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Thursday, 9 August 2001
Page: 26027

Senator McGAURAN (4:44 PM) —I rise to give the government's side and contribution on the Job Network Monitoring Authority Bill 2000 [No. 2]. I think that the person who has carriage of a private member's bill should, if at all enthused by it, always be in the chamber to debate the matter. I see that Senator Collins has carriage of this bill, on behalf of Mrs Kernot from the other house. She is not here, and she has not been sighted at all since the first speaker in the debate. That is just an indication that this is another filler from the Labor Party.

The purpose of the bill, which we reject, is to set up a Job Network Monitoring Authority. The reason we know that this is another filler is that it joins the ranks of some 43 other new bureaucracies that the opposition will seek to set up, should they be fortunate enough to come into government. It is a tactic. Instead of having a hard-core policy or bothering to do the hard work, they are trying to cruise into government with the suggestion that they will set up task forces, committees, agencies and commissions to look into things and the suggestion that they will refer things to ombudsmen or, as in this case, authorities.

I must say that the opposition are very talented at finding new words to mean the same thing. I think they have even suggested setting up advisory councils, and `council' is another good word. They have suggested commissions too, but it all comes down to the one succinct point: they have no policy, and they say, `We will look at it after we get into government.'

You can add the Job Network Monitoring Authority that this bill aims to create to a whole list of other authorities the opposition seek to set up. These include a national work force forecasting council; an education advisory council; an office of population; and a permanent world trade authority working group—and working group is another term which has the same meaning as task force, authority and so on. The opposition also seeks to set up a wood and paper industry council; a group of public safety officers; and a committee to advise on GST roll-back. I wonder who is going to be on that committee. They seek to set up the comprehensive cancers centre; a commissioner for environment; and an agency to audit women's policy. What does that mean? They seek to set up a youth representatives committee; an office on children's and youth affairs; a regional centre for human rights dialogue and conflict resolution; an Australian coast guard authority; and so it goes on. This is now the 44th body that the opposition are seeking to set up once in government. We are less than four months out from an election, and they are still not serious about putting hard policy down and debating it.

The one hard policy the opposition have sought to put down is their education policy. It was to be the opposition's centre plank going into the election. It was going to be the number one policy for us to debate, and it has turned into a farce. The opposition allowed Barry Jones loose, and that was what they got. `Noodle nation' is what it is now called, and so it is basically off the agenda. It is back to the tax debate, which we welcome because that is on our ground.

As I say, we reject this bill's whole concept of setting up a monitoring authority. We do that for very good reasons: not only do we think that job networking has been a success but also it has been scrutinised already by the parliament and by Senate committees. There have been Senate estimates hearings in regard to the Job Network, and it has been thoroughly scrutinised within the parliamentary system. More than that, it is a scrutinised body, as all bodies within the parliament are. It is scrutinised by the National Audit Office, for example. The Commonwealth Ombudsman and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission scrutinised this body as well, as did the Privacy Commissioner and the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commissioner. In addition, certain other groups keep a watchful eye on the Job Network, including no less a body than ACOSS, together with the ACCI, and so on. So this is a scheme that is well and truly scrutinised, and we do not need another layer of bureaucracy.

The Labor Party seek to put another layer of bureaucracy in to monitor, as they put it, the Job Network, because the truth is it is like their GST policy. If they come into government, does anyone really think they will abolish the Job Network? Not at all: they will keep it, just as they will keep the GST. How will they get around that? With trickery, by setting up another body, another layer of bureaucracy. That is why the government reject this project, and we reject it on the grounds that Job Network is, in fact, a successful program.

When this was first introduced, it was probably one of our major reforms. It was a massive reform. It was on the scale of our new tax system. This was a whole new approach to dealing with the unemployment problem and social welfare payouts. It was shifting the government based Commonwealth Employment Service to a far more private sector oriented system, but still with the mix. There is still a government mix within this new system. We believed that the private sector, the community based sector and, above all else, the charitable sector, such as the Salvation Army and others, would do a better job of helping job seekers than the demoralised bureaucracy—which is what it had really become—under the old CES. Who suggests that the old CES was, in fact, successful? It was demoralising job seekers and the long-term unemployed. At least this has brought job seekers choice and far greater optimism. The old monolith of the CES was an outdated system, and we dared to introduce a system which had far more private sector involvement. It was a huge change, and we believe it has been a successful project, and I wish to highlight to the Senate where that success has been. It has been in rural and regional areas in particular.

Unlike the CES, which did not have as many permanent branches within the rural and regional sector, the number of Job Network offices has increased within the rural and regional sector by over 600. I believe it has jumped from 600 old CES offices in the rural and regional areas to 1,100—that is, 500 new permanent offices have been established within the rural and regional areas. So rural and regional areas have greatly benefited from the introduction of Job Network. As I said before, it has been taken up by the charitable sector of our society—by organisations such as the Salvation Army Employment Plus and Mission Employment. They have taken up as much as six per cent of Job Network's market for placing the young unemployed. All in all, there has been an increase of 500 permanent offices within the rural and regional areas and 80 within the city areas. Even Mr Michael Raper, the head of ACOSS, said that the Job Network is a big help for the unemployed. If you can get the tick from ACOSS that the number of offices and access to job seeking agencies have increased and are of great benefit to the unemployed, that is an indication of the success of the scheme.

