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Thursday, 6 April 1978
Page: 1116

Mr YOUNG (Port Adelaide) - I move:

That a Joint Committee be established to inquire into and report on unemployment in Australia, with special reference to:

(   1 ) the extent of unemployment and the degree to which it has become a long term problem;

(2)   the degree to which unemployment bears particularly upon certain industries, regions and sectors of the workforce;

(3)   the social implications of prolonged large-scale unemployment;

(4)   the applicability to Australia of innovative employment creating schemes operating in other comparable countries;

(5)   the extent to which unemployment could be reduced by implementing and expanding manpower programs;

(6)   other means by which unemployment could be reduced, and

(7)   the extent and nature of possible conflict between the objective of reducing unemployment and other policy objectives.

In 1945 the Chifley Government produced a White Paper on full employment in Australia. It began by stating:

Full employment is a fundamental aim of the Commonwealth Government.

The Government at that time believed that the people of Australia would demand and were entitled to expect full employment. However, since that time a retreat from the full employment objective has taken place gradually over a number of years. The present recession simply has made it more visible. This withdrawal from the full employment commitment has occurred in all Western European industrial countries as well as in the United States and Australia. No government has announced that it has demoted the full employment objective in order to give priority to price stability, but it is clearly a case of actions speaking louder than words. There can be absolutely no doubt that this Government has given up the hope of ever returning to full employment in Australia. Worse than that, government, through its Ministers or through the bureaucracy, refuses to accept the responsibilities of properly identifying the make-up of the long term challenge to future Australian governments of putting people back to work.

The measure which the Opposition puts today is not a cheap political point-scoring exercise but a strong proposal which we have put forward on no fewer than three other occasions. Since this Parliament resumed just a few weeks ago it has established committees on such important matters as road safety, tourism, Aboriginal affairs, environment and conservation, foreign affairs and defence, public works, expenditure and a new and permanent Parliament House. It would seem to the casual observer that the Government has an absolutely indefensible case, having established the committees listed but refusing to establish a committee dealing with unemployment. Let me deal very briefly with the role of parliamentary committees. The committee system provides members with the opportunity of meeting together regularly to express their views. It also provides the officers of such committees with authority they would not otherwise possess in expressing their opinions to the Government. During the last decade there has been a rapid growth of committee activity. We believe that only through an effective committee system can the Parliament continue to perform its roles.

In 1965 Sir John Cramer spoke of the need to create more committees of Ministers and backbencher members to deal with the increasingly specialised and complex business of governing this nation. This Parliament supposedly is representative of the interests of all the communities in Australia. Honourable members from both sides of the House represent a number of constituents within those communities who are unemployed and who could remain unemployed permanently. The Australian people are demanding an answer to the question of why the Government is not doing more to alleviate the growing army of unemployed youth, women and school leavers- people who are wasting their talents and growing more despondent about their future. In a recent public opinion poll, 76 per cent of the people interviewed stated that unemployment was their primary concern. Concern for the unemployed outranked concern for inflation, industrial disputes, crimes of violence and education. In 1 975 the Joint Parliamentary Committee on the Parliamentary Committee System recommended, among other changes, that each House retain the right to appoint select committees to conduct long term inquiries into issues of concern to the Parliament.

I will select one committee, the House of Representatives Select Committee on Tourism, and deal very briefly with its terms of reference on this extremely important issue. One of its terms of reference was to examine the situation and potential of tourism in the Australian economy. Further it was asked to identify the short and long term issues facing the industry in Australia and to examine the roles and responsibilities of local government and the industry in relation to the development and promotion of tourism. I have selected these three terms of reference from a much wider range of terms of reference of one committee to show that the Government's refusal to accept our proposal to establish a joint committee on unemployment is a blatant political decision taken at the highest level of the Government- in this case by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser), who believes that the sole aim of the Opposition in having a committee of this nature is to embarrass the Government.

On behalf of the Opposition I say that the unemployment situation in Australia is far too serious an issue for us to be concerning ourselves merely with embarrassing the Government. Our aim is to inject into the Parliament through this committee a greater understanding of the crisis of unemployment. We hope that the findings of such a committee would bring the Parliament to the realisation that urgent action has to be taken.

I turn now to the terms of reference that we seek to set for this committee. I ask honourable members to question themselves as I proceed through them as to the wisdom and validity of our case. Firstly, we propose that the committee should look at the extent of unemployment and the degree to which it has become a long term problem. It should not be difficult for any member of this Parliament now to understand and accept that unemployment in Australia has developed into a long term problem. We should not allow the state of shock in which we may have lived over the last three or four years since Australia experienced a much higher level of unemployment to delude us into believing that very shortly all will return to normal. All the evidence to hand tells us quite a different story.

