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Wednesday, 9 October 1991
Page: 1540

Mr JOHNS —-I direct my question to the Minister for Employment, Education and Training. Has the Minister's attention been drawn to reports that this Government has favoured welfare over work? Can he inform the House whether these reports accurately portray the Government's priorities?

Mr DAWKINS —-I did see remarks along those lines, remarks in fact made by the Leader of the Opposition. I can say that this is not an accurate reflection of the Government's policy. If one was wanting to, if you like, characterise the approach the Government has taken, one would say it is to favour both work and welfare. As the Prime Minister pointed out yesterday, this Government has a record in relation to job creation that is second to none amongst the OECD countries--

Mr Broadbent interjecting--

Mr ACTING SPEAKER —-I warn the honourable member for Corinella.

Mr DAWKINS —-Notwithstanding the job losses that have occurred in recent times, we have still, in the period since 1983, created just under 1 1/2 million jobs. As well as that, we have taken account of the circumstances of those people who are unemployed and who are reliant on welfare. I want to refer to the figures which the Deputy Prime Minister referred to yesterday, but I want to put them rather differently. The support that we have provided to unemployed people has made a significant difference to the living standards of those people unfortunate enough to be out of work. For instance, if we compare the relative situations of an unemployed person with a dependent spouse and two dependent children, in 1983 they would have received 61 per cent of average weekly earnings; now they receive 74 per cent. If they are in receipt of rent assistance, they receive 83 per cent of what would be received by a comparable family on average weekly earnings. So we make absolutely no apologies for the fact that we have improved the circumstances of those who are least well off in the community, particularly those who are reliant on welfare.

The Leader of the Opposition, in the appalling speech that he made to ACOSS, also referred to the failure of the Government to deal with responsibilities of the unemployed to seek employment. Amongst the far-reaching reforms of this Government have been the arrangements for Newstart, which introduced a very important principle into the receipt of welfare; that is, that those recipients ought to be making as great an effort as they can to improve their prospects of getting a job.

I want to put what the Leader of the Opposition has said on the question of welfare into the context of his economic prescriptions for this country. He says that as a result of following his policies there will be more jobs. Even if one is a sufficiently eternal optimist to believe that that will occur in the longer term, nothing is more certain than that in the short to medium term, as a result of the economic chaos that he would precipitate in this country, unemployment would in fact go up. If we look at his political mentors in Britain and in New Zealand, we find that where they have pursued that kind of cold shower approach to the economy the first consequence of that dislocation was increased unemployment. Yet this is a man who, knowing full well that the immediate consequences of his policies would be to increase unemployment, wants to reduce simultaneously welfare payments and support to the people who would be rendered unemployed as a result of his policies. Not only would he tear away the unemployment benefit at the end of nine months, he would also reduce assistance to people--

Mr Tuckey —-That is not true.

Mr DAWKINS —-The honourable member says that it is not true. How then--

Mr Tuckey —-Because there are 800,000 people on special benefits, and you know it.

Mr DAWKINS —-Oh, really? How do honourable members opposite intend to save hundreds of millions of dollars by limiting the dole if in fact people do not lose it? One does not save money by magic; one saves money in this area by taking the benefit from people who were once receiving it. So either the Opposition's savings are out or its policy is wrong--or both.

Let me return to the approach of this man who wants simultaneously to create economic chaos and reduce welfare support for those who are adversely affected. I paraphrase the words of Mr Neil Kinnock when he was referring to Mrs Thatcher: having first crippled a goodly part of the work force, you then want to punish the people for being lame. That is essentially the approach that the Leader of the Opposition would take. This is not a competition to see who can be the most compassionate in this country.

Dr Hewson —-It is about compassion.

Mr DAWKINS —-I know it is. The important thing is not for us to have a competition about whether we are more compassionate than those opposite. What is important is to see whether or not we can construct and support a society which itself is compassionate. What we want in Australia is a country which does take account of those people who are adversely affected either by normal economic circumstances or the abnormal economic circumstances of the kind that those opposite would create.

What I find most despicable about the approach of the Leader of the Opposition is that, having prescribed a set of economic policies which will increase unemployment, he then says that he will take away the support system designed to support people who are unemployed and then says that he is being compassionate. He has an obligation, as does every politician in this country, to try to enhance the level of compassion generally in this country. You do not do that, my friend, by attacking people in the welfare system who have dedicated their life and their work to trying to help people who are less fortunate and less well off than you and many others in this community.