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Thursday, 15 September 1983
Page: 924

Mr ANTHONY (Leader of the National Party of Australia)(5.25) —After listening to the honourable member for Banks (Mr Mountford) I certainly want to be positive because there is a big problem in Australia and that is, the problem concerning growing unemployment. This is the first Budget brought down by the Hawke Australian Labor Party Government. It claims that it is a government with the fundamental characteristic of being humanitarian, compassionate, concerned about the employment situation and dedicated to doing something about it. I consider that claim to be very difficult to accept. I believe that, in time, the Australian people will despair at looking to a Labor government to find the proper solution.

This is a gambler's Budget, a cynical Budget, a Budget that will make the nation and its people weaker. It is a Budget of a government whose only vision is fatally flawed. It is a Budget built on a con job, a Budget which has built false hopes and which will lead to despair. After all, it is a Budget which does nothing to provide a lasting solution to the nation's greatest problem- unemployment. That is the real tragedy of this Budget. It is a tragedy for which this Government must take full responsibility.

We have all heard over and over again the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) and his colleagues talking of their deep concern for the unemployed. We heard their promises to rebuild the economy and to create hundreds of thousands of new jobs, but the reality is vastly different. Last week's unemployment figures showed how completely the Government has failed to keep its promises. It has been in office for just over six months. In that time, in the six months--

Mr Hand —What hypocritical nonsense.

Mr ANTHONY —The honourable member should listen to me-only 100 new jobs have been created.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. Les Johnson) —Order! The honourable member for Melbourne must not interject when he is out of his place. The Leader of the National Party is entitled to be heard in silence.

Mr ANTHONY —Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. Since the Government came to office six months ago only 100 new jobs have been created. Those are the seasonally adjusted figures, but the raw figures, which show an increase of only 1,000 jobs , give the Government no encouragement at all. Seasonally adjusted, unemployment is now running at about 713,000. New jobs on this scale are only a drop in the bucket. Mr Deputy Speaker, I am sure you will remember the Prime Minister's promise to create 500,000 new jobs in three years. On the basis of 100 jobs being created in the last six months, it will take approximately 2,500 years to get 500,000 more jobs. There could be no crueller indictment of the Government's failure in its central policy objective than these figures; there could be no clearer demonstration that the policies of the Government are failing; there could be no stronger warning to the Government to abandon the strategy it has adopted in this Budget.

Anyone who doubts that only has to look at how bad the unemployment situation is now and how much worse it is likely to become. Unemployment is now running at 10.2 per cent. On the Budget forecasts it could reach 10.8 per cent by next June . The Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, which is usually supportive of the Labor Party's policy, is expecting unemployment to reach 11 per cent by next June. As the Australian Financial Review pointed out on 12 September, if the number of people in employment increased by one per cent while the working population rose by 2 per cent and the participation rate stayed steady, unemployment by June could be 11.2 per cent. If one makes only a few changes to those figures, as the Australian Financial Review pointed out, with employment growth of 1.5 per cent and a participation rate of one per cent, we are looking at an unemployment rate of 12 per cent by next year. That prospect, I am sure, fills all Australians with horror.

Concern on this issue is not one-sided. Honourable members on both sides of the House are worried about the massive problems, particularly social and personal problems, that our unemployment has created, especially for the young. But they can be only more concerned about the outlook for the coming financial year. The Treasurer (Mr Keating) warned in the Budget Speech that average unemployment for this year might not be very different from last year. He said that it would take time to reverse the rising unemployment. The Budget Papers were franker. They forecast that unemployment would increase. These expectations are gloomy enough. The terrifying thing is that they are based on the hope that everything goes right and in particular that the prices and incomes accord succeeds. The Government is telling us that, despite its make-work schemes, for the foreseeable future one in 10 and perhaps one in nine Australians will be out of work. It is telling us that for the foreseeable future one in four of young Australians will be out of work. It is telling us to forget the promises it made during the election campaign. It is telling us that the Labor Party, which claims to have a monopoly on compassion and concern for those out of work, is abandoning them. There can be no other interpretation of the policies set out in this Budget and their effect on the national economy so far.

I repeat my earlier comment. The Prime Minister promised to create 500,000 new jobs in the next three years. At the rate he is going, it will take not three years but 2,500 years. Members opposite might be willing to wait that long, but the Opposition believes it is time this Government abandoned the pious hopes it has been peddling as a substitute for sound economic management and got down to some work. The Government cannot build up a nation by creating national discord, as it has over the Tasmanian dam issue, over the superannuation tax, over the assets test for pensioners, and over issue after issue in which it claims it has a mandate for action which extends the power of the central government and weakens the individual. Australians did not elect this Government to impose an assets test on the pensioners. They elected it to fix up unemployment, and it has failed. The Government cannot build up a nation by stifling productive industry, as it has with its attack on the rural sector, its confusion and dithering over uranium policy, and its obstructive approach to the productive and beneficial foreign investment that we need in this country. Australians did not elect this Government to halt the uranium industry. On the contrary, the opinion polls show clearly that the majority of Australians want the policies to continue. The elected the Government to fix up unemployment, and it is failing.

There is a way ahead. It is not the way being followed by this Government, but it is very clear. It requires the unlocking of the vast resources of the nation and its people through private enterprise and initiative. It requires the Government to encourage private enterprise and not to stamp it out. It requires the Government to help the productive industries, not to stifle them. It requires the Government to stand back, to ease the burden of direct taxation which is falling so heavily on working Australians, and to encourage self- reliance, enterprise and thrift. If the Government wants to create more jobs in Australia there are several easy ways in which to do it. It might mean that some of the Labor Party's cherished myths will have to be thrown overboard, but the Government must face up to the fact that what Australians want is, in the words of the Premier of New South Wales, jobs, jobs and more jobs. The first move must be to take the brakes off the private sector and to ease the tax burden generally. The only way in which to do this is to cut the growth of government spending, to reduce the size of government, and to reduce government regulations , controls and interference in the market.