Unemployment continues to grow. It does not matter whether we use the figures of the Commonwealth Employment Service or of the Australian Bureau of Statistics, it does not matter whether we do not count people who are selfemployed, the farmers and the families of farmers and it does not matter whether we ignore the young people who have to return to school- it matters little which way we approach the issue- the fact is that there are 160,000 more people registered as unemployed than there were when this Government came to power on a promise of restoring full employment. All Australians know it is a long term problem but the degree to which it is long term remains unknown. A parliamentary committee could do a great deal to provide information on this matter.

Let us look at item 2 of the proposed terms of reference, which concerns the degree to which unemployment has an effect on certain industries, regions and sectors of the work force. It may be simple to ask whether we really need to investigate this matter, because we know it is the labour intensive industries that have suffered most and continue to suffer. In addition, we can add quite glibly that the industrial areas of Wollongong, Newcastle, Geelong, Ballarat and Whyalla have suffered most as regions and just leave it at that. Obviously if we are to do our work as parliamentarians that is an insufficient answer to give to the public of Australia. It is one thing to know what industries have suffered, what regions have suffered and what sectors of the work force have suffered. It becomes not so much a problem of what has happened over the last five years but of what is going to happen over the next ten years. There are 600 tradesmen registered as unemployed in Newcastle- at a time when the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Street) says we need more skilled migrants. The recession in the regional centres is tearing to pieces any attempt by State governments to decentralise industry. One may ask: What are we doing about the sectors of the work force that are carrying this enormous burden? Who are they? What effect is unemployment having upon them?

Firstly, let us look at the average duration for which people in Australia are unemployed. In February 1976, when this Government first came to power, the average unemployed person was out of work for a period of 14.4 weeks. In February 1977- just one year later- the period was 17.9 weeks. In February 1978, this Government having been in power for two years, it was 19.7 weeks. Added to this, in February 1976 there were slightly more than 1 1 people out of work for every unfilled vacancy. In February 1977 the figure stood at 12 people jobless per unfilled vacancy. The situation in February 1978- the month in which the Prime Minister predicted the situation would start to get betterthere were 17.7 unemployed people for every unfilled vacancy. A record number of 298,000 people were receiving unemployment benefit, resulting in a gigantic payout of over $70m in unemployment benefit in one month.

It is not just the crime of unemployment against which we should be fighting; it is the enormous waste of resources as seen from the unemployment benefits paid out for the month of February. The studies carried out by concerned groups outside the Parliament show that the above figures will lead to an increase in the number of unemployables as the unemployed people lose confidence in themselves. Employers regard the long term unemployed person as having something wrong with him. Some of the people concerned will stop trying to find jobs and will become less inclined to work. The effects of long term unemployment find their way through to all members of a family. Also, we are living at a time when thousands of young people are being forced back to school. The Parliament does not know the number of people involved in this regard but should know it. In 1976 the National Youth Council of Australia, in its submissions to the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations, stated that 9,400 persons returned to school because they could not find suitable jobs after leaving school at the end of 1975. This situation increases costs in terms of school personnel and becomes a burden for the individuals themselves. As I said earlier, there are substantial groups who carry a far greater burden than any other groups. In this area we have the migrants and the handicapped. Those people are least able to afford it. For many of them unemployment will mean living in poverty.

The report of the Henderson Commission of Inquiry into Poverty showed that the majority of these unemployed people had little or no buffer against any potential financial crisis. Sixty-seven per cent of the people surveyed had cash savings and other liquid assets of less than $50. Only 2 1 per cent had resources of over $200. Twenty-one per cent had outstanding debts of more than $1,000, and a further 16 per cent had debts of between $500 and $ 1,000. 1 hope that from those very brief comments concerning item 2 of the proposed terms of reference honourable members will see that there is a case for the establishment of this committee.

