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Thursday, 8 September 1983
Page: 602

Mr GRIFFITHS(5.23) —At the outset I would like to make a couple of comments with respect to the contribution to this debate by the honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Connolly). It seemed to me that that contribution was a judicious mixture of quite sensible suggestions combined with some negative comments which really will not advance the interests of unemployed people in Australia. He indicated at the outset that he thought solving the unemployment crisis was one of the most vital tasks confronting democracies. Certainly we on this side of the House would not quibble with that. He adverted to the record of the Labor Government since it was elected on 5 March and then took something of a negative approach with his analysis of the effects on the economy of the election of a Labor government. I simply remind the honourable member for Bradfield that the Labor Government was elected at the end of a period of 12 months in which the economy has been described as being in a state of free fall. During the preceding 12 months an additional 260,000 persons were relegated to the unemployment scrap-heap. So much for the previous Government's record on these matters.

He adverted briefly also to the Labor Party's wages policy. The House need not be reminded that the Opposition has yet to come to a viable, sensible wages policy. It has a number of different positions, and obviously that is a source of some embarrassment to it. I advise the honourable member for Bradfield that, given that ongoing embarrassment, it may be appropriate not to raise the matter until such time as the Opposition has clarified its position. He then made a couple of sensible suggestions-and they go to the very heart of the debate-about the appropriateness or otherwise of employment creation schemes along the lines of the community employment program.

When the Public Service Amendment Bill 1983 was brought before the House my colleague the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Public Service Matters ( Mr Dawkins) indicated that the initiative was expected to create up to 70,000 jobs nationally in its first year of operation. The honourable member for Bradfield had some problem with that figure, and it is perhaps a quite valid comment that, when one analyses those figures, the precise number of full time positions created might seem to be open to some debate. What certainly is not open to dispute is that the initiatives cannot be seen in a vacuum; they bring on multiplier effects in the economy. It has been estimated that for each position created directly under the community employment program an additional two persons would be employed in the private sector.

I think it most important that we examine the situation inherited by the Australian Labor Party on 5 March before we can place much credence on the sorts of comments made by the honourable member for Bradfield and some of his colleagues. If he uses the 1982-83 price index it is possible to work out the amount of moneys set aside for employment creation programs by the conservative coalition compared with the last year of the Whitlam Government. The Whitlam Government, in 1982-83 prices, allocated in the vicinity of $1,300 to each unemployed person who took part in an employment creation program. That compares with the period of the Fraser Government when the amount dropped to in the vicinity of $530 per person engaged in a work creation program. Of course, that is a drop in the vicinity of 60 per cent in real terms and I think goes some way to indicating the priority that the previous Government accorded to job creation as a concept.

Whilst the employment situation was in rapid decline the previous Government deemed it appropriate to offer proportionately less assistance to those people in greatest need. During its period in office the conservative coalition displayed considerable hostility to the concept of community based public sector job creation schemes. During 1982-83 the 53 per cent of allocations set aside for direct employer subsidy and rebates in effect became counter-productive. Because they were based on the state of the labour market, as soon as the labour market collapsed in 1982 the effectiveness of that sort of allocation collapsed with it.

For the Labor Government to make any meaningful impact on unemployment will require a growth rate in excess of 5 per cent each year. Relative to other Organsiation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries, Australia has not fared well with its growth rates to date. Because a long term growth rate of this order cannot be guaranteed it seems to me imperative that we give greater attention to job creation schemes or any other method by which employment and jobs can be created.

An effective program of planning, implementation and evaluation of job creation schemes is to a large extent predicated on the sort of organisational structure that one sets up to administer those schemes. The honourable member for Bradfield adverted briefly to what he described as the shambles of administration under the old regional employment development scheme. I simply comment that the administration of that scheme had hardly been set up when it was dismantled. There really was not sufficient time to iron out the various problems that arise when one sets up any major scheme.

It must be said that this target of achieving full employment is one of the urgent priorities of this Government. It was certainly central to the program that we put before the people during the election campaign. To a very large extent it was the perception that the Liberal Government had lost control of the economy and had no genuine concern for the interests of those who were unemployed that led to the results on 5 March. As I have indicated, there has been an obvious reluctance on the part of the Opposition to embrace the concept of employment creation schemes. That reluctance was changed only when the imperative of the forthcoming election made the Opposition act somewhat hastily in setting up what were, in effect, the very types of job creation schemes that it had for so long abused.

