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Thursday, 9 June 1994
Page: 1589

Senator WOODS (12.04 p.m.) —This budget, like the previous white paper, is clearly, by whatever criteria we measure it, a complete failure. It is a Clayton's budget—the budget you have to have when you do not want a budget. It follows on the disastrous white paper. It is based on wildly optimistic forecasts. It is a wing and a prayer budget, if you like, and, of course, that is no way to run this great country of ours.

  Sadly, like the white paper, it is not a budget which will create a single extra job. Indeed, it will probably result in a loss of jobs. Again, like the white paper, it is simply about a range of statistics and about a little bit of training. Honourable senators will remember that the white paper itself focused on training. In this economic situation, with well over a million people either unemployed or underemployed, the government's main concern surely must be the creation and provision of real jobs which are useful, gainful and rewarding in every sense of the word; and that unemployed people should have a sensible choice of employment. I think nobody on either side of this chamber would disagree with that aim, and yet clearly the government's approaches fall very short of these ideals.

  The white paper, which is disappearing rapidly into oblivion, did not even address the core issue, which is how do we create real jobs in the current climate in Australia. The budget itself does not fix any of the problems created by the white paper. It simply addresses the question of, amongst other things, training people. And, of course, there is the element of fudging the statistics so that it might appear as though people are actually coming off the unemployment lists when in fact they are not.

  Of course, training people does not get them jobs. Unless we change the economic climate, unless we give encouragement, as my colleague Senator McGauran has said, to small business in particular, unless we create a climate for investment in the future, unless we get off the back of business and allow it to increase productivity, then not a single job will be created.

  Why do we need these recurrent statements from the government? I think there have been something like 26 budgets and similar statements. Why do we need these various statements? The simple answer is because the Labor government has created a terrible problem. Unemployment is that problem. It was generated, created, expanded and, indeed, expounded by the ALP. The government has presided over the most disastrous economic failure in the post-war era. It has pushed up interest rates, it has created the worse recession since the Great Depression, the highest unemployment level since the Great Depression and the highest levels of bankruptcy since the Great Depression. It is the government's own handiwork.

  It is not simply an error, although goodness knows there have been enough of those in the whole process. It is a deliberately engineered attempt to suppress the living standards of Australian people. It is the ugly and very deliberate way of increasing productivity and increasing efficiency by creating a large pool of unemployed, by suppressing real wages, by lowering living standards and by tolerating the terrible social consequences of all these approaches.

  That, of course, is not just my view; it was confirmed by the Secretary to the Treasury, Ted Evans, who said:

The record levels of unemployment and the social consequences of those levels which were currently being endured by Australians were a matter of choice by this Labor government.

What a terribly sad indictment of a government that is. The government chose to put half a million Australians out of work for over a year, it chose to put one in 10 of our work force into unemployment and, sadly, in this budget and the previous white paper, it has confirmed that this is in fact its preferred choice. It is not an accident; it is a deliberately engineered policy. The government will not change the environment to create jobs; it will simply allow people to live in the false hope that they will get jobs at the end of the training—sadly a false hope.

  The government's attitude is to freeze and squeeze and cut rather than to create jobs. It is its bandaid, its temporary solution, rather than any attempt at a genuine cure. It is possible to create a climate in Australia where real jobs can be created, and they have to be created mainly within the small business sector.

  Let us look at our situation. Our wage levels in Australia—there have been some recent tables on this—are not too different from those of our competitors. We have resources galore. What we need is appropriate encouragement for real investment and for real enterprise. We need a range of initiatives to encourage worker and employer to work together towards greater efficiency and greater productivity. We need a carrot approach, not a stick approach. We need to encourage such things as bonuses for productivity, profit sharing and genuinely to encourage share ownership.

  If we ask the question, `Does this budget or the previous white paper reduce the numbers of people on the unemployment list?', the answer is a very clear `yes'. But the more important question is, `Will it reduce the number of people without jobs?' The categorical answer to that is a very clear `no'. How do we explain that paradox? It is simply because of fraud and fiddling. There has already been some fiddling by the movement of people off the unemployment list—people without jobs—into other categories such as invalid pensioner categories, et cetera.

  The essential fact is that when people are asked, `Are you looking for a job?' after the implementation of some of these initiatives, they will say, `No, I am not looking for a job.' That is because they are undergoing training or short-term work experience. If we asked, `Do you have a job now?' the answer is a resounding `no' for most of those people. There will be more people saying, `No, I do not have a job,' because of the financial consequences of the economic policies of the government.

  The data is very clear in terms of some of these fiddles. Let us look at some of them. The massaging of the numbers goes something like this: first, there is the jobs compact. That is around 160,000 people each year for between six and 12 months, let us say 120,000 people at any one time taken off the unemployment list. They will not have a job, but they will be off the unemployment list. What about the parenting allowance? If we say half of the 120,000 families come from the presently unemployed, that will be 60,000 off the figures. The CDEP program means that around 1,250 Aboriginals will be off the figures. The 1,000 new NEIS places will come off the figures and increasing the number of entry level training places—let us say three-quarters of 25,000—will mean another 18,000 people off the unemployment figures.

  There are close to 5,000 people potentially eligible for the partners allowance. If we allow for two-thirds of those being married taking it up, that is 3,300 off the figures. The Social Security newsletter—the government's own newsletter—tells us that 30,000 people have applied for the mature allowance. By and large, they are the elderly and the long-term unemployed. We do not get them a job or even the hope of a job; we simply put them under a different label.

