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Tuesday, 9 October 1984
Page: 1452

Senator Sir JOHN CARRICK —I refer to the answer given today by the Leader of the Government in the Senate to the effect that the last two years of the Fraser Government's unemployment record were bad by comparison with the record of the Hawke Government. I draw attention to the August 1984 document of monthly economic and social indicators which is in my hand and which was prepared by the Parliamentary Library. I ask: Is it not a fact that the seasonally adjusted statistics for unemployment in this document show the average unemployment for the last two years of the Fraser Government to be 5.8 per cent for 1981 and 7.2 per cent for 1982? Do these statistics also not show that the average unemployment rate for the first nine months of the Hawke Government in 1983 was 10.1 per cent and, for the first eight months of 1984, 9.2 per cent? Does the document also show that the participation rate of employment was 59.6 per cent in August? Is this not a lower rate than any recorded in the past 10 years? Does this not show that there is a growing and chronic rate of unemployment under the Hawke Government?

Senator BUTTON —My answer was basically directed to the question of time lost through industrial disputes, but in response to interjection I did make some comment about the unemployment record of the Fraser Government. Senator Sir John Carrick has been kind enough to give us the pattern of developments under that Government by referring to the figure in 1981 as 5.8 per cent, in 1982, 7.2 per cent and in 1983, 10.4 per cent. The honourable senators will recall, I have no doubt, because it is a source of some concern at Question Time, that his Government was defeated in an election in March 1983. Two figures the honourable senator did not give us were that for the December quarter of 1982 and that for the March quarter of 1983 which, I believe, showed unemployment at a figure of about 11 per cent. That is the point about which the people of Australia made a judgment in March 1983. One can do this exercise and pick periods which--

Senator Chaney —You picked calendar year 1981 and calendar year 1982. You picked those two years.

Senator BUTTON —All right. Calendar year 1981 and calendar year 1982 saw a considerable growth in unemployment which continued into 1983. The other part of Senator Sir John Carrick's question related to participation rates. He plucked out the figure for August, I think, of 1984. The participation rate in August 1984, as I recall it, was 59.6 per cent. In 18 months of answering questions about the unemployment issue I have continually stressed that, while the record of this Government has shown a decline in unemployment during the last few months, we could not in any sense rest on our laurels in relation to the current unemployment figures. I have no doubt that honourable senators will have seen today on the front of the Australian Financial Review an Australian Bureau of Statistics Survey on what is called the disguised unemployment in the Australian community.

All these matters are of great concern. I do not pretend, and have never pretended, that this Government, or any other government, in the current situation, could be proud of its success in the reduction of the rate of unemployment. We are, I think satisfied-perhaps satisfied is not the right word; gratified may be the better word-that, given the problems which we have, the rate of unemployment has declined in the last few months. However, there is no doubt that during the last few years of the Fraser Government unemployment reached a peak, and that is the point I was addressing. If, in the course of my earlier answer in regard to the record of the Fraser Government throughout those two years I lumped those two years together, I regret that that inference was capable of being drawn. Of course the record was not a good one. It was a rising record of unemployment coupled with a bad level of industrial disputation. I make the point that what I said about unemployment related to an interjection made by the ubiquitous Senator Walters which suggested that the reduction in the level of industrial disputation had been achieved because of higher unemployment than existed under the Fraser Government. That is not true.

Senator Sir JOHN CARRICK —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. The Leader of the Government in the Senate referred to the participation rate and wanted to show that there had been a peak in unemployment. I ask him: Is he aware that the participation rate in March 1983-the last months of the Fraser Government-was 61.2 per cent compared with 59.6 per cent now and that never again in any months since the Hawke Government took office has the participation rate been anything like 61.2 per cent? In other words, there has been a decline in the participation rate and therefore chronic unemployment.

Senator BUTTON —March 1983 was not the last month of the Fraser Government. That Government was out in February 1983. March 1983 was the first month of the Hawke Government. It might have been a result of growing confidence in the community that the previous Government had been defeated. It may seem that we make points about this matter, but in response to numerous questions, basically from Senator Chaney, I have made the point that it is dangerous to take out any one month in respect of participation rates and to seek to draw any conclusions from that.