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Wednesday, 2 November 1983
Page: 2198


Mr STEEDMAN —Is the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations aware of reports of calls for the unemployed to be made to carry identity cards and to work in return for the unemployment benefit? Will he inform the House of the Government's policy on these matters?


Mr WILLIS —Yes, I am aware of the reports to that effect, which said that the honourable member for Darling Downs had advocated such measures at a National Party conference. Let me say first that the Government totally rejects such policies and that those who advocate them are totally lacking in compassion for the unemployed. The implication seems to be that the unemployed are a lazy, shiftless lot who are to blame for their own condition. The absurdity of that surely is demonstrated by the fact that at present the ratio of unemployed to job vacancies is 42:1. With a ratio of that order it is absurd to blame the unemployed for their own condition. People who advocate policies which have as a basis for their rationale the proposition that the unemployed are in some way to blame for their own condition I think are completely at odds with the facts of the situation.

Such callous attitudes to the unemployed are not surprising from a Minister in the former Government, which Government clearly showed a lack of compassion for the unemployed. Apart from creating about 450,000 of them, the previous Government reduced the real expenditure on labour market policies by about 38 per cent. It also froze the level of unemployment benefit for under-18-year-olds at $36 a week for seven years. Over the same period it allowed the unemployment benefit rate for a single adult to fall by 27 per cent in real terms, and it tried at one stage even to abolish the community youth support scheme. So much for the concern and compassion for the unemployed from honourable members opposite. They clearly did not have any and it is not surprising, therefore, that they come up with these sorts of policies in opposition.

The Government completely repudiates the suggestion that the unemployed should have to carry ID cards and work for the unemployment benefit. The idea of their having to carry ID cards is clearly objectionable because it woud stigmatise the unemployed. That is probably one of the reasons for its having been advocated. Perhaps the Opposition would like to suggest that the unemployed should have a stamp on their forehead or even a tattoo on their arm. Let me make it clear that working for the unemployment benefit is against two International Labour Organisation conventions which this country has ratified; that is, ILO convention 105, which precludes any form of forced or compulsory labour, and convention 29, which precludes labour extracted under menace of penalty. The honourable member for Darling Downs was quoted as saying that the ILO does not matter and that we should not really be perturbed by the fact that the ILO has some conventions with which we do not agree. If that is Opposition policy we would like to hear it. Up until now we thought we had a bipartisan policy of support for the ILO. If in fact it turns out that we do not have, let us get it clear on the record. Is the honourable member for Darling Downs speaking for the Opposition on this matter? If not, let us hear from the Leader of the Opposition about that.

Let me also say that the argument that the unemployed should work for the unemployment benefit is totally illogical. The point is that there simply is not enough work to provide jobs for the unemployed. That is why they are unemployed. So it is a complete non sequitur to say that they should have to work for their unemployment benefit. It is especially illogical for a member of the previous Government, which for years refused to consider job creation programs on the basis that they would be make-work and not real jobs, to say now that every person who is unemployed should be put on some make-work project. That is what is being advocated and it is totally illogical on the part of the Opposition. Our view is quite clearly that we need to do everything we can to provide jobs for the unemployed and to provide as high a level of unemployment benefit for them as we can in the period that they are unemployed. When they obtain employment they should be paid at least award rates and not be made to work for any rates less than award rates. The community employment program which we have introduced is clearly a major step in the direction of providing work for the unemployed. As the Prime Minister pointed out yesterday, our employment policies are working and we are certainly creating jobs at a rate of knots which, if it continues, will mean that our employment targets will be achieved.

Finally, I repeat the Prime Minister's challenge to the Leader of the Opposition: Will he repudiate the remarks of the honourable member for Darling Downs? If the Leader of the Opposition refuses to do so we can only assume that the honourable member for Darling Downs was expressing an Opposition point of view on policy and that the National Party is not only taking over the conservative forces in Queensland but is also doing it in the national Parliament.