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Thursday, 22 June 2000
Page: 15477

Senator MASON (2:08 PM) —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business, Senator Alston. Will the minister inform the Senate of how many new jobs have been created since the coalition came into office and how the economic policies of the coalition will further assist jobs growth and reductions in Australia's unemployment rate? Is the minister aware of any alternative policy approaches? What would be the impact if any of these were implemented?

Senator ALSTON (Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) —This is a very important question from Senator Mason. There are now more than nine million Australians in employment. Since we have been in government almost 700,000 new jobs have been created, with 381,000 being full time. If you go back over the last six years of Labor you find that they created less than half the number of jobs that we have created in our four years—that is, 300,000—and only about 10 per cent of those were full time. This is the crowd that always complain about casualisation and the like. They could not deliver on full-time jobs. The reason we have unemployment down to 6.7 per cent is that we have been able to tackle the fundamental economic challenges—we have brought inflation down, we have strong economic growth, we have lower interest rates, and we have reformed the industrial relations agenda. That is critical if you are serious about getting the unemployment rate down.

What do we read about today? Labor are going to have another go at setting an unemployment target of five per cent. We all remember that that went down like a lead balloon at the last election because people knew they could not possibly deliver on it. How on earth can you say, `We're going to do better than you, but we are going to turn the clock back on all your initiatives'? You are going to go back and revisit all those failed and discredited employment projects where you basically paid people billions of dollars to sit on the sidelines. The failed make-work programs and training schemes did not get anyone into serious employment but just kept them amused basically and enabled you to pander to the unions, who usually had a role in administering them. That is the way they are going to turn the clock back. They are going to repeal the trade practices provisions in relation to secondary boycotts. Once again, that will be back in the industrial relations forum where it ceases to be a serious legal issue. No doubt, strike pay will be brought back as well.

Quite clearly, the Labor Party has this fundamental credibility problem. No-one for a moment believes that you would get anywhere near a target of five per cent. No wonder Beattie actually scrapped it not so long ago. He said it wasn't worth trying to aim for something as ambiguous as that. Of course, with Labor's policies you might as well double it if you are realistic about where things are likely to go.

Now we learn that the national executive meeting tomorrow is going to consider a draft blueprint. What is a draft blueprint? That is what you have before you have an interim provisional document—in other words, a policy discussion. You go on with all these iterations and you, unfortunately, just do not quite get around to having a policy before the next election; you just have a series of vague promises, a few feel good statements, something that you hope will fool the punters into thinking that you are serious about economic reform when we know you are not. ยท

If you really want to know where Labor is going on industrial relations reform, you have to look at what the hard men in the unions are saying. They are salivating. They cannot wait to get another crack to impose their wishes on the Labor Party. Craig Johnston boasted recently that he had had more than 200 orders issued against him by the Industrial Relations Commission. This is the bloke who is represented in the Senate by Senator George Campbell, I might say. He is also under pressure for rigging ballots. You never hear any criticism of that at all. What you do know is that in order to pay the fines imposed on blokes like Mighell and Johnston you are now going to have employers forced to attend a $500 a head fundraising gesture. What does the Trades Hall Council secretary say? He says, `$500 would be a pretty small price to pay for industrial peace.' Once again, we are back to these very grubby protection rackets. We are back to the unions dominating industrial reform, or non-reform. There is absolutely no prospect of unemployment going anywhere other than north under Labor. (Time expired)