  What we are doing is reducing the participation rate in the labour force in a very false and artificial manner. Essentially, as a result of this massaging—let us be polite and call it that—something like 240,000 individuals will be removed from the unemployment statistics. Not a single one of those people will actually have a genuine, worthwhile job; but at least for a time they will have vanished from the figures. But what is the result? If we look at the budget papers we see a streak of honesty. The budget papers say that unemployment will be down to 9.5 per cent. That, in itself, is a terrible indictment. Allowing for the fact that budget papers under Labor governments have traditionally got these things wrong—they almost make a point of pride, and wear the badge of pride, about getting things wrong—that figure essentially is in the same ballpark as the current 10 per cent or so.

  What the budget figures are saying is that in spite of all the figures and all the massaging, there will be no significant reduction in the number of people who are genuinely unemployed. By the government's own figures, it is condemned to failure. That is the sad, disastrous message for Australia about this government's economic management.

  As I said earlier, this budget and the previous white paper are not about jobs but about training. The government has always pushed the training element. It seems to think that simply by training people it can get them a job. It does not think about creating the jobs for them to move into. Let us look at the facts. The Australian work force, by international standards, is very well trained and educated. There are an increasing number of people staying on to year 12, partly as a result of the alternative prospect—unemployment—or the carrot end which is the attraction of Austudy for some of those people who remain at school. But the increasing retention rates by themselves are not a panacea.

  The difficulty is that if the government of the day and the training agencies of the day do not know where the jobs are going to be created, in which industry or in which part of the industry, they will have no idea of what sort of retraining is really necessary to make a worthwhile contribution to the unemployment problem. How can they know what training is needed if the jobs in the first place are unlikely to exist or, if by some quirk of fate they do exist, it is impossible to determine in which industry or part of the industry they exist.

  The other point to bear in mind with retraining is that during the careers of those people who are fortunate enough to enter employment, their jobs may well change many times over the lifetime of their career. What is needed here is not simply a narrow-based training for a particular skill, but a broad-based, broad-skilled alternative. Broad-based education and broad-based training are very important before going out into the redefined training for jobs which, of course, may never exist.

  Although work experience is a very valuable way of obtaining a smell of a job or an understanding of some of the implications of a job, work experience by itself very rarely leads to employment. The government has to get away from its fixation on training and retraining, and look at the underlying core problem to creating genuine, worthwhile jobs for the almost one million people who are unemployed at this time. It must give incentives particularly to small business to invest and expand, and have the confidence to build up its work force to create genuine jobs. It is in the small business sector that the potential cure to the unemployment problem lies.

  There is an obscenity here as well—that priority will be given to the long-term unemployed. On the face of it, that sounds very praiseworthy but it does mean there is another side to the coin which is that those who have been unemployed for a month or two, in relative terms will be neglected. Those in the first few months of unemployment will have to wait while the so-called case managers prioritise—and those are the new politically correct words, I believe—those who are long-term unemployed. There is clearly a statement here that those who are newly unemployed will go to the bottom of the scrap heap in terms of priority and made to wait their turn until they may, potentially, have become institutionalised as unemployed.

  There surely can be no doubt that the best time to get a job is immediately after losing the previous job, before there is any damage to self-esteem, credibility and reputation, and before the skills become rusty. What the government seems to be saying is, `We are going to ignore that commonsense type approach and focus on the long-term unemployed.' I agree that there does need to be a focus on the long-term unemployed but, for goodness sake, let us not focus on the long-term unemployed at the expense of the newly unemployed, who are eminently employable if remedial action is taken at an appropriate early time.

  It is an obscenity to say to these newly unemployed, `I am sorry, you will have to wait nine or 10 months before we can get around to you because the government's priorities indicate that we should look at the long-term unemployed first, at your expense.' The effects of those approaches on the self-esteem of the unemployed are appalling. The effects upon those who have become entrenched in the rut of unemployment, who get used to unemployment and then make only half-hearted attempts to seek jobs, are also appalling. It leads, potentially, to a long-term career on the unemployment list. Early intervention is just as important as late intervention. The fact is that intervention is crucial so long as there is genuine intervention for genuine jobs, rather than just playing around with training and the massaging or fiddling of numbers.

  In summary, this is the Labor government's—by my count—26th attempt to deal with the problem. It has had 12 budgets, nine May economic statements, four prime ministerial statements and, of course, the joke called the One Nation statement. Here we are, trying again. In spite of those 26 statements, the Labor Party's record is one of having one of the worst recessions in living memory, the worst levels of unemployment, the highest levels of bankruptcies, the biggest decline in real wages for Australian workers, and—not to be forgotten—the enormous social and medical consequences of all these actions, which have been deliberately introduced. The government said:

We will never be able to say that we have succeeded as a nation so long as we have several hundred thousand men and women and their families unable to find work.

By the benchmark of the Prime Minister (Mr Keating), the government has failed. Officially we have 900,000 Australians unemployed. The true figure is well over a million. We have 350,000 people who have been unemployed for a year or more, and 200,000 who have been unemployed for two years or more. This is a disgusting, appalling record by anybody's criteria.

  If we add to that record foreign debt and a higher budget deficit, it is certainly true to say about the white paper, as Paul Keating did—and it would also be true to say it about the budget—that only the Labor government could produce such a document. It is only Labor that could have created such a terrible problem in the first place. It is only Labor that could have shown such ineptitude in addressing such a sad and disastrous policy. No-one else could do this; only Labor could do things this badly.