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Wednesday, 10 February 1999
Page: 2315

Mrs ELSON (12:15 PM) —I congratulate the Deputy Prime Minister on his very positive `Trade Outcomes and Objectives Statement'. I would like to resume my speech on the Workplace Relations Legislation Amendment (Youth Employment) Bill 1998 by noting the remarks by the executive officer of the highly respected Australian Retailers Association, Mr Phil Naylor. He said that the jobs of around 300,000 young Australians are now at risk because of Labor's and the Democrats' policies to abolish junior wage rates. Mr Naylor also said that abolishing junior wage rates would force the cost of employing inexperienced young people up by as much as 150 per cent, making them less attractive to employers.

At a time when the Howard government is working with the community to find solutions for youth unemployment, it seems incredible that the Labor Party wants to bring in a policy that will actually make the problem much worse. It is a severe blow for our young kids who are trying to get a foot in the door. It just does not make any sense to me.

We all know that a young person's first job opportunity is so important. As a mother of eight, I have had the satisfaction of watching each of my children go into the work force. It is incredible to see just how much they grow in stature when they start their first paid job and when they bring home their first pay packet. The Labor Party should not deny any young person in Australia that right. Most of my children have worked part-time jobs while they were still studying, either at high school or university, to help them with the cost of education—yet another fact overlooked by Labor. In many cases young Australians chose to work casual and part-time jobs while continuing their studies. Labor is putting all of this at risk.

The most ironic thing is that the Labor Party say they know how to create jobs. They come into this place and give sermons about how we should be tackling unemployment. When Labor was last in government youth unemployment hit record high levels of over 50 per cent in some regions. Labor's policy to abolish youth wage rates comes on top of their decision to block the Howard government's change to the unfair dismissals law to exempt small businesses with less than 15 employees. The Council of Small Business Organisations has predicted that this action alone has cost at least an extra 50,000 new jobs. Local small business owners are always telling me how they would be much more willing to employ an extra person if it was not for the unfair dismissal legislation, which is such a disincentive to employ.

The fact is that Labor blocked 50,000 jobs when they voted against our sensible changes. It is another example of Labor making decisions to satisfy noisy interest groups instead of the Australian national interest. Instead of looking out for the interests of union bosses, Labor should take a principled stand and support the Howard government's decision to protect jobs, especially our kids' jobs.

Since the coalition was elected, we have created well over 300,000 new jobs, and it would have been more if not for the efforts of Labor and the Democrats to block our changes to unfair dismissal. While there is more to be done, we have also introduced practical things, like Work for the Dole, to give our young people real hope, experience and an opportunity to work on local community projects. I still find it incredible that Labor opposes Work for the Dole. It has huge community support. With several programs operating in my electorate of Forde, I have witnessed first-hand the real profound differ ence it has made to the lives of many of our young local people. Again, it is something that Labor opposes purely for political reasons.

Mr Slipper —Shameful!

Mrs ELSON —Definitely so. Their trenchant position on junior wage rates, on unfair dismissal, on Work for the Dole, speaks volumes about why they failed to gain the trust and respect of the Australian people at the last election. They have not learned from the past. They are still out of touch with the aspirations of mainstream Australia. And, worst of all, they are unwilling to act in the national interest. But then, when Labor's employment spokesman is the former boss of a union movement, I guess we should not be at all surprised.

As I said at the outset, you hear a lot of political rhetoric from the Labor Party about youth unemployment. They have tried to make political mileage out of it, even though they have created the problem. But what disturbs and disappoints me most of all is that in opposing this bill Labor are saying, `We don't care if youth unemployment gets worse.' That is what they are saying. What other logical explanation is there? We have a mountain of evidence that the abolition of youth wages will mean that young Australians will lose their jobs and that those currently unemployed will have their chances of finding work severely reduced.

Yet Labor oppose this important bill. They reject our efforts to fix the mess they created with their legislation to abolish junior wage rates. And we really have to ask the question why. Is it more than just blind ideology? Is it simply politically expedient? Do they secretly want to see our youth unemployment rise so they can get some mileage out of it with some slick advertising campaign at the next election? Are they deliberately blocking our measures to reduce youth unemployment because they think their chances of getting elected next time will be better if more young Australians are out of work? Those are the questions we have got to ask when their political position flies in the face of all logic. Australian young people deserve much better than to be used as pawns for a political campaign.

But Labor has shown little regard for the will of the Australian people, as if the last election never took place. I am sure the Labor Party will hardly see this as relevant, but the coalition went to the last election just over four short months ago promising to retain existing junior wage rates, include junior rates in awards and to make the promotion of youth employment a central objective for the Industrial Relations Commission.

Mr Slipper —We got a mandate.

Mrs ELSON —We did too. They forget that. This bill does precisely what we promised we would do. It fulfils an election commitment, but I hardly expect Labor to recognise or acknowledge that. They find it impossible to accept that our tax policy—which they, themselves, made the central plank of their campaign—should be implemented. It was what they said the election was all about. If the election was all about tax and we won the election, surely that means we have the right and the responsibility to go ahead and do what we said we were going to do. But, again, Labor's position defies logic. I have to say that I hope the Democrats will rethink their position, listen to logic, let commonsense prevail and support this bill, because it is clear that to oppose this bill is to risk the jobs of many Australians.

I would like to point out that the Labor governments of Queensland and New South Wales have both legislated to protect junior wage rates. They know that doing so will protect jobs. They know it is the right thing to do, despite what their mates are now saying federally. But Kim Beazley's Labor has already found it much easier to be a totally impractical and irresponsible opposition. They have displayed that time and time again in this place.

With little regard for the national interest, they have tried to stand in the way of government at every turn. When we took the tough economic decision to get the budget back into surplus and began to repay Labor's debt, they said it was not necessary and they opposed that all the way. When we introduced Work for the Dole to give our young children a chance to be part of this community, Labor opposed us all the way. When we put forward a plan for tax reform which everyone in Australia agrees was necessary, again they opposed us all the way. And now it is junior rates of pay. It is about time the Labor Party took a hard look at themselves and actually developed some decent policies, because at the end of the day Australia deserves better and, especially, our young Australians deserve better.