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Wednesday, 20 June 2001
Page: 28174

Mrs CROSIO (10:22 AM) —I was going to bow to my colleague. I thought that, due to the fact that he had not had an opportunity to speak on the appropriation bills, he wished to pursue other matters, but I am only too happy to go in this particular area of responsibility on the budget. The first thing I want to raise—and I am glad the minister is in here—is the latest unemployment figures in my electorate. We have now seen that the Fairfield local government area, in this quarter, the March quarter, has gone up to 12.5 per cent, the highest level since June 1999. I well remember, and I am sure others would agree with me, that when the Howard government brought in the GST, one of the commitments that was given to the community at large was that it would definitely not affect employment, or unemployment throughout the regions.

I can tell you, Mr Deputy Speaker, this must have been another core promise on behalf of the Prime Minister and his government because not only has it affected unemployment in my area and sent it up, it has also made a definite increase. One only has to look at where the July figures began in 2000, at the beginning of the GST, when there was 8.7 per cent unemployment. I still regarded that as a little high in my area, but I thought, `Fair enough, we will work towards bringing it down.' I then saw September. It gradually increased in that quarter to 10.2 per cent. I then saw in December 2000 it went up to 11.1 per cent. In the March quarter that has just recently been released, in the Fairfield local government area it is now 12.5 per cent.

I then went a little further in my investigation to find out what is happening to the unemployed in my electorate. Needless to say, I was rather disturbed because we all remember the 1996 slash and burn budget of the Howard government when $1.8 billion was removed from training and job assistance programs. I believe that is what my electorate is suffering from. We are actually seeing the long-term effects. I am very proud of my electorate. I am proud of the cosmopolitan part of the electorate and I also understand and appreciate it is sometimes harder for our new arrivals to get settled in, firstly with the English language, and then with employment. But at least they had the opportunity of participating in some schemes that were training them to find jobs in the future.

What have we seen this do in the budget, in the allocation in the last year, and particularly just recently? My area now has the highest rate of unemployment in any metropolitan local government area in New South Wales—I am talking about metropolitan areas, not the one rural area where it is higher than in mine. This government has allocated two additional Job Network sites to my electorate in the last 12 months. I thought, `At least it is a start; it has given two more sites than we had previously to help train, assist and provide opportunities. At least the jobs are there for unemployed people.' I then went one step further and looked at my neighbouring electorate of Parramatta, the unemployment figures for which are a lot lower than mine. I found that, while the electorate of Prospect had received two new Job Network sites, the electorate of Parramatta—which would probably have half or even less than half the unemployment rate in my area—received five new Job Network sites.

I say to the minister, `If we are establishing these sites throughout the areas to assist those in need, how can the government blatantly give two sites to an area that has the highest unemployment rate in metropolitan Sydney and five to the neighbouring electorate that probably has a third of the unemployment rate?' There has to be an explanation for this. I do not believe, and I suppose I am saying this facetiously, that this minister would be so politically bent that he would be looking after what is classified as a marginal seat—Parramatta. The minister knows that they do not have a hope of winning the seat of Prospect. That is one conclusion that I could come to, but I do not wish to do that. I have certainly voiced my feelings, and I am sure the minister has a logical explanation. I am glad he is in the chair and I hope he gives an explanation when he has the right of reply.

I do feel that—and, Mr Deputy Speaker, even you would agree with me—if you, as a government, are going to create these Job Network sites, you should look at Australia as a total, divide it down to the states, from the states to the local regional areas, and from there to where the unemployment need is greatest. Surely that is where you would then make provisions to overcome the problems. Unfortunately, we have now seen this on not one but numerous occasions. I am bringing this one up now only because this is the latest scam—two network sites allocated to my electorate of Prospect and five to my next-door neighbour. I might add that the division between the two seats is virtually a road. So you say that on one side of that road they need five extra sites and on the other side two extra sites. I could even go so far as to say that we could join in and share some of the responsibility, but I can assure you that the ones in Parramatta are very much concerned with the seat of Parramatta, as I presume the ones in Prospect are concerned with Prospect. (Extension of time granted)

