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Wednesday, 1 April 1987
Page: 1876


Mr N.A. Brown(3.04) —The coalition parties in this Parliament have firmly committed themselves in government to introduce a scheme of compulsory work for the dole. We have done that for three reasons. The first reason why we say it is essential that such a scheme should be introduced is that it would be good for the unemployed. It is good that the unemployed should have work experience, on the job training and the discipline of regular working hours and it is bad that the unemployed should be condemned to a period of uselessness and unconstructive activity while they wait for some job to turn up under the flagging economic policies of this Government. It is in the interests of the unemployed themselves that there should be such a scheme.

The second reason why we say it is essential that such a scheme should be introduced is that it would be good for the community as well. The community in this financial year is paying out over $3.5 billion in unemployment benefits. This represents an increase of almost half a billion dollars on what was appropriated last year. We are talking, therefore, not just about some side-show but about the commitment of billions of dollars of taxpayers' money, billions of dollars of the community's own assets. We say that the community as a whole has some entitlement and some reasonable expectation to get some return, if that can be done as a matter of practicality, on the money that it pays out for unemployment benefits. It is good, therefore, that the community, if it is possible to implement a practicable scheme along these lines, should get some return, by way of the value of community work, on the money that it invests. We say that such a scheme can be constructed in such a way that the community gets some return on the enormous amount that it pays out on unemployment benefits.

The third reason that we give in support of such a scheme, which will be amplified in more detail by my colleague the honourable member for Riverina-Darling (Mr Hicks), is that it would take a substantial step towards reducing at least one area of social security fraud. We say, for a whole host of reasons which the honourable member will elaborate upon, that we do not need an Australia Card to stamp out social security fraud. We need action, and we need tough action, but we do not need an Australia Card to achieve that objective. The honourable member will develop that argument in further detail. I put to the House that all of the evidence, all of the public opinion, all of the logic and all of the common sense is on the side of having a compulsory system of working in return for unemployment benefits.

These arguments become more apparent if we look briefly at the history of this proposal and the most craven way in which it has been abandoned by the Government. Honourable members will remember the Churchillian evocation of the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) in June last year when he gave his address to the nation. He said, amongst other things, that we were in a wartime situation and that such were the economic problems in this country-most of which had been forced on us by his Government-that we had to take stringent steps. One of the stringent and stern steps that the Prime Minister in June last year made it perfectly clear we had to take was to introduce a scheme of working for the dole. I would defy any reasonably minded person reading the Prime Minister's statement on that occasion to come to any conclusion other than that what he was advocating was a scheme of working for the dole. The Prime Minister started that part of his speech on this subject by announcing a change. It must be emphasised that he was clearly stating that something new was about to come and some new scheme was about to be unleashed on the country. He said:

The time has come, we believe, when this two-way responsibility-

the responsibility of the community to the unemployed and vice versa-

will best be served by providing as far as possible the opportunity, particularly for the younger recipients of unemployment benefit, to undertake some community work in return for that benefit.

It must be emphasised that at the time the Prime Minister made that statement we already had the voluntary scheme known as the volunteer youth scheme. So the Prime Minister was announcing a new scheme under which there would be a compulsory element requiring recipients of unemployment benefits to do some community work in return for those benefits.

The second instalment in this history was that the Prime Minister, having made that statement, was very clearly clobbered by the left wing of his Party and by the trade union movement. The trade union movement came out-and honour- able members will remember Mr Halfpenny's words-and said that it would not tolerate any scheme under which unemployed people were required to work in return for the dole. The unions put up their arguments, they had their conferences, and they promoted that usual parasitical attitude that so many people in the extreme left wing of the trade union movement advocate that people should not be encouraged to stand on their own feet, that they should not be encouraged to rely on themselves, that they should be encouraged to keep their hands out for the government dole, and that they should be encouraged to do nothing and to give nothing in return. That was the argument from the trade unions, and from the left wing of the Labor Party in this Parliament and outside. Beyond any shadow of a doubt, within the ranks of that Labor Party and within the ranks of this Government that argument carried the day. The Prime Minister was clobbered and the Government gave in. It is very clear that the Government lost whatever semblance of courage it had at that time to introduce some scheme of the sort that we are now advocating.