In addition to this action, there are two concrete steps the Government could take immediately which would flow quickly into giving more jobs to people. The first is to abandon once and for all its absurd, unworkable and contradictory uranium policy. The second is to take a more liberal attitude to foreign investment in Australia. Since 5 March the Government has brought development in the uranium industry to a complete halt. An industry with the capacity to earn billions of export dollars yearly and to employ thousands more people has been put on the back burner while the Government struggles to sort out a policy. We have even seen Ministers contradicting each other and the Labor movement generally going into convulsions on this issue as it tries to resolve its internal dilemmas. The Prime Minister has made it plain that he supports development of the industry. He has even been able to gag the Australian Council of Trade Unions from speaking on the issue this week. The nation needs a clear signal that it has a government which will support productive enterprise and will provide more jobs. That is why the Government, which is due to resolve its policy next week, must permit the uranium industry to go ahead again on the foundations established by the Liberal-National Party Government if its commitment to job creation is to have a shred of credibility.

For the same reasons the Government must relax the tight grip on foreign investment it has established since the election. In times when the nation needs every job it can get there is no justification for the Government refusing the entry of productive and healthy investment which can put Australia's human and natural resources to work. That is just what is happening, and it has far- reaching consequences. When the Government refuses a legitimate and reasonable investment proposal, the news travels around the world. Such decisions mean loss of jobs. Many more jobs could be taken up if such investment took place.

There is another course of action the Government must take if it is to get the nation moving; that is, to take the hooks out of the rural sector. In the May mini-Budget itself the Government talked a great deal about sacrifice, but the Government's actions have ensured that a major share of the sacrifice has been forced on the rural sector and country people generally. It was a process which began in May with the mini-Budget, a document which lost the Government much of whatever goodwill it might have had in country areas. It was a process carried on in the Budget last month, a Budget that was totally unfair to primary industry. The total outlays in the Budget for the agricultural and pastoral industries in 1983-84 will fall by 10 per cent over 1982-83. Overall Budget outlays will increase by 16 per cent during the same period. Yet it is the rural sector on which the Government is depending for a large part of the basis of national economic recovery.

The Government is slugging the rural sector at a time when it is least able to bear it. Its actions will cause the whole nation to suffer. The latest Bureau of Agricultural Economics figures show that in 1983-84 the net value of rural production in real terms will still be significantly below the levels of 1981-82 and 1980-81. Farmers need several years to recover from one of the worst droughts in our history. But instead they are being asked to bear the major share of the burden of the Government's economic policy. This is a strategy which again hits jobs-for example, the cancellation of the bi-centennial water resources program-and which damages the overall profitability of the rural sector and thus its ability to contribute to national economic recovery. At the same time, the whole stance of Government economic policy, with its acceptance of inflation and its readiness to allow further wage increases and a return to indexation, is damaging our international competitiveness. By doing that it is making it harder and harder for our efficient export industries to operate effectively-hitting hard again at the rural sector.

There are concrete ways to get Australians working again. The key to lasting recovery is still, and will always remain, business profitability. One of the major factors in business profitability is wage levels and conditions. This Government has apparently forgotten that. As a result the nation is now on a very rocky road indeed. The wages pause brought in by the previous Government is effectively at an end. The prices and incomes accord, intended as a replacement, is cracking more and more ominously and frequently. We are in for a period of great turbulence and danger under a government barely six months old but already abandoning the principles on which it was elected by the Australian people. The Government must change course quickly or pay the price. The Government's attitude to a rigid central wage fixing system and the re-introduction of half yearly indexation will institutionalise inflation, further strangling business and locking more and more people out of work. The Government is committed to the trade union movement and therefore to those fortunate people who have jobs. The unemployed are treated as an inevitable employment surplus. They are the resultant wastage of high wage demands and conditions.

Labour conditions have become so onerous in the country that business, particularly small business, is finding it difficult to employ other than what is absolutely necessary. There is no capacity and little inclination to employ more people. Small business, which employs 46 per cent of the work force, is frightened to employ more people. Increasing government regulations, greater union interference and more wage demands are discouraging businesses from putting more people on their payrolls.

It is remarkable that Australia has been able to develop and sustain the working conditions we have which are unequalled in the world. We have a 35- to 40-hour working week. We have handsome overtime and penalty rates. There is annual leave and holiday bonuses. There is long service leave and sick leave provisions. In some industries a contribution is made to a wage retirement fund, a staff superannuation fund, a staff medical fund, annual leave air fares, educational assistance and re-location expenses; and, of course, all industry has to fund workers compensation and many industries must pay payroll tax. In the construction industry, for example, these additional costs for labour account for an approximately 72 per cent addition to the wage. We now hear the trade unions pressing for a redundancy or severance allowance to be allied to industry in general. It is little wonder that there is such a reluctance by industry to employ more people. Yet it is only from industry that we will create permanent jobs for people that will help to resolve our unemployment problem.

Unless the Government and the trade unions take a more realistic attitude to the consequences of their policies on wages and industry, the young and the unemployed are destined to find it increasingly difficult to get a job in this country. The worrying unemployment situation that exists at the moment will grow and will become a chronic feature of the Australian employment scene unless a more sensible approach is taken to the problems facing the business sector of the community. This Budget has glossed over those problems.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. Les Johnson) -Order! The honourable member's time has expired.