The government's aim is to get unemployment rates down by getting jobs for the unemployed. Besides getting your economics right, you must place the agencies so that the unemployed can have easy access to them and have the confidence to go to those agencies and approach the personnel there. I believe the unemployed would have far more confidence to approach agencies such as the Salvation Army Employment Plus or Mission Employment than they would the old bureaucratic, sterile and rigid CES system. That is why we reject this bill and that is why we think the Job Network has been a great success.

One of the arms of Job Network has been the New Apprenticeships centres scheme. The New Apprenticeships scheme, introduced by the government, has been incredibly successful, with up to 200,000 new apprenticeship positions having been made available. So while the opposition and the Democrats mourn the old CES structure, we have moved on into a far more flexible, far more available and far more inviting system. If by chance you can cite certain difficulties in the early part of the scheme, we accept that, and we will investigate and duly act upon any of the so-called rorts that the previous speaker spoke of. But, when you are introducing such a massive change, not just in a tangible and a physical structure but also in thinking and philosophy, of course you are going to have difficulties, not unlike—as the government has accepted—the difficulties with the new tax system. When you are introducing such massive change into society, you are going to have to iron out a few kinks at the beginning.

Senator George Campbell, the lead speaker for the opposition, said that the best security is to get people into jobs. I agree. But I do not agree with his citing the Tristar strike as an example of that ideal. I know why he wants to refer to it and have it in the Hansard: so that he can quickly slip a copy to his old union and to Mr Cameron just to show that he has not forgotten them and that he is still representing them and speaking for them in the chamber. But fancy using the Tristar strike as an example of workers seeking to get security within their jobs! Not only did 300 workers go out on strike at that plant; the cascading effect of that was a lay-off of over 2,000 workers in the Holden, Ford and Mitsubishi plants. That is his idea of job security! Of course, we all know Senator Campbell's history when it comes to job security.

The truth of the matter is that it is a two-pronged approach. First of all, you establish a system such as Job Network where the unemployed can get personal, guided attention from either a government agency or a private agency, whichever they feel the most comfortable with, and 99 per cent of those unemployed attack the problem—that is, 99 per cent of Job Network is successful. The other approach to get the unemployed into work is to get your economics right, to have a growth economy so that the unemployed will be picked up by expanding businesses. We heard that overnight the OECD report—a report on a group of developed nations—was released. It shows that Australia has the fastest-growing economy in the world and points out that one of the noted reasons is the government's tax reform. Why? Because the tax reform has stimulated the export sector. The Australian export sector is growing at an incredible rate. Exports to Europe have jumped some 40 per cent and, at a time when most of the nations in Asia, including Japan and Thailand, have gone into another downturn, into negative growth, yet again Australia is still exporting strongly into that region.

So again, Australia, with a strong economy, with exports booming—no less than in the rural sector, of course—is weathering yet another world downturn. In fact, Australia is growing. No nation in the world is growing as fast as Australia, and that therefore means employment growth. There is no doubt that, for whoever is in government, the number one priority in all decisions is getting their citizens employed. There is no decision I can think of that does not relate to a government seeking full employment, and this government is no different.

A sound, balanced and properly managed economy is critical for employment. No Job Network, no old CES, no new scheme of monitoring and no wacky scheme that the Democrats could put up could sustain an enormous drop in employment because of an economy mismanaged. If you suddenly swamp any of these agencies, in whatever form, you are going to get enormous difficulty. If unemployment were up towards the 11 per cent or 12 per cent mark that the previous government had—which probably even the old CES could not handle—I would doubt that any agency could handle that swamp of human mass. But thankfully we have a government that is known for working diligently towards proper economic management.

We are some four months out from an election, and economic management is what we will debate with those in opposition going into this election—for the next four months and then during the 33 days of the election. We seek to meet you on that ground if you dare. If you have but one policy to put up in regard to economic management, we will debate it with you between now and polling day. This is the ground on which we seek to debate you, and you cannot avoid it. Sooner or later the hard policy is going to have to go down in relation to tax, in relation to roll-back—particularly in relation to your future plans on income tax. How are you going to fund `noodle nation' and all the other enormous policies, let alone the 44 agencies that you seek to establish should you be fortunate enough to enter government?

As I said, we reject the Job Network Monitoring Authority Bill 2000 [No. 2]. We see it as just another layer of bureaucracy, avoiding the hard decisions of coming up with real policy. I notice Senator Collins has come into the chamber at the tail end of this debate, the very person who has carriage of this bill. I would hope that she is going to stand up and speak on this bill.

Senator Jacinta Collins —The second reading has been tabled.

Senator McGAURAN —But have you spoken on the bill yet?

Senator Jacinta Collins —You can't.

Senator McGAURAN —You can't? Senator Collins has carriage of this bill and she will not stand up and speak on it. That is the enthusiasm that Senator Collins has for this particular program. No wonder when so often the opposition bring to this chamber such bills—

Senator Jacinta Collins —I raise a point of order, Mr Acting Deputy President: Senator McGauran is misrepresenting the situation here. I have in fact tabled my second reading speech, and I will be happy to reply to the second readers when I have that opportunity.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Bartlett)—There is no point of order.