Instead of a scheme of working for the dole, what has the Government come up with? It has come up with a thing called the community volunteer program. We previously had the volunteer youth program and now we have the community volunteer program. About this scheme we can say three things: First, it is a smokescreen to make it perfectly plain that the Government lost the courage of introducing a real work for the dole scheme; second, because it is completely voluntary it will not achieve the essential objectives of a real work for the dole scheme; and third, the Government has done nothing more than dress up the old volunteer youth program. The Government has given projects under that scheme more money and it has given the scheme a new name, and it says that it has solved the problem. We say that it has not solved the problem. We say that it has caved in to extreme left wing pressure. We say that the public, like the Opposition, demands that a positive step be taken towards introducing the desirable sort of scheme that we are now advocating. By setting up this so-called community volunteer program, the Government has done nothing but promote yet another bromide to give the false illusion that something is being done about this urgent problem.

If there were any doubt about whether there was a backdown let us look at one of the Ministers in the present Government who more frequently than others expresses his honestly held views. The Minister for Industry, Technology and Commerce (Senator Button) expressed views on this subject before he was rolled in the Cabinet and before the left wing took control of this issue. Senator Button gave an interview to a magazine which you, Mr Deputy Speaker, would not be aware of but which I will tell you about. The magazine is called Playboy. It is a magazine which some people recommend as reading. In 1985 Senator Button gave an interview to this magazine and he was asked specifically about what he thought of a scheme of working for the dole. He said-and these are his views:

. . . you should have to do something for the payment you get. You should be engaged in study or training of some kind, or work.

He made it perfectly plain that that was his view. The interviewer asked him:

What if you're out of work, like a lot of people are?

Senator Button replied:

In my view, if they want the allowance, they should work for it.

That is exactly what we say; it is exactly what the Government has abandoned. Our position is summed up very accurately by Senator Button's words:

. . . if they want the allowance, they should work for it.

Another Minister-I must concede one who was not a Minister at the time this decision was made-has also spoken frankly on the subject. The Special Minister of State (Senator Tate), before he got caught up in the machinations of this Government, expressed his views in 1985. He is reported as saying:

Unemployed people should be made to do community work in return for their dole . . . dropping cheques in letterboxes every fortnight without demanding anything in return had fostered a ``cargo cult mentality''.

It is a cargo cult mentality when people are told: `Your country can survive and you can survive not by making any contribution, not by doing any work in return for the dole, but by going along and putting your hand out for the government payments-whether it is in the form of unemployment benefits or anything else'. We say to them that if they are to have a cohesive society where people work together they must make a contribution. That should, beyond any doubt, make it perfectly plain that there is an overwhelming case for the introduction of a compulsory work for the dole scheme. Not only is there an overwhelming case for it but it is a case which some members of the Government themselves pursued until they were clobbered by the left wing.

What sort of prospect is there of this community volunteer program being of any success? We know the Government's track record with the traineeship scheme. My colleague the shadow Minister for Education, the honourable member for Tangney (Mr Shack), made it perfectly plain the other day in a debate on a matter of public importance that this was a phoney and a fizzer because the Government said that we would have a traineeship scheme and that we would have 10,000 young people on the job in traineeships by June 1986. It also said that by 1988-it has only eight months to go-it would have 75,000 positions, if you please. That is not 75,000 in total but 75,000 a year. That was to be the annual intake. According to the latest figures we have, on the job, in place, under that scheme there are some 3,600 young people. The Government could make the community volunteer program successful even if it were a worthwhile scheme. Once several months have passed its record on implementing this scheme and achieving anything constructive under it will be as dismal as its record on the traineeship scheme.

The public is on our side because the Australian national opinion survey, promoted and financed by this Government, came up with interesting results. Of all people interviewed 85 per cent believe that the payment of the unemployment benefit should be conditional on doing work or undertaking some sort of activity of a constructive nature. So the public is on our side. Young people interviewed in that survey had the same view to an overwhelming extent because they know that it is so essential. Such a scheme should be introduced. The Government has failed to do it. The community wants it and the only prospect of having such a scheme implemented will be with a new government in this country.


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Leo McLeay) -Order! The honourable member's time has expired.