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Thursday, 28 October 1993
Page: 2725

Mr NEWELL (11.02 a.m.) —I rise, having seconded the motion put forward by my colleague the honourable member for Port Adelaide (Mr Sawford). The motion reads in part:

. . . recognises the need for innovative solutions to reduce unemployment;

in particular, acknowledges the export potential of environmental industries; and takes note of the preliminary Scan Report of the Green Jobs Unit . . .

I thank the honourable member for Sturt (Mr Pyne) for getting to the motion in the last 30 seconds of his address. Essentially the motion goes to the heart of one of the problems facing Australia at the present time. In its attempt to provide some debate and to bring forth some solutions for government action to address this problem, we felt that the motion had a lot of bipartisan support. The eight or nine minutes that the honourable member for Sturt spent wandering and lamenting other aspects of the political field did have both the honourable member for Port Adelaide and me wondering whether we should not call a point of order on him. However, in the sense of trying to achieve some bipartisanship, we felt we would remain in our places and allow the debate to ensue with the good nature with which many members have approached this subject.

  As honourable members will know, there is an urgency as no other to seek out innovative solutions that will help reduce unemployment levels in the country. The situation confronting Australia, with some one million unemployed people, is that quite a substantial chunk of those are long-term unemployed. I would anticipate that the role of the innovation, if I could put it that way, is to actually seek solutions which will mean that many of the unemployed, particularly the longer-term unemployed, will be able to come into other sectors of industry through either training or retraining. This is the challenge that has been taken up by the government and it is led by the Prime Minister (Mr Keating). I thank the honourable member for Port Adelaide for his motion.

  In May, the Prime Minister announced a task force on employment opportunities, which the honourable member for Port Adelaide co-chaired. The task force will release a discussion paper in December, which I am confident will provide a package of innovative strategies to combat unemployment.

  The changing face of the labour market means that traditional programs and schemes to create employment are no longer effective. To some extent, the honourable member for Sturt did allude to the changing face of the labour market.  In tackling the unemployment problems, we need to look at how the labour market is changing, and why it is changing.

  Years ago, it was sufficient to leave school at grade 10 to be confident of getting a job. This sentiment represents rapidly fading memories of a bygone era. Technological advancement and computerisation mean that low skill jobs slowly disappeared as the structural nature of the economy began to change under the influence of government changes in policy. It has been recognised on both sides of the House, including the honourable member for Sturt, that those changes were very necessary.

  As factories became mechanised, many former labour intensive industry jobs, such as those in agriculture, building, road and rail construction, were slowly lost to machinery; and the employment sector slowly began to change with the economy. Indeed, employers began to look for employees who had at least completed their secondary education. As a nation we began to focus on education as a sure-fire way of improving employment prospects.

  As the economy comes out of recession, the role of the government in providing jobs has been questioned—and the term `jobless growth' has been alluded to—because the innovation, already in established sectors of the economy taking up mechanisation and computerisation, means that those sectors are able to increase their output and meet the increased demand without actually increasing their labour force component. However, there are now more and more people with tertiary qualifications taking jobs that they are over-qualified for, for the simple reason that they need that job to survive. This in turn puts pressure on people in other sections of the community with fewer qualifications who would normally take these positions. Unemployment is not simply an economic problem; it must be tackled with a holistic approach, that is, one that looks at not only the economic reality of unemployment but also the social, cultural and the financial cost to society.

  We must begin to change social attitudes to unemployment, to remove the stigma that has been traditionally associated with those people who, for whatever reason, have been unable to secure gainful employment.  The unemployed should be encouraged, supported and assisted, not ridiculed or neglected. The road to reducing unemployment must start with each and every Australian, with a commitment to change our own personal attitudes about unemployment and become positive about the future of Australians. Many Australians would accept the impost of a jobs levy as such.  But without a positive attitude, nothing can and will be achieved.

  `Unemployment' is a term I am only too familiar with. My electorate of Richmond on the north coast of New South Wales has an unemployment rate in excess of 17 per cent. The tide is turning, though, in the community, led by the federal government's drive and determination to seek out innovative ideas to solve our unemployment dilemmas.

  One area in my electorate that has enormous export potential is environmental industries. A major part of this potential centres on ecotourism, particularly between the areas of Byron Bay and Murwillumbah, with its unique rainforest, tropical bushland and flora and fauna habitats. The environmental significance of the north coast region is acknowledged by the thousands of visitors—local, interstate and international—who visit the region each year.

  With proper planning, support and infrastructure the north coast could become an internationally acclaimed eco-tourism centre. There are already companies establishing themselves in this field, designing package deals to cater for a wide range of individuals and special interest groups. From a full-day trip to a four-day package specifically for bird lovers, for example, these companies are providing a first-class package that involves the opportunity to not only experience the delicate nature of the region's ecosystem first-hand but also to learn more about it. Through education these people will learn about these unique ecosystems and how important it is to preserve them for the future.

  Provided proper planning structures are put in place, the eco-tourism industry would be sustainable as an asset able to be enjoyed by future generations of Australians. It would provide jobs for local people and bring millions of dollars into the region, stimulating local economies. The green jobs and industry program is a cooperative effort by the Commonwealth government, the Australian Conservation Foundation and the Australian Council of Trade Unions. It is an initiative which, I believe, augurs well for employment growth in the environment area while encouraging ecologically sustainable development which, as chairman of the caucus environment recreation and arts committee, I wholeheartedly support.

  The preliminary Scan report on the Green Jobs Unit has identified a number of areas that have great potential for creating jobs in the environmental area. The report has focused on the waste management and cleaner production industries and the potential of ecotourism. The waste management sector is one area that has been identified as having increased employment opportunities in the future. As we look towards more innovative and ecologically smart waste management systems, more employment opportunities will exist.

  Many years ago, when different local government areas and bodies were moving towards waste management in its infancy, many of those jobs were deemed to be of a low-grade nature and in fact often were utilised by areas such as sheltered workshops as part of local government's assistance to the sheltered workshops and helping to get those people in sheltered workshop type situations incorporated back into mainstream Australia. The fact is that as time has moved on those low-grade jobs, as I refer to them, have become much more mainstream and the industry itself is now certainly mainstream and certainly a part of the Australian economy.

  The honourable member for Port Adelaide highlighted very strongly the numbers of jobs which these areas, waste management and recycling, have the potential to provide in Australia. Recycling, reprocessing, water treatment, waste disposal by municipal councils and waste contractors and environmental laboratories are all areas that hold the employment opportunities in the future. With the right regulations, the right innovations from governments of all persuasions, we can actually encourage those industries to grow. Just as we have attempted to restructure Australian industry in general with our removal of tariffs, government policy does have the capability of actually pushing along and assisting those industries. It takes courage in some areas to actually establish the right policies, but it is possible for us, as a federal government, to lead that way and it is possible for members on both sides of the House to actually join behind and push that along. If people do not like that term, perhaps we can get out there and lead. After all, that is what we are in this House for. (Time expired)