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Monday, 26 May 1997
Page: 4044

Mr WILTON(10.36 p.m.) —I rise to support the amendments proposed by the shadow minister but a moment ago. This side of the House certainly countenances the fact that the secretary's power to compel a person to participate in any work for the dole program as part of the requirements of the activity test ought not be supported. We are opposed to the notion of compulsion. We are opposed to the fact that a decent unemployed person, who day in, day out has been legitimately adhering to the requirements and the demands placed upon them by the CES and the department and the various schemes in governments, past and present, ought now be compelled through arm twisting, coercion, penalties—through whatever you might like to put on it—to participate in a work for the dole scheme. It is a scheme which the government, as one of its key pre-election promises, said that it would not introduce.

Any notion of compulsion is heinous. It is contrary to the notion that an unemployed person ought legitimately and fairly be afforded the opportunity reasonably, openly and equitably to seek out and obtain work in their own space and their own time. Of course, the sorts of schemes that we had in place prior to March of last year afforded the opportunity to the unemployed not only to do that but also to be trained in meaningful ways while that was being undertaken, while meaningful job searches were part of their main goal in life and one of their key pursuits.

We are also aware that one of the amendments suggested is that a secretary can compel a person to participate in the labour market program as part of the activity test. I say again that compulsion is contrary to the notion of fairness and equity which ought to underpin these same schemes. We also say that there should be no exemptions to the secretary's power to compel a person to participate in a work for the dole scheme under the so-called activity tests. Again, any notion of exemptions is contrary to the undertones of fairness and equity that we hold dear and in fact cherish as a key part and as a main plank of any such scheme.

We also believe that any such person who is subject to the possibility of a penalty suffers unduly. Any penalty issued for the failure to either commence or to complete a work for the dole scheme is not something that this party will countenance. It is not something the opposition at any stage included as part of its platform and as part of its key labour market programs which had operated with such success up until March of last year.

On the issue of workers compensation, which the shadow minister has again alluded to, clearly any suggestion that those participating in labour market programs be exempt from the Commonwealth or any other relevant workers compensation scheme clearly flies in the face of fairness and equity. Those who are working for the dole or otherwise should have available to them reasonable, proper and equitable workers compensation arrangements which underpin industrial relations and awards right across this country.

I can understand why the government is indeed so sensitive about this amendment and why they are indeed sensitive about all the amendments that we are proposing here this evening. They have simply misled people on these amendments, as they have misled people on work for the dole. They said prior to the election they would not do it. They are now seeking to do it. They ought to be ashamed of their performance. They ought to be ashamed of the fact that these programs offer no meaningful training and that they throw people out there at the mercy of the employer.

The killer punch in what may loosely be called a labour market program is this particular component of the work for the dole arrangement which I believe ought be rejected. It is a blight upon the government. They said they would not do it. It does nothing for the unemployed. It offers them nothing. It leaves them on the scrap heap with no workers compensation and facing penalties and the notion of compulsion. The amendments ought be supported.