Let us look now at the social implications of permanent large-scale unemployment. Here I reply upon much of the research work carried out by the Australian Council of Social Service. According to its investigations, the reaction of most unemployed people includes financial stress, depression, boredom, lack of confidence and loss of self-respect. Financial stress and deterioration in adults will produce pressing singular effects that will increase mounting psychological disturbance and add to their physical illness. There is a growing body of evidence that shows that deteriorating mental health is closely related to unemployment. The main dramatic indicator of the relationship between job insecurity and stress is the suicide rate. A study carried out in 1975-76 by the Victorian Mental Health Authority in Ballarat and Dandenong showed extreme results. In Ballarat the attempted suicide rate of unemployed over the two-year study period 1975-76 was 278.8 per 10,000 people-one person in 30, more than 12 times the average area rate of 22.1 attempted suicides per 10,000. The incidence in Dandenong was 117.3 per 10,000- one person in 85, more than seven times the average area incidence of 17.7. A further study conducted in the Western suburbs of Sydney showed that about 50 per cent of those people attempting suicide were unemployed people between 15 and 25 years of age. This may be the most dramatic but it is certainly not the final point that has to be made in relation to the impact of unemployment upon our society.

Family stability is threatened. Both here and overseas investigations show a correlation between the increase in crime and unemployment. These matters are of enormous importance to a parliament making the laws governing the life style of our people and they should be under constant and thorough investigation by the law makers, in this case the Parliament of Australia. We also ask, in our proposed terms of reference (4), (5) and (6), that the Parliament look at ideas to put people back into the work force, which have been put into operation overseas and that could be adopted under Australian conditions. This is not the only country facing this crisis but it seems to be the only one intent on doing nothing about it.

When the Summit of Western leaders met in London recently, the first item on its agenda was unemployment. Western Europe and North America are adopting job creation programs. Each of those countries has accepted that it is embarking on a long term program and that it will require a completely new set of rules as far as manpower planning is concerned. In a recent report by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development it was accepted that in order to solve the problem of youth unemployment special measures need to be taken or else its growth will continue for years to come. Measures taken to reduce youth unemployment cover a wide area. The following are some of them:

1.   The introduction of incentives for the creation and maintenance of jobs for young people in the private sector. In this connection the role of small and middle sized enterprises was emphasised.

2.   The creation of jobs in the public sector in response to urgent social needs in fields such as health, adult education, environment protection and social services.

3.   Public support for local community projects outside traditional public structures.

4.   Measures designed to develop various forms of training including apprenticeships, both in enterprises and institutions.

5.   The reinforcement of established information, counselling and placement services.

6.   Special measures to help young people enter working life, including paid and unpaid working experience.

7.   Measures affecting the size of the labour force, such as extended education, paid educational leave or flexible retirement.

In addition to those measures, in many OECD countries there are subsidised forms of employment in the private sector, either to maintain or to create jobs. In several countries the amount of the gross subsidy is the same as the unemployment benefit that would otherwise have been paid. In most countries the well known practice is to pay subsidies only to young people who have been out of work for a certain time. The Canadian Government introduced recently a works program financing projects lasting up to 52 weeks. Those projects were chosen for their potential effect in reducing cyclical, seasonal, regional or local unemployment. The program aims to utilise the management resources of local organisations or project sponsors. Even more recently it has been reported that the Danish Government plans to create more job vacancies for young people by paying workers over 60 years of age large salaries for retiring early. The proposal, aimed at reducing Denmark's 200,000 unemployed, is being put to the Parliament this week. That Government proposes to introduce a salary based on a sliding scale until the worker reaches the pensionable age of 67 years.

There is another matter at which a committee such as the one we are proposing should look, and that deals with the decisions being made in various board rooms around Australia on whether Australian industry should stay in Australia or in fact be taken off-shore. About 50 industries in Australia over the past five years have been attracted solely to Indonesia. They include firms such as Repco Ltd, Dunlop Australia Ltd, Midford Products Pty Ltd, Sola International Pty Ltd, Australian National Industries Ltd, Thyer Rubber Co. Pty Ltd, Consolidated Metal Products Ltd, Sidney Cooke Ltd,--

Mr Street - Why have they done it?

Mr YOUNG - As the Minister interjects- we could expect that- the sole cry of the people opposite is that it is the wage structure of Australia that attracts those companies away from Australia. The 196 companies that have gone offshore have been surveyed. It may be news to the Minister that only 8.5 per cent of those companies gave that as their reason for going offshore. The largest majority of the companies gave as their reason the enormous investment attractions that are being offered by the host countries. Whatever the case may be, time does not allow me to go through the whole range of matters at which such a committee as that which we are proposing could look.

As I said at the outset, this is not a cheap political trick being put forward by the Opposition. The Government has no case for not establishing a parliamentary committee to look at unemployment. We have a long term problem while the Government refuses to act. We have massive social problems for which the Government has to take responsibility. The Opposition puts forward this constructive proposal for the Parliament to adopt. I sincerely hope that members opposite when given the opportunity to vote on this matter will cross the floor and vote with the Opposition.

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