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Monday, 1 June 1998
Page: 4352


Mr MARTIN FERGUSON (10:39 PM) —As the shadow minister for multicultural affairs, I welcome the remarks of the member for Petrie (Ms Gambaro) about the importance of the national day of Italy. I would say in passing that the speech was also interesting for what it did not say. I would have thought that someone who professes support for multiculturalism would have, as a coalition member, made a very clear statement about the need to put One Nation last in the federal seat of Petrie at the next election. That is a debate that we will continue to have because it comes back to leadership and being willing to put your political future at risk for the sake of making a statement about the importance of multiculturalism.

I rise tonight to speak about today's newspaper reports on the results of a disturbing new study on the hardships which have been caused by the government's upheaval to employment services. The study has been published by the Brotherhood of St Laurence, the well-known social justice arm of Australia's Anglican Church—not the Labor Party, not the trade union movement and not the Liberal Party, but part of the Anglican Church. The Brotherhood of St Laurence is an organisation with a very long and very proud record of giving help to Australia's unemployed and of helping to tackle the real causes of unemployment.

The study was carried out by an independent researcher at the Australian National University, Dr Paul Pickering. It was launched by the Brotherhood of St Laurence's highly respected executive director—none other than Bishop Michael Challen. What did this impeccably credentialled study have to say about the new so-called Job Network? It described it as treating Australia's unemployed people like `laboratory mice'. It likened the changes to employment services in this nation to a scientific experiment. The problem is that, unfortunately, the laboratory mice in the government's experiment are real people—members of real families with real hardship. That is what the report states, and they are very strong words. They are words that ought to be heeded by the Minister for Employment, Education, Training and Youth Affairs (Dr Kemp), who is carrying out, with delight, this cruel experiment which now describes Australia's unemployed as laboratory mice.

He ought to listen to these words of warning from the Anglican Church because if he does not—and I know it is a worry about the backbench over there at the moment—he will get the message at the ballot box, and these backbenchers know that. This is why one of them, with a bit of courage, is reported in today's newspapers as being scared about the effect in the coming election of `the mess with Kemp'. The government MP says:

There are blokes in my electorate who've been told they'll have to pay thousands of dollars to put on employees. And you don't get your money back if they're no good. Your money's down the drain—

That is what this nervous government member points out.


Mr Anthony —Who is it?


Mr Cadman —What's his name?


Mr MARTIN FERGUSON —You know who it is, and so do I. And it is not you, Mr Speaker. You are departing the House; you are getting out while the going is good. The message for Dr Kemp, one month into his new and floundering changes to Australia's jobs market, is crystal clear.

I think the government ought to stop treating Australia's unemployed like mice in a cruel experiment. They ought to start treating the unemployed like human beings—with respect, compassion and commonsense. That is what Australians want from their governments and, unlike now, that is what they will get from Labor.

To think that in this day and age the view of the Brotherhood of St Laurence is that this government—a government of so-called feeling and compassion for Australia—is conducting a laboratory experiment in which Australia's unemployed are being treated as laboratory mice. They ought to be talking to Glenn Milne to get a message through to the Prime Minister (Mr Howard) and to the minister for employment that Australia's unemployed are not laboratory mice. They are people with family responsibilities who deserve better. Enough is enough.

It is about time this government faced up to the fact that families in this country are experiencing hardship. They are not laboratory mice. They want a helping hand from government and, as the backbencher said to Glenn Milne in the Australian article today, there is something wrong at the heart of government because this government has walked away from its responsibilities to the whole Australian population. It is not a government for all; it is a government for its mates, and especially those frontbench mates who want to look after their trusts, line their own pockets and look after their own welfare. (Time expired)