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Wednesday, 1 April 1987
Page: 1881


Mr HICKS(3.34) —I am sure that there is no one in this House who would say that there are not genuinely unemployed people in Australia. The first thing we have to recognise is that, for one reason or another, people are unemployed. But the very sad thing about it is that it is due to the Government's policies and, despite some of the media hype at the moment, more people will become unemployed. I think everyone in Australia would realise that. This matter of public importance raised by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, the honourable member for Menzies (Mr N.A. Brown), is important to the way we think on these matters. We all know that the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) is a very pragmatic person and I thought that he would have seen that there is something in this.

The Government, along with the Prime Minister, saw a general malaise developing, particularly among the young unemployed, whose unemployment rate is extremely high. Fifty per cent of unemployed people are under the age of 25 years. That is a terrible indictment of the Government, particularly with its youth employment programs and all these fancy schemes which cost the taxpayers millions of dollars. Of the total work force under 25 years, 17 per cent are unemployed. A lot of Australians were very pleased one night last June to see on television the Prime Minister making an address to the nation. I will repeat what the honourable member for Menzies said a while ago, because it is important that all honourable members be reminded of what the Prime Minister said. He said:

. . . while society has a responsibility to the unemployed, this is a two-way process. The time has come, we believe, when this two-way responsibility 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 for that benefit.


Mr Peter Fisher —Who said that?


Mr HICKS —That was the Prime Minister. Like all thinking Australians who were watching the television that night, I thought: `You beaut, at last the Prime Minister has come to his senses'. But we all know what happened then. Within 12 hours we had another statement which was slightly watered down and within 24 hours it had become a voluntary scheme. This scheme to undertake some community work in return for the unemployment benefit had been forgotten. It was a bit like the MX missile fracas, where a telephone call was made and the Prime Minister was all for the testing, but within 24 hours he was all against the testing. We have had the same thing with this employment scheme. Simon Crean-`Simon says'-and Bill Kelty had got to the Prime Minister and it was all off. The Minister for Social Security (Mr Howe), in an address to the University of Western Australia on 27 March, said:

This would require developing a program for income maintenance for the unemployed which does not simply act as minimalist safety net but is converted into a springboard. In this regard, the program must be recognised that the current unemployment benefit scheme locks people out of work and locks them into a culture of poverty.

There would not be one person in the community who would not know of people who have been locked out of work and locked into cultural poverty because of the unemployment benefit scheme. The Minister for Social Security, who is at the table and has had a lot to say there today, is also a victim of the `Simon says' cult. Despite what the Minister has said today, there are groups of Aborigines who insist on their people working before they can get the unemployment benefit. This is commendable and something which all Australians could learn from.

Once again we are victims of the Australian Council of Trade Unions' policy and as victims of that policy a new scheme called the community volunteer program has been brought in. It is intended to provide $3.1m in 1986-87 for 15,000 to 20,000 unemployed people. The Minister has just told us that there are 592,000 unemployed people in Australia. Helping this 15,000 to 20,000 will not do too much, but I suppose the Government thinks it is a start. The voluntary participation volunteer youth program will use referral agencies and, therefore, there will be more bureaucracy. The Minister spoke about bureaucracy in relation to the scheme the Opposition has put forward, but I assure him that this one will have even more.

The Federal Government claims that the coalition's work for the dole scheme will cost $700m. Certainly it would cost $700m if the present Government undertook this scheme. Everything seems to be overpriced, with inflation and one thing and another. There is nothing to stop unemployed people from carrying out voluntary labour now, without $3.1m being spent on more of the mumbo-jumbo that the Government seems to go on with. For example, at the corner of my street is a block of Legacy units which need landscaping, lawn planting, tree planting and windows washed. I do not see anyone going down there to do it, although the unemployment figures in my area are very high.


Mr Hand —Some people do it.


Mr HICKS —I agree with the honourable member for Melbourne that some people do it, but plenty of people who could do it do not do it. There are nursing homes to be cared for, woodchopping, picking up papers, et cetera. The Minister said that we expect people to pick up papers, empty garbage cans or pull up weeds. Goodness gracious me! Everyone else has to do it. To put up a smokescreen, the Government has suggested an identity card to stop social security fraud. The coalition opposes this, the Law Council of Australia opposes this and private enterprise opposes this because it will cost $2 billion.

Of course, we in this House all know that this will not combat fraud in the area of social security. It will not be effective. It will cost $1,000m. It will require 42 new Medicare offices and employ 2,150 new public servants. What a gross invasion of privacy this is. Identity problems cause about 0.6 per cent of social security overpayments. The rest are mainly due to beneficiaries not informing the Department of Social Security of a change in their circumstances. I give as an example a dole recipient, or an unemployment benefit recipient as the Minister for Social Security likes to call it, now working but still collecting the dole. The card will not touch the cash economy, which is estimated to involve $800m. We all know how this matter could be fixed: We could require strict and positive identification of all claimants. We will require prime documents-birth certificates et cetera. Under Labor, credit cards and drivers licences are accepted. There are many things we could do to overcome this problem rather than bringing in an ID card.

When I was in a small village in my electorate the postmistress asked me: `When is the Government going to do something about social security rip-offs?' I asked: `What is the problem?'. She said: `There are people here working and collecting social security benefits as well. I put up with it for a while but now they are waiting on their passports so they can go on their holidays to Bali'. I said: `You had better tell me who they are'. She said: `Oh no, I could not do that'. I said: `There are plenty of members of parliament, and I bet you are in the same position, who could not take a month off to go to Bali and if they could get away they could not afford it'.

I refer to the case of a gentleman with a job and living with a woman with two children in a de facto relationship. For some reason or other-there may be family pressure-the couple is going to get married but the man is going to give up his job because there is no point in his working while the family is receiving all the benefits it is now receiving. The reason such people are collecting all these benefits is that the Government is not doing its job of checking out what is going on. I know young people who cannot help being out of work but they sit watching television all day. The parents cannot do anything about it. They are absolutely demoralised because of this. If unemployed people could work two days a week to qualify for the payment of social security benefits it would lift their dignity and give them a feeling of well-being and support for the community.

I am one of those people who believe that young people under the age of 18 years-I will not call them children-should not get the dole. I believe that if any money is to be provided it should be provided to the family. This Government has denigrated the role of the family. If the money were provided to families young people under 18 years would not have to collect the dole and they could be kept at school much longer so that they could then obtain a job. I am talking as the father of four children who has been through all this. The Minister has said that the scheme will cost $700m. As I have said before, it will not cost $700m if we take it on. We on this side of the House believe in the well-being of all people-the breadwinners who are out of work, the young people, all Australians. The coalition believes that people should work for the dole. There are genuinely unemployed people but the Government is doing nothing for the young people of this country or those who are out of work when it does not give them any dignity. Work is dignity. If the Government cannot find work for the unemployed it should not operate a system under which they lose all dignity.