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Wednesday, 24 August 1983
Page: 162

Mr RONALD EDWARDS —I direct a question to the Prime Minister. In view of the hopeful signs of economic recovery that have recently emerged, particularly, for example, in the housing industry in the electorate of Stirling, how long does the Prime Minister anticipate it will be before the Government's economic policies will produce growth in employment and a reduction in unemployment?

Mr HAWKE —A number of encouraging signs are already pointing to recovery in the Australian economy. Industrial production seems to be stabilising after the significant and continuous rundown we had experienced under the previous Government. In respect of the housing industry there are considerable signs of increased activity. It is of interest to note that the unemployment rate has been stabilised at 10.3 per cent since April. For the last four months it has been held steady against the calamitous increase in unemployment which marked the latter stages of the last Government. In that respect I remind you, Mr Speaker, that in the last 12 months unemployment increased by 263,000. In respect of employment, in seasonally adjusted terms since July there has been an increase of 47,000 jobs which contrasts with the decline in employment in absolute terms which characterised the years of the previous Government.

You must understand, Mr Speaker, as we explained to the Australian electorate during the last election campaign, that in a situation of economic recovery, which is now beginning to occur under the present Government, there will be a delay between the picking up of economic activity and significant falls in unemployment, because a number of basic economic factors operate to produce that effect. To some extent, there is a degree of labour hoarding. As output begins to increase, more overtime is worked and there is higher productivity. One also has the situation that one has to account for the increase in the labour force, which is of about 120,000, and one also has to take account of the fact that one has to get back into the work force the discouraged workers who, in the face of the previous recession, just pulled out of the work force. So we are right on track in the delivery of the specific promises that we made to the Australian electorate; that is, that we would arrest the explosion in unemployment and we would start to see the beginning of growth in employment. In respect of the target that we set of creating about half a million new jobs in our first term of government, we are looking at an increase in the first year of about 130,000, which puts us well on track to the achievement of that target. So every aspect of our analysis and promise in respect of unemployment and employment is on track.

I want to say one more thing which is very important in respect of the question asked by the honourable member for Stirling, and that is that in achieving this growth in employment, the halting of the explosion in unemployment, it is very important to have an identifiable and workable wages policy in place. We have that. We have a return to a centralised wage fixation system which represents a consensus of view between this Government, the State governments, employers and the trade union movement. We have put to the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission that identifiable, equitable, efficient and sustainable wages policy which is widely recognised as being needed in this country. I ask members of this House and the Australian public to contrast that clearly identifiable, efficient and equitable wages policy that this Government is putting forward to the Arbitration Commission with the attitude of the parties opposite. They have no wages policy. They are hopelessly divided, still, between the shadow Minister and the shadow Treasurer.

I ask you, Mr Speaker, not to depend just on the analysis from this Government of the total hopelessness of the Leader of the Opposition and those behind him. I commend for your consideration, Mr Speaker, and that of the honourable member for Stirling, the analysis in the editorial of the Sydney Morning Herald on 26 July. I refer to what the Sydney Morning Herald had to say about the Opposition in respect of this critical feature in determining the end to the unemployment explosion and the creation of jobs. This is what it had to say about the parties and the people opposite:

By all accounts, the Opposition is still locked in an intense debate between supporters of a centralised wage-fixing system and supporters of a less- centralised system. This is a dispute which the party has carried over from Government: an unresolved conflict which left the Fraser Government's wages policy in disarray after the collapse of wage indexation in mid-1981.

The editorial rightly refers to:

Mr Peacock's difficulty in having to keep talking through a policy vacuum.

In criticising the Leader of the Opposition for arguing against any wage rise this year, the editorial had this to say-and how pertinent it is:

Mr Peacock was simply falling back on the old Liberal standby: wage rises are something to be deplored in all circumstances and at every opportunity. The evil hour of a pay rise is something to be postponed as long as possible.

This is the sort of all-care-but-no-responsibility approach which has passed for wages policy under many coalition governments. It sounds nice-particularly to the ears of the Liberals' business supporters-but it achieves nothing. It is an approach which has repeatedly failed to prevent wage explosions during economic recoveries . . .

Finally, the editorial concluded that the Labor Government's wages policy:

. . . represents a refreshing change from the barren thinking on wages policy so far offered by the Liberals.