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Monday, 7 March 2005
Page: 38


Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL (3:12 PM) —I also seek to take note of answers given to questions from the opposition in relation to the Australian economy. I make the point that what is remarkable about the government is that from 1996 they have perfected the art of doublespeak: saying one thing and meaning something totally different. Now they have started perfecting the art of the blame game. They took a number of questions from the opposition today in relation to the Australian economy. In not one answer did they even remotely accept that after 10 years somehow or other they might be responsible for problems in the Australian economy. If there is a positive they are quick to point out that they are running the economy. If it is a negative they are quick to point out what happened 15, 20 or 30 years ago. But nothing that they could have done or would have since 1996 could have impacted upon the economy!

Let me make three brief points in relation to that. The reality is that the facade is starting to crack. We have seen interest rates rise. We have seen the Reserve Bank put up interest rates. Why? Because of concerns about the implications for the Australian economy of the overheating of the labour market and the potential for wages to increase rapidly. We have seen our current account deficit blow out to 7.1 per cent of GDP—the worst record in the nation’s history. We have seen foreign debt reach a staggering $421 billion—triple what it was under Labor in 1996.

We all know what the Treasurer, Peter Costello, said in 1995 about the debt truck, about foreign debt, and the implications that would have for interest rates. We all know what the then Leader of the Opposition, the current Prime Minister, John Howard, said in 1995 about our foreign debt. Those on the other side of the chamber have conveniently forgotten. If those two men were honest and judged themselves by their performance and what they said about others in 1995, Peter Costello would not be worried about going to the Lodge, because he would be going back to the unemployed ranks, and our Prime Minister would be joining him, because, based on their own measure of success and failure in 1995, they have both failed miserably.

The worst performance of all by this government has been in the skills area. Since 1996, when this government came to power, there has been an evident decline in the number of young people under training in the traditional trades area. There has been a significant decline over the past three or four years, but that decline has been evident since 1996. What has this government done about it? Absolutely nothing. It cut funding to TAFE in three years—I think it was in 1997, 1999 and 2001—yet the Prime Minister had the cheek to go on the Sunday program yesterday and say that young people ought to go into the technical stream. They cannot get into the technical stream, because there are not enough places for those young people because the government will not put the funding in.

I chaired the Senate Employment, Workplace Relations and Education References Committee, which reported to the Senate on skills shortages two years ago. The report made three points, covered some 50 recommendations about identifying where the shortages were and covered our VET network and the role of industry in meeting those skills shortages. That report was tabled 18 months ago, and the Minister for Education, Science and Training is yet to respond to those 50 recommendations. What has he done? He has sat on his hands and done nothing, because he has no idea of how to deal with the skills issue and he has no idea of how to deal with young people. Why do you think there are problems in Macquarie Fields? Why do you think there are problems in our outer suburbs? Because young people cannot get into decent training and decent employment in order to get jobs so that they can create a decent future for their families. (Time expired)