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Monday, 16 June 2003
Page: 16427

Mrs CROSIO (4:57 PM) —I rise in this House today to bring to the notice of members of parliament the concern being expressed by people in my electorate that the Howard government is creating a two-tiered society—the haves and the have nots. I suppose, when one looks at it, it is the perfect scenario for a man who has lived his whole political life by a `divide and conquer' motto.

The vast majority of my electorate work very hard and they could not be classified as wealthy. Some are more comfortable than others, but all are in need of some sort of a break to be able to achieve. This government has not provided them with a thing and is constantly undermining their attempts to get ahead, whether it be by making it more expensive to visit the doctor or more expensive to send their children to school. Life is becoming a greater struggle for my constituents.

For the long-term unemployed the news is even bleaker. Chronic unemployment is a serious social and economic problem in my electorate, particularly in Fairfield. It distresses me to see so many working age people, for whatever reason, just loitering around the streets because they are out of employment. These people have been left with little self-confidence or pride. Some do not want anyone to help them and wish to blame everyone and anyone for their predicament. Others are genuinely in search of assistance and need just the slightest helping hand.

However, this government, in the latest round of Job Network contracts, has slashed the employment assistance providers in my electorate by 50 per cent—they have now gone from 10 to five. In the Fairfield-Liverpool region, the number of providers has been reduced by 18. Over the corresponding period, I do not believe that the unemployment rate has been slashed by half. We still have unemployment at over 10 per cent, whilst the national rate is six per cent.

But why would this government care? These people are just bludgers in its mind and have been called that by members sitting on the government benches. The Howard government is uncaring; it is nasty and un-forgiving of the have-nots. If you have read any of the great Dickens novels, you would think that parts of this nation were in Victorian London. When I walk through Fairfield at times, they are the images I receive. With this chronic unemployment, there is the associated effect of crime and antisocial behaviour. When people have nothing to do and nothing to aim for, they will sometimes cause a disturbance and lash out at society. People may argue about whether or not this is right, but that is irrelevant. What I am trying to emphasise in the House today is the fact that it does happen. I am pleased to say that the Labor Party has always prided itself on assisting those less fortunate and on attempting to provide opportunities to those who want to have a go. Most of the people I represent want to have that go and indeed need that assistance. They do not need imposts on them to prevent them from succeeding.

The proposed university reforms have been greeted with great trepidation by my constituents. Parents are coming to me, even in the street, and asking how they are going to find the funds for their children's higher education. The students are deeply concerned about the level of debt they will encounter before they even enter the work force—and this, of course, is before they enter the real estate market. Many of the young people in my area are first-generation university students. The students at the major university in our region, the University of Western Sydney—and I am pleased that the Leader of the Opposition visited it last week—are overwhelmingly first-generation students: 66 per cent of the students attending that university are first-generation students. These students have been provided with this opportunity due to the reforms first implemented by the Whitlam government, which believed that people should be able to attend university according not to their ability to pay but to their academic and intellectual qualities. I believe this reform was one of the greatest achievements of the Whitlam government, and succeeding generations have a lot to thank Gough Whitlam and Kim Beazley Sr for.

The overall cost of living is another concern for the people in my electorate, and this cost has increased under this government. The cost of medicines, the cost of the GST, the cost of sending children to school, the cost of child care, the cost of longer hours without the parallel increase in pay or leave and the increase in credit card debt are all hallmarks of this government. This government has made it trendy to go into debt. Many people are living beyond their means. But the government is encouraging this, because it suits its political agenda. History shows that all booms end. However, this great boom in the outlaying of debt has tended to create a squeeze in society. Unfortunately, many in my community are seduced into going further and further into debt. The attractions of greed and materialism seem to be greater than those of diligence and prudence. That is what the world that the Howard government has created is all about. The problem is that many people are being left behind and are being looked down upon by those who are leaving them behind.

People are working longer and harder to keep pace with the cost of living. The hours that Australians now work are longer than those worked in any other country in the OECD apart from South Korea. The government constantly argue that a more flexible employment environment will create thousands more jobs. What they do not say is that their proposals for greater flexibility really mean flexibility for only one side—that is, the employer. A number of bills brought into this House by the government allow employers in businesses that employ fewer than 15 people to sack people without those people having a redress mechanism. Other legislation sees the government allowing businesses to use transmission of business as an excuse to dismiss employees, and another initiative would allow the government to legislate to prevent the AIRC from providing low-income workers with the means to an annual pay rise.

All this goes on while the top end of town can do what they like. There is absolutely no effort by the government to prevent the widespread rorts and flouting of corporate law that is constantly occurring in the corporate sector. The government say, `Oh well, we can't get involved in the market.' That is the most pathetic of excuses. I suppose, when the party is obtaining bucket loads of funds from certain companies, one would not feel inclined to stop corporate excess. However, people are now saying that enough is enough. The disgust the community feels towards the high-flyers that brought down once strong and profitable companies like HIH is justified. The government were quick to jump on and promote the problems of the building industry and, in particular, to engage in their usual exercise of union bashing, but are they so quick to implement corporate reforms? Of course not. They are quite happy to allow the top end of town to do as they like whilst punishing those who are at the bottom.

I should add that for the last six years I have tabled a private member's bill to ensure employees get 100 per cent of their entitlements when a business becomes unviable. The government will not debate this bill, no matter how many times I introduce it. I believe the simple reason for that is that it does not care for the honest, loyal and dedicated employee. It just does not care. It is ideologically obsessed with providing employers with the right to hire and fire at will. The government would prefer that the courts rather than the AIRC settle industrial disputes. In other words, employees would never be able to combat unscrupulous employers, because it would be too expensive for them.

The society that Australia under Labor spent many years creating has been totally destroyed by this government. If you wish to live a life of greed, you will love this government. If you are struggling to make ends meet, then you are undoubtedly falling further and further behind. Another example I would like to briefly touch on—and it is something I have spoken about before—is the US free trade agreement. This government is doing its level best to turn this country back into a farm and a quarry. The scenario at the moment is really quite extraordinary with respect to some of the comments that are being made regarding this agreement. My constituents keep telling me that life is getting more and more difficult. They feel like they are sinking under the torrent of increasing costs. The proposed reforms I have mentioned for both the health and education sectors are causing people to become anxious and concerned that life will become even tougher for them. In all my years in public life, I do not think I have come across a government as divisive as this one. It seems quite intent on creating a society of haves and have-nots. It appears that the community has only one choice to rectify this situation, and that is to elect a Labor government. (Time expired)