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Monday, 26 May 1997
Page: 4044


Mr MARTIN FERGUSON(10.41 p.m.) —I rise to speak to these amendments because, to my way of thinking, work for the dole flies in the face of a period of reform which was, up until the mid-1980s, a passive labour market assistance program in Australia. The system was introduced in 1945. Unemployment was then regarded as something of a short-term nature. It was only in the mid-1980s that the Australian community decided that we had to reform the system of labour market assistance in Australia, to turn it from a passive system into one based on an active approach to try to get people back to work.

That, in turn, meant the government offering to particular sections of those who were unemployed programs tailored to their special needs. It was based on what was known as the reciprocal obligation. That in fact is reflected in the fact that we would like to amend this bill by actually incorporating that in the name of the new act—one based on reciprocal obligation. Yes, there would be a sense of compulsion, but in return for that compulsory requirement to front up to one's responsibilities there would be an investment by government into trying to get those people job ready and trying to get them back to work.

We oppose the bill as it currently stands because, yes, there is now a sense of compulsion reflected in the proposal by the government. What we do not find in the bill this evening is that reciprocal obligation from the government. It goes to the detail of the bill: no reciprocal obligation, a sense of decency and welfare reform, with respect to access to training; no reciprocal obligation when it comes to a person's entitlements when they front up to their obligation and undertake an employment program; and no reciprocal obligation when it comes to access and protection at work and workers compensation—an ability to purchase one's safety boots so as to ensure that, when you go to work, you go to work in the knowledge that there will be protection of one's health and safety while at work.

They are our concerns this evening. We are not opposed to decent labour market programs that give someone opportunity in life, irrespective of whether they are young or old, irrespective of whether they are indigenous people or people of a non-English speaking background. But compulsion must be based on investment. Getting people back to work is not a cost to government; it is an investment in the betterment of the Australian community. In return for that, we say to the government: you are wrong to basically now require these young people to front up for a program that will not lead to a real job, that will not offer them any training or real discipline based on two days on and five days off and that will not in essence make them attractive to employers.

There is much concern in the community about this bill because it does not offer real opportunities—real opportunities not only to get people back to work but also to rebuild the suburbs. Unemployment is not uniform across the Australian community; it varies from region to region and suburb to suburb. Yes, the Australian community does expect people to front up to their responsibilities. But in return for people fronting up to that compulsory responsibility, it also expects the government to invest in getting them back to work.

We urge the government to rethink its approach. Yes, it might have the numbers in the House of Representatives. But it ought to think about the stigma it will impose on young unemployed people arising out of this bill—a compulsory requirement to front up, without any long-term opportunity. That is what it really is about.

These workers will be stigmatised when they front up for an employment interview in the future—`Yes, you're a person who compulsorily was required to front up to work for the dole. We understand that in fronting up you weren't offered any real training opportunities. You come to us on the basis that you had to front up two days on, five days off. You come to us on the basis that you haven't fronted up over a long extended period of six or 12 months and achieved a real discipline of work based on working five days on, like a normal worker, not two days on.' That is what it is really about—people really getting back into the discipline of work, based on access to decent training opportunities.

People are not opposed to those compulsory requirements. But the real problem with this scheme with its compulsory requirements is that it is a mickey mouse scheme that offers no hope to the community, no hope to the unemployed, no hope to their families—and in essence, as the Prime Minister has said, it will lead to no real jobs. (Time expired)

   Question put:

   That the amendments (Ms Macklin's ) be agreed to.