. It says that the government thinks that it is their fault that they are unemployed. It says the government thinks they are not making any useful contribution to society, and it says that the government would feel much more relaxed and comfortable if the young unemployed in particular were just out of sight and out of mind.

The minister has said that most people cannot understand how someone can be receiving benefits and not making a contribution. It seems to me that the minister does not understand the current situation. The fact is that, under the Labor government and under the Working Nation program, there were reciprocal obligations required of the unem ployed. The unemployment benefit recipients were already required to accept any reasonable job offers, including ones well below their skill levels and qualifications. They were required to participate in labour market, training or educational programs. They were required to maintain jobsearch activities which were monitored fortnightly. They were required not to move to any area with lower employment prospects, and they were required to travel up to an hour and a half to access employment opportunities. It is very convenient for the Howard government to overlook these obligations which were already placed on the unemployed in our community.

This legislation has nothing to do with genuinely improving the situation for people who are long-term unemployed but has everything to do with window dressing, blaming the victim and inciting community prejudice against the unemployed. Since the election of the Howard government unemployment in my area, the inner west of Sydney, has increased by 58 per cent. With the budget brought down just two weeks ago, I think it will get worse. It is not just the opposition that is opposed to this legislation and it is not just the Premier of Victoria as has been stated previously. Community leaders across the board, such as the Reverend Ray Cleary, of the Melbourne City Mission, oppose it as do the Youth Policy and Action Coalition and community sector involvement activists from churches and community organisations. All understand this legislation is not the solution.

If this government truly valued young people in our community it would be helping them to find real long-term jobs, to access competency based training and to develop real skills that they can use to access future employment opportunities. This scheme does none of those things. Young people have a right—a right that the Prime Minister (Mr Howard) and the people of his generation took for granted—to gain access to rewarding, secure and quality jobs that recognise the principle of equal pay for equal work. Even the business sector has recognised that this scheme does nothing to assist in reducing unemployment. At the same time that this legislation has been introduced, we have seen labour market assistance outlays decline from $2.2 billion this year to $1.9 billion in 1997-98, slipping back further to $1.6 billion.

I was at a committee inquiry in recent weeks with the Reserve Bank Governor, and he called this kind of government focus on being seen to do something rather than actually doing anything `short-termism'. The work for the dole scheme was prompted by just this kind of short-term political view. It was prompted by polling—prompted by the view of Andrew Robb, the former Liberal Party director, instructing the Prime Minister that he must do something about unemployment. And it is no accident that it was at the time of the crisis surrounding the discredited member of the Lyons Forum, that great moral leader, Bob Woods. I think the bottom line is that this legislation does nothing to help the long-term unemployed and, in particular, does nothing to help young people find real jobs in our community.