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Tuesday, 3 May 1994
Page: 49


Senator MINCHIN (5.27 p.m.) —The Australian people can take some comfort from the fact that there appears to be bipartisan agreement that mass unemployment, not experienced for 60 years, is this nation's No. 1 problem, and there is bipartisan commitment to achieving genuine, full employment. It is also comforting that there is bipartisan agreement that the Australian Democrats' protectionist position is completely and utterly irrelevant to this debate and we cannot go back down that track.

  However, today on the topic of the government's white paper, which appropriately the government will hand down tomorrow, all we heard was government rhetoric and abuse of the opposition. Before the last election the government attacked the opposition for having policies and now it wants to attack us for having no policies. The Australian people have to remember the causes for one million being unemployed. This government lost control of the economy in the late 1980s and applied the brakes of high interest rates, which destroyed businesses right across the country and put one million people out of work. We are suffering high unemployment as a result of the government's policies, and the Australian people should never forget it.

  There are two key aspects to unemployment: the supply of labour and the demand for labour, both of which have to be addressed. On the supply of labour, government policy has a very direct contribution to make. Stupidly, this government has been deliberately contributing to an over-supply of labour. In the 1980s this government ran one of the highest immigration programs that this country had ever seen—one of the highest immigration programs in the world. On the government's own figures, nearly one-third of recently arrived immigrants are unemployed. The government's own supporters and the people of this nation are saying, `When you have one million unemployed, why are you running such high immigration rates?' As a result of the recession the rate of immigration has fallen. It is a fact that this country can sustain only a certain level of immigration if it does not want to see unemployment blow out again.

  We have heard nothing from the government on this critical issue of population policy and immigration. Those opposite have nothing to say on the subject. Is it a case that immigration is going to blow out again and immigrants will come here and join the dole queues? Australians will rightly say, `What nonsense is this? With a million unemployed you simply bring in more and more immigrants.' Those opposite should tell us what their population policy is. They should tell the Australian people what their immigration policy is. We want to know.

  The other aspect of the supply of labour which this government also fails to address is the massive increase in the number of women in the paid work force. Senator Schacht took the opportunity to abuse me for my position on this issue. I point out to Senator Schacht that my wife, who has two young children, is a part-time worker, and she works with my encouragement. She works at the Advertiser, which I noticed Senator Schacht was just reading. However, our issue here is equal opportunity: equal opportunity to be in the work force and equal opportunity for women not to be in the work force.

  Survey after survey reveals that it is this government's economic policies which have forced so many women into the paid work force. Those opposite ignore it at their own peril. People such as former Senator Walsh keep reminding those opposite that they are using taxpayers' funds to try to get as many more women as possible into the paid work force. When there are a million people unemployed, it is a nonsense to be spending hundreds of millions of dollars to deny women the opportunity to do what they want to do which is to care for their children at home. The government's policies force them into the work force, thereby creating more unemployment. Those opposite should pay more attention to one of the most learned men the Labor Party has produced, that is, former Senator Peter Walsh.

  The demand for labour is a function of growth and a function of the capacity to sustain growth. Those are two things that those opposite seem to forget. It is also a function of the cost of employing labour—again something that those opposite choose to ignore.

  Every economic commentator in the country makes it clear that if we are going to have sustainable economic growth—which is what we all want to achieve—we have to have a much lower government deficit than those opposite are contemplating. I trust that in the budget those opposite will pull the old rabbit out of the hat and actually have a lower deficit than the kite they have been flying.

  Economic growth also requires a much faster pace of micro-economic reform than this government has been pursuing. If we were in government we would be pursuing much faster micro-economic reform and we would be bringing in a much lower deficit than the government is currently contemplating. The government must address the question of the cost of employing labour.

  While this government gives us all the rhetoric about employment, its own policies are making it impossible for employers. By definition, employers are people who actually employ people. The government brings in policies that are nothing more than a disincentive to employ people. Those opposite pay attention to what John Prescott says. Mr Prescott is the chief executive of BHP, one of the biggest employers in this country. He recently said to the government, `Your own policies are a disincentive to us as employers to employ people.' Those opposite should face up to that.

  The latest Industrial Relations Act is a backdown by those opposite. After the election they backed down from their own original position because they are intimidated by the unions. The Industrial Relations Act contains provisions which are a disincentive to employers to employ people.

  The unfair dismissal procedures are a nonsense, a joke. We have had small employers all over the country say to us, `We are terrified of putting on more people because of what this government has done in relation to unfair dismissal provisions.' The whole tax system is a massive disincentive to employ people. What those opposite have done on FBT is a joke and I can understand why people will be discouraged from employing people.

  In relation to the training guarantee levy, the government's own people are saying that we have got to get rid of that because it is a disincentive to employment. What those opposite have done in the compulsory superannuation guarantee area is a disincentive to employment. Those opposite seem intent on spending more and more money simply to mop up the damage caused by their own policies while they bring in other policies that are a disincentive to employers in this country to employ people. I hope that the government will address these very fundamental issues in the white paper and in the budget because they have been ignored to this point.