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Tuesday, 11 September 1984
Page: 1043


Mr MILLAR(11.02) —The most cursory examination of the appropriation for labour and employment will reveal essentially two things-the wide range of involvement of government, any government, in the labour area, and a very substantial sum of money which, of necessity, perhaps unavoidably, remains a burden on the public purse. One could not help but be impressed with a sum of $1 ,221.9m expenditure for the ensuing year. In the very limited time available, one can adopt only a cursory analysis of some of the elements contained within the appropriation. Naturally, one's attention is attracted immediately to the most substantial amount appearing therein-the $411.7m for the community employment program for the ensuing year.

One would like to be able to say that one is impressed with the spirit with which the broad community-State governments, local government, community groups and others-have embraced the philosophy and hastened to take advantage of the scheme's arrangements. Possibly being a little more realistic in assessment, one would have to accept that the involvement is not necessarily essentially altruistic. Thus far it has moved away to achieving the Government's objectives, but one could fairly ask whether we are getting value for money.

Looking at expenditure for the year 1983-84 of $286.6m having created, as questioned by the honourable member for Balaclava (Mr Macphee) a little earlier in the evening, 48,200 jobs, it leaves us with a net cost per job of about $6, 000. That means one of two things-either that the period of employment under the scheme is relatively short, or that there is a disproportionate allocation in respect of job classifications. Some may secure temporary employment for 12 months at a relatively high salary; others may secure employment for a very brief period at a lower salary. It disturbs me that, whilst the spirit implicit in the arrangement is laudable, in the practical aspect it can be described with all charity only as an artificial device substituting for bona fide economic activity. If that were not so, it must necessarily follow that if we could resolve unemployment of 40,000 for the sum of $300m, we could resolve the unemployment dilemma for 400,000 if we increased the sum to $3,000m. Clearly, that is a nonsense but it demonstrates quite positively that we are engaged in an artificial device, laudable in spirit. The economists will argue, of course, that wealth is generated by man's activity. It is in part, but if taken to its logical conclusion one would have to accept that we can prosper by taking each other's laundry. I am sure the Minister himself would insist that such arrangements would have to stop far short of such a proposition.

We have a very serious unemployment problem; there are no two ways about it. It will probably defy the best efforts of any government within the parameters of conventionality. We have a new situation in this country, with very substantial changes in the social and economic infrastructure. I hasten to say that I am not being the least sexist when I allude to the change from the traditional single income family to the multi-income family. It would be fair to say that if we reverted to a single income family-I hasten to say who stays home is not a matter of concern in this context-there would not be sufficient unemployed presently registered to fill the vacancies that would become available. We have to adjust to this very changed circumstance. Not only have we from time to time been faced with this extraordinary contradiction of employment figures going up with unemployment figures; we are also faced with a situation where the worker, loosely described, is becoming somewhat redundant in the work force, resulting in more people competing for fewer jobs. This is a problem that will not go away .

If that was not bad enough in itself, it is very greatly compounded by advancing technology and automation. The worker, again loosely described, becomes increasingly redundant. A very substantial problem confronts our society , not just one government or another. We have not really addressed ourselves seriously to what we may do. There have been passing references to alternative lifestyles, such as something in the nature of a kibbutz. I have a recollection of the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) making a suggestion of that kind. It may have some novel appeal in the first instance