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Round-up of views of the political parties and the ACTU on unemployment figures

PHILLIP LASKER: While Paul Keating was selling his One Nation package to the financial community in Sydney today, the optimistic tone the Prime Minister was hoping to create was offset by another month's jobless figures. Seasonally adjusted figures for February show that the number of unemployed persons now stands at 907,000 - that's 10.5 per cent. Full-time jobs for males continue to disappear and the rate of youth unemployment is now 32 per cent. As our chief political correspondent, Maxine McKew, reports, it's a grim outlook for a significant section of the population which now has to content itself with political platitudes.

MAXINE McKEW: Another month's jobless figures inevitably means another spate of press releases and rhetorical breast-beating. `Unemployment figures a national disgrace', say the Democrats; `Long-term dole recipients explode', say the Liberals' Richard Alston. Now, no-one can argue with this but it's worth taking a closer look at the press statements. Deputy Leader of the Democrats, Meg Lees, makes the startling observation that there's no magic way to create 907,000 jobs and then goes on to say that we need to take a good hard look at the direction we're taking. But the Democrat statement is a bit short on suggestions about which direction we should take.

As for Opposition Spokesperson on Social Security, Richard Alston, well, he uses words like `deterioration' and `desperation' and tells us that the number of people on the dole for 12 months or more has risen by 16 per cent, or 36,000 people. Now this is an interesting statistic for Mr Alston to quote because Coalition policies will make things a lot tougher for the long-term unemployed. Page 216 of the Fightback document tells us that at the nine-month mark the Job Search allowance for the unemployed will cut out; and to quote Fightback: `It's estimated that at this point 50,000 recipients will no longer be eligible for income support'. So for the unlucky 50,000, life will certainly deteriorate and get pretty desperate.

And Mr Alston's colleague, Shadow Treasurer, Peter Reith, decries the level of youth unemployment in Victoria - a massive 46 per cent. Mr Reith's solution - that the Government should immediately adopt the fundamental reforms detailed in Fightback. Yet Mr Reith has never satisfactorily explained how Fightback will create an ambitious two million jobs. Paul Keating, on the other hand, has told us his One Nation package will mean 800,000 thousand jobs some time in the future.

When Labor's Employment Minister, Kim Beazley, spoke to the press today, he could only talk about the medium term and meeting educational and training needs.

KIM BEAZLEY: What it emphasises is the need to do what the Treasurer did the other week, and that was to bring down measures which not only address the medium-term needs of this country, in terms of our micro-economic reform agenda and the long-term employable prospects of our people and meet also the educative needs of our people, but deal with the levels of unemployment that we're now experiencing.

MAXINE McKEW: If you happen to be unemployed, Labor's rhetoric is no more heartening that anyone else's, and as for the political nightmare of having to preside over a figure of 900,000 unemployed, well the Government is simply praying that the jobless will find the Opposition alternative even more unpalatable.

KIM BEAZLEY: Well, 10.5 per cent you think of not in terms of being a problem for the Government, you think of it in terms of being a problem for the people who are experiencing unemployment, and as far as we're concerned, that is why we have been putting in place - over the Opposition, I might say, of the Opposition, who don't feel that you should do anything in a recession - we have been putting in place both measures to assist unemployed people, in labour market programs, measures to assist people who need education and training, and measures to put people back to work.

MAXINE McKEW: Such measures include a radical re-think of the way we train young people and what we pay them. Laurie Carmichael says that an apprenticeship should mean more emphasis on training than on work, and that a lower training wage should replace the existing award. Now, the Government has yet to formally endorse this approach but clearly sees it as the direction in which to head. But reports today indicate that the ACTU is unimpressed with this notion.

So, with today's figures showing that yet more full-time male jobs have been lost and that youth unemployment has risen yet again, expect more press releases, more breast-beating and more attempts to make the unpalatable appear better than the alternative.

John Howard came closest to a note of realism today when he refused to create any false hope about what the Opposition would be able to do about unemployment.

JOHN HOWARD: I'm not seeking to raise unreal expectations, because we are living in an era of very great difficulty, so far as employment is concerned, and there's an obligation on all parliamentarians to try and call the situation as it is with a minimum of political point scoring.

PHILLIP LASKER: Shadow Industrial Relations Minister, John Howard; and that report by Maxine McKew.