The need to be seen to be doing something went down in history as the Liberal Party's approach to some of these issues. One of its members made that comment in 1982. Certainly, as it turned out, this was a positive thing for those who obtained employment under the various job creation schemes put forward by the Fraser Government. There is no doubt about that. The job creation schemes that we have carried on with and of which we have changed the concept certainly do not pretend to be an answer to an employment crisis that was foisted upon us largely by the contractionary policies of the Fraser Government. They are, however, an important start to fulfilling this Government's great task-indeed, great duty-to provide work for all Australians who wish to work.

We have heard in previous speeches the dimensions of the crisis confronting Australia and, indeed, the world, in terms of the seemingly intractable problems relating to the necessity to provide work. The Opposition, of course, is more inclined to a 'do nothing' approach because it has a philosophical view that at the end of the day market forces are a more appropriate method by which jobs may be created. If one looks around the various economies I think one would have to be a supreme optimist to be relying on market forces alone to get us out of our current predicament. The conservative policy or by definition lack of policy, is becoming increasingly less tenable in a rapidly changed Australian and world economy. Further, it is finding less and less support even amongst those with whom the Opposition would profess to have a philosophical affinity. Witness for example, the latest report of President Reagan's Council of Economic Advisers entitled 'Unemployment; the Failure of Private Enterprise'. That report noted that unemployment had been creeping up since World War II and now constituted, in the advisers' view, a permanent feature of capitalist economies. Economist's and business people, the report said, now accept as normal an unemployment rate of 6 to 7 per cent. This bland conclusion masks an implied acceptance of permanent misery for millions of unemployed persons. It is a conclusion that must not, and under this Government certainly will not, be found acceptable.

An understanding of the nature and dimensions of the unemployment crisis must not, as seems to have been the case in the United States, be allowed to develop into this defeatist approach. Why should governments engage in employment creation programs, and what type of programs should be supported? Notwithstanding optimistic growth forecasts in the European Economic Community, as the member for Bradfield mentioned, it is predicted that total employment in the EEC will fall by approximately one per cent over the next three years; that is, whilst the economy will grow significantly, jobs will still be permanently lost. Growth of itself is a necessary but not sufficient prerequisite to a return to full employment. The European response to unemployment has seen a multitude of training schemes, job creation programs, et cetera. There are some lessons that we might learn from their European experience, lessons that might be adapted to our own community employment program concepts in the longer term. The major distinction between the European approach and our own is the increasing importance placed upon the objective of creating permanent, as opposed to more temporary, jobs. While there are wide variations in the type of job creation initiatives tried in Europe, they increasingly share the objective of creating jobs that provide secure long term employment.

Mr McVeigh —I raise a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I have listened very intently to the honourable member. I think he should address himself to the Bill . I have some difficulty in relating unemployment in Europe under a community aid program to the Public Service Amendment Bill. I would just like to correct that because he is a new member.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. Les Johnson) —Order! I acknowledge the point of order. I ask the honourable member to have regard to the fact that the primary purpose of this Bill is to facilitate the introduction of the Government's community employment program in the Public Service.

Mr GRIFFITHS —Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. It is necessary to change the Public Service Act to allow people to be employed on a temporary basis pursuant to that Act, operating in concert with the CEP program. I think the CEP program is one of the most important initiatives of this Government in terms of addressing what is a quite fundamental problem. The projects that have been established or are in the process of being established are coming increasingly under the control of local communities.

Mr McVeigh —Mr Deputy Speaker, I raise another point of order. I do not want to labour the point, and I understand your difficulty, your being a tolerant man, but the honourable member has laughed at your ruling. That is what upsets me. It is not the fact that he is not following your ruling but the fact that he has disobeyed you, the most senior member of your Party in New South Wales, that grieves me.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member for Darling Downs would certainly understand that I am inclined to be more tolerant of the newer members of the House. Nevertheless, the question of relevance has to be properly regarded by all honourable members. I ask the honourable member to direct his remarks more appropriately to the Bill.

Mr GRIFFITHS —Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I certainly will not abuse your tolerance. One previous speaker from the other side of the House during the course of his contribution-his remarks were not ruled out of order-discussed the provision of small capital loans to community organisations or businesses to assist in the objective of job creation. The suggestion I indicated earlier was quite a sensible one. Certainly, it is one to which I would be sympathetic. There are a number of options available to governments in terms of job creation. They encompass another suggestion that was made by the previous speaker-the use of retired people or those who can otherwise provide expert technical advice to various groups setting up job creation schemes. I think that is a sensible suggestion. On that note I will not abuse your tolerance any further, Mr Deputy Speaker.