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What's the government's jobs policy now?

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John Hewson Leader of the Opposition M e d i a R e l e a s e

230/91 September 18, 1991


The spat between John Kerin and John Button about how to boost investment and industry illustrates the split at the heart of this Government - a Government divided about policy, divided about leadership and lacking any idea about the kind of Australia it wants to build.

This Government cannot agree about the most basic task of any Government in a recession - how to provide real, sustainable jobs for the million Australians who want work but cannot find it.

Senator Button says that tax rules and development rules need to be "massaged" to allow development to proceed - but does not specify which particular projects are needlessly delayed and which particular rules need to be bent. Why won't he support the

abolition of the "three mines" uranium policy, the mining of Coronation Hill plus a go-ahead for a new Wesley Vale pulp mill?

Mr Kerin says that says that subsidising particular investments would distort general business decision-making - but fails to implement policies necessary to eliminate existing basic distortions such as the tax system's massive disincentive to

production, exporting and saving plus the wages system's chronic bias against employment creation.

It is somewhat ironic that Senator Button - a supporter of the leadership pretensions of backbencher Keating - advocates a "picking winners" strategy; while Mr Kerin - a supporter of Bob Hawke's failed consensus-style leadership - now backs a purist Treasury approach to economic management.

It suggests that Senator Button is more impressed by the pretender's personality than his politics and that Mr Kerin is so easily "snowed" that the Department he pilloried just three months back now scripts everything he says. What it really means

is that the key figures in this Government haven't got a clue. Mr Kerin can't do anything while Senator Button must do something - one is frozen by the magnitude of the problem and the other is driven to frenzied but meaningless activity.

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister lets his Ministers squabble in public. Who's right? The Prime Minister doesn't say. What's the Government's jobs policy? The Prime Minister doesn't have one.

It is indeed ironic that in Labor's centenary year, a Labor Government should preside over the worst recession and the worst real unemployment in 60 years. That it should do so without a jobs strategy is simply incomprehensible.

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