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Thursday, 5 May 1994
Page: 336

Senator KNOWLES (3.07 p.m.) —The question Senator Short asked today about how this government was going to achieve a growth rate by which it could reduce the unemployment rate to the targeted five per cent by the year 2000-2001 is a particularly important question, and I think it was absolutely disgraceful for this nation that it was deflected by Senator Gareth Evans in such a significant way. One of the most important aspects as far as my interests are concerned is the question of people of overseas origin. Many of the ethnic groups in Australia have been suffering from an unemployment rate in excess of 20 per cent for over six years. This government has failed consistently to do anything about reducing those very high levels of unemployment.

  In the white paper the government talks about a target of five per cent by the year 2000. That is all very well. Where in the white paper are those of overseas origin mentioned? Where in the white paper does it mention ethnic communities and the target for their unemployment levels by the year 2000? Is it simply adequate to have them remain at over 20 per cent, sometimes as high as 27 per cent, and do nothing about them?

  In the white paper there is mention of maintaining the existing workplace English language and literacy program—the WELL program. That is all very well, one might say—pardon the pun—but that increase does not start in any significant fashion until 1995-96. One of the most significant problems for people of overseas origin, particularly those of non-English speaking backgrounds, is that they do not have the English and literacy skills to go out into the workplace and compete effectively for employment. What has this government done about it? Nothing. It has deferred the increases further down the track to 1995-96, 1996-97 and beyond. How can this government claim that, in a global sense, it is targeting the reduction of unemployment to five per cent by the year 2000?

  On the workplace English language and literacy program, the white paper yesterday said that WELL aims to improve the language and literacy skills of workers who `are most at risk of displacement from industries requiring more highly skilled and literate workers'. The paper says, `at risk of displacement'—but what about the risk of not getting a job in the first place? The paper also says that the funding shown will restore the program to previous levels of activity beyond 1994-95. When these communities are suffering such excessively high levels of unemployment, why was the level reduced in the first place? Why has this document not resolved those problems? Why have they simply been put into the back room, never to see the light of day?

  There are very serious questions to be raised—and particularly serious answers should be given. This government continues to fail to look at ways in which it can better equip people, particularly of non-English speaking background, to gain employment. It is a `could not care less' attitude. The government has gone around for the last 11 years blatantly telling lies to the ethnic communities. They know they are getting a rough deal and that they are not getting the jobs. They can see by this white paper and previous budgets, when expenditure that would help them gain gainful employment has been cut, that this government is lying to them.

  I cannot see anywhere in this white paper where the ethnic communities will benefit from some targeted five per cent level of unemployment by the year 2000. I challenge the government to tell me where in this paper the realistic levels—not some manufactured levels—of employment for people with non-English speaking backgrounds get a mention.