In deference to my colleagues, I will be quick as there is another matter I would like to raise while I am on my feet—that is, the perennial problem this government has with employees' lost entitlements. The reason why I say it is a perennial problem, as the minister would realise, is that I was the first to introduce a private member's bill into the House to deal with the total protection of workers entitlements—not the $20,000 cap, which is what we see now with regulation, but 100 per cent protection of workers entitlements. At that stage, as I repeatedly said, I thought we would see some action along the line. I have reintroduced that bill on four separate occasions.

The Labor Party have accepted that as part of our overall policy and I am pleased that, when the Labor Party are elected into government at the next election, that is one of the first changes that we will be making to workers' rights and entitlements. I think it is appalling that, time and time again, commitments have been given and promises have been made, and yet firm after firm suffers from insolvency through bad administration and the people who still lose out in the end are the workers who lose their entitlements.

In the estimates I went one step further, because the estimates show us the figures: we have forward budgets. After June 2003 there is no guarantee of any employee entitlements or finances for that particular area. I say to the minister—and perhaps he will also answer this—what happens after 30 June 2003? After all, there has been no legislation. The intention of the government was given to us by the then minister, Minister Reith, who said in parliament—not in a doorstop interview—on 31 August 1999:

The intention of the government in respect of our legislative scheme is to work to put a national scheme in place by 1 January.

One only has to add it up: if that was 1 January 2000, it is now 93 weeks since then and we still have not seen any legislation. If we have not got a scheme in place by legislation, we have only got it as an administrative scheme, what do we say to the workers out there who are being continually disadvantaged, at times by the collapse of their employers' businesses? I believe most members would realise that, when you have a person who has worked for a firm, possibly for 20 or 30 years, and given their lifetime to the job, and then finds, when the firm has gone bankrupt or belly-up—as the common saying is—that they are left without any entitlements whatsoever, it is not good enough to say, `But we are a government that has put a scheme in and we are probably going to pay them about 20 cents in the dollar.' They could end up with no more than $20,000. You will find that most of the payments that have gone out, and there have been very few to date, average about $4,000 to $5,000.

There are too many Australians out there who are now being affected by this. It is about time that we as a government, particularly the Howard government after the commitments they have repeatedly made, start putting into place a legislative scheme that guarantees the rights of the workers. That has not come in. The Prime Minister has certainly said on numerous occasions that he is very concerned about the workers, that he is going to act for them and that he is concerned about their families losing the entitlements. I wish he would use the same speed, diligence and determination to act for them that he did when he so miraculously introduced the GST—that he was never ever going to have—into this nation last year.

At least on this occasion, with workplace entitlements, we have actually heard a number of ministers, from the Prime Minister down, saying, `Yes, we are very supportive. Yes, we are going to act.' But, of course, what we see, both in the budget papers and in the forward estimates, is that we do not have a legislative scheme in place; we have a regulation where funding is no longer going to be guaranteed after 2003. That is not good enough. More importantly, it is not good enough to give an employee part of his entitlement. If I—and I have used this analogy on many occasions—were caught stealing, I would be sent to jail, and rightfully so. But, if an employee is robbed of his entitlements, no-one—and I mean no-one—in this country wants to stand up and do anything.

It is not good enough to say that the regulative scheme that is in place is giving them everything they deserve. It does not; it does not go anywhere near it. It is not good enough not to have legislation in this parliament. I know the excuse is going to be given by the minister that the states have got to come into it as well but I believe he should have a national scheme in place. If you have a national scheme in place, you are strong enough to bite the bullet and then you can surely bring the states in under the umbrella of the Commonwealth. This is what the workers out there are demanding. This is what the workers want and they will settle for no less. The cap, the regulative provision that is in there now, is not good enough and more work has got to be done in this regard. (Time expired)