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Wednesday, 4 May 1994
Page: 188

Senator HILL —My question is directed to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. I remind him of Mr Keating's promise to the New South Wales ALP in June last year when he said he was committed to achieving full employment. I also remind the minister that the government's green paper was entitled Restoring full employment. Will he confirm that his government is still committed to this promise which was made not only to the party faithful but to the Australian people collectively? How does his government define `full employment' and when does he expect this goal to be achieved?

Senator GARETH EVANS —Full employment is not what it used to be in any of the Western developed economies; we all know that. The task is to achieve the highest possible level of employment and the lowest possible level of unemployment. What that has tended to mean in most people's perception in recent years, although there is by no means universal agreement about this, is that an unemployment rate in the order of, at best probably, five per cent—maybe even a little worse than that; six or seven per cent, but certainly about five per cent—is realistically what most people these days in the OECD and elsewhere around the developed economies would regard as the highest achievable level of employment. I am not sure exactly how the employment minister would currently define that. I will ask him and seek further information on that, but that is my estimation and my understanding, anyway, of where we are trying realistically to get to, given the nature of new forms of economic organisation and the realities of current industrialised economies.

Senator HILL —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Presuming that is what the Prime Minister did mean, although I think that those he spoke to would have interpreted it differently, I ask the minister: why be so pessimistic? Why acknowledge at the outset that the government cannot achieve better than a five per cent rate of unemployment? Why determine from the outset a destiny of long-term unemployment for tens of thousands of Australians? Why is that the best the government can possibly aim to achieve?

Senator GARETH EVANS —In a couple of hours, we will be making very clear what we are going to be doing for those tens of thousands of long-term unemployed Australians. In that particular paper, we will be giving a hope that was never conceivable for any Australians when this particular mob was last in government. We are confident that the kinds of economic policies that we have put in place over the last few years have created an environment in which new hope will be given to those who are outside the work force at the moment and who have been unable to get back into it.

  In the last year or 18 months alone, something like 230,000 jobs have been re-created. Some of them were lost during the recession years—we all know that. The rate at which they are being re-created, and the rate at which we believe they will be able to be re-created with the package of new incentives and new encouragements that will be announced in a couple of hours, gives us all a great deal more confidence than anyone could reasonably have in an environment facing the sorts of policies that the opposition is talking about. In terms of company tax alone, the differences are self-evident.