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Tuesday, 3 May 1994
Page: 45

Senator CHRIS EVANS (5.01 p.m.) —I have much pleasure in entering this debate although I was relying on my opponents to provide me with some speaking material. Unfortunately, I am afraid the debate has lacked any substance on the real issue, and the real issue is the question of employment in Australia.

  I accept that Senator Gibson, in particular, gave an analysis of the Australian economy, one which he has given on previous occasions, and he makes a good job of it. I do not agree with all of his analysis but he makes a very thorough analysis. But what is lacking in the contributions by both Senator Gibson and Senator Short is that there was not one proposition of substance to do with solving the employment problems facing Australia.

  They gave us a list of issues which they think ought to be addressed, but since the abandonment of Fightback the opposition does not have any policies or alternative solutions. I find it incredible that opposition senators seek to enter the debate about the formation and content of the white paper the day before it is released. Their contribution to the very important and serious debate that has occurred in Australia over the last six to nine months is, on the day before the white paper is released, to say, `We ought to address the fundamental problems.' Well, thanks very much! I am sure Australians will note that great contribution to the debate. Quite frankly those opposite have just proved again that they are irrelevant to the political process. Where have they been?

  What has occurred in the development of the white paper process is that Australians generally have been asked to address Australia's fundamental employment problem. The government recognises that there is a serious problem with employment. That is the basis of the undertaking we have embarked upon. We recognised that despite strong employment growth in the 1980s over a number of years we have ended up with a very serious deep-seated employment problem and a particular problem for a whole section of long-term unemployed people.

Senator Short —Of your own making.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —We can argue about whether it is of our own making. Senator Gibson tended to blame world economic recession on the Australian Labor government but, whatever his analysis about whose problem it is, we accept there is a problem, and what we have said is, `One of the priorities of this government in this term is to try to address those deep-seated long-term problems. To do that we have had a very extensive government and public process, release of the green paper, and discussion of that paper leading up to the white paper tomorrow.'

  Every institution in Australian society bar one, that is, the opposition political parties, has played a constructive role in debating these issues. They have all focused on the problems, they have focused on the alternative solutions and they have debated those solutions constructively. I think it has been a very good process. There is no way we will get unanimity of view in terms of the outcome but we have had a very constructive process dealing with what is the very serious problem of long-term unemployment in Australia.

  Now what the opposition does not do in this motion today, and what it did not do in addressing the issues in the debate, is give any recognition to the successes in the economy or the strength of the economy. Senator Short in particular wants to list what he perceives as the negatives, but there is no recognition in the motion or in the debate about the strengths that exist in the economy.

  If we are to have a balanced debate and examine this issue seriously, we have to recognise that there are strengths in the economy; that the economy is improving. This leads me to the point made by Senator Gibson—which was a good one and with which I agree: the major solution, the prime answer to the unemployment question, is strong economic growth. There is no disagreement with the opposition on that. That has been the basis of everything the Prime Minister (Mr Keating) and the Minister for Employment, Education and Training (Mr Crean) have been saying.

  But what the opposition has failed to recognise is that in the December quarter of last year we had 1.7 per cent growth in the economy or a 4 per cent annual growth rate. So we are starting to see strong growth in the economy. Those opposite can always say, from the comfort of the opposition benches where they do not have to be responsible for anything, that we can do better. We can always do better.

  The prime answer to unemployment is strong economic growth. The government is setting about trying to achieve that and we are starting to see in the economy strengths in things like economic growth. We have seen a slight fall in the unemployment rate and we have got the lowest inflation in 30 years. So some of the economic fundamentals are being provided to stimulate strong growth. But what we recognise and what those opposite did not recognise is that that growth alone will not solve the unemployment problem. Even strong economic growth of record levels will not solve the unemployment problem in Australia. That is what has been recognised by all the economic commentators. That is what has been conceded and recognised by this government. We have to do more. In particular we have to do more to address the problems of those people who are the long-term unemployed because they will not necessarily get picked up by the growth in the economy.

  The white paper is about addressing those problems. It is trying to say, yes, we will have growth and we are encouraging growth in the economy and we will provide the incentives for a level of growth and that will go a long way to addressing the unemployment problem. But we will need to do more if we are to solve the problems of a whole group of Australians—those long-term unemployed who will not benefit necessarily from that growth.

  The white paper is about helping those people. It is about doing the extra, making the extra effort, providing the extra measures that will solve or go a long way towards solving those problems and helping and assisting those people back into the work force.

  That is what it is about. I do not know where those opposite have been but that is what it is about and that is what the rest of the Australian community is focussing on. That is what tomorrow's white paper will be about, and the white paper will start to provide help for those long-term unemployed and concentrate on those issues. So on the one hand we will have the economic growth that is the engine room of the employment growth that we are going to need, but we will also have the special measures in the white paper targeting the long-term unemployed and providing assistance to make sure that we deal with their problems.

  As I say, we have to recognise that the fundamental strengths in the economy are turning. All the business reports and all the surveys of business confidence are starting to reflect this. Now there are remaining problems, as Senator Gibson said, and business investment is one of them and we do have to see greater business investment, but to highlight the problems is not to take a politically responsible position.

  Opposition senators cannot just say we have no policies but there are problems. They get elected to help be part of the solution and turning up the day before the white paper and saying, `Oh, there are problems in this economy' is not good enough. They would have been much better playing a positive role in the development of the white paper and in solving the difficulties that we have identified and that the government has conceded and is trying to address.

  So in essence the government recognises there is a problem in terms of the long-term unemployed, recognises that economic growth is vital to solving those problems but that it alone is not enough, and tomorrow's white paper will provide the additional measures that will go to solve some of those problems. For the Liberal and National parties, without any constructive contribution to the debate, refusing to recognise the strengths of the Australian economy, and jumping up the day before the white paper with nothing constructive to say, nothing to add to the debate, nothing to offer in the way of solutions—

Senator Short —We have told you what to do tomorrow.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —Those opposite are just not serious. They have rolled out the analysis they had for Fightback but they have dropped the policy. They have got the same analysis but the world has moved on—the economy has moved on. They have not changed their analysis and brought it up to date. They have no solution at all—no answers. They have raised no serious suggestion other than that we ought to have more growth. I agree with them; we ought to have more growth, and government policy is dedicated to that.

  Those opposite have no solutions and no policies; they are not relevant to the debate. The people who are relevant to the debate—the rest of the Australian community—have played a part. Industry, unions, social service groups and charities have all been involved in dealing with the problem. The white paper tomorrow will respond to that in a very positive way and provide the leadership and direction to solve our long-term unemployment problem.