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Thursday, 18 October 1984
Page: 1972


Senator CHANEY —My question is directed to the Leader of the Government in the Senate and it follows the answer that he has just given. Is he familiar with the study of the Bureau of Labour Market Studies on youth wages which was delivered to the Government in April last year?


Senator Dame Margaret Guilfoyle —Yes, he is, because he referred to it yesterday .


Senator CHANEY —Thank you. Does the Leader of the Government agree that the issue of relative youth wages is one of the factors which need to be discussed and considered in tackling the problem of youth unemployment in Australia? Does he further agree, as he has conceded in the past, that labour costs and on-costs are also important factors to be considered in terms of the promotion of better employment figures in Australia? Is he therefore prepared to agree that the matters being put forward by the Opposition are serious and that they need serious consideration in facing up to continuing high unemployment, which is a major long term problem for Australia?


Senator BUTTON —On numerous occasions in Question Time in the Senate I have agreed that unemployment is the most important single issue facing this country. I have also said that the Government is very gratified by the progress we have made in 18 months in government in reducing the levels of unemployment. I am aware of the Bureau of Labour Market Studies discussion paper on youth unemployment and other issues. By the way, it was not a document delivered to the Government, as Senator Chaney put it; it was one of a normal series of publications of the Bureau of Labour Market Studies. I recall that one of the comments in that paper-a very important comment-was that to see youth wages as the sole question to be tackled in relation to youth unemployment was a very bad mistake, because it is very easy to pick up the symbolic issues and say 'If we fix that, everything will be all right.' The Bureau of Labour Market Studies went on to make the point that if one did something about youth wages one would encourage distortions in other sections of the labour market, and I think that is an important point for consideration. The question of youth wages in this country, together with a wide range of youth policies which have been inherited from the past, must be given further consideration by government. It is very important that that should happen.

Senator Chaney went on to ask me about wage costs and on-wage costs. I said publicly yesterday and I say again that, in terms of continuing economic recovery, governments as well as others must be rigorous about all questions of costs. That inevitably includes wage costs and on-wage costs and a variety of other matters, including goverment charges. In terms of enhancing and speeding economic recovery in this country this Government has reached an historic position with the trade union movement, which is unprecedented in this country, in achieving a prices and incomes agreement. The results of that have been extraordinary-


Senator Peter Rae —Disastrous for you.


Senator BUTTON —Senator Rae keeps--


Senator Robert Ray —Senator Peter Rae, please!


Senator BUTTON —I am sorry. Senator Peter Rae, Liberal, Tasmania, keeps interjecting and saying that these things have been disastrous for somebody. It is a very unpalatable fact for the Opposition, but we have had the fastest economic growth in the world in the past 12 months. That is a question of management; it is not a question of plucking out isolated issues here and there and saying that, if one fixes this or fixes that, everything will be all right. It is a question of overall economic management. To those senators who see themselves in an election mode, this goes fundamentally to the question of credibility.


Senator Peter Rae —You will not have it because your cost of administration is double the rate of inflation.


Senator BUTTON —Senator Peter Rae's latest interjection is that we will double the rate of inflation. He should talk about that. We have halved it in the last 12 months.


Senator Peter Rae —I said that your cost of administration is double the rate of inflation.


The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Peter Rae is persistently interjecting. I call him to order.


Senator Peter Rae —On a point of order, Mr President: I was being misrepresented in the answer that was being given and I was trying to correct that misrepresentation by way of an interjection.


The PRESIDENT —There is no point of order.


Senator BUTTON —My point is quite simple; it is only two years of historic memory since this country had a government which presided over rising unemployment, rising inflation and rising interest rates, all at the same time. It was unique in the Western world. But that Government went out of office in 1983. The country now has a government which is presiding over falling unemployment, falling inflation and falling interest rates. That is a complete reversal of what took place two years ago. That is the essential question relating to economic management credibility. Intelligent people in this country- and most of the voters are intelligent-know that that is true.


Senator Boswell —What about the drought?


Senator BUTTON —The main drought is in Senator Boswell's head.


The PRESIDENT —Order! I ask Senator Button to ignore the interjections and respond to Senator Chaney.


Senator BUTTON —I have finished anyway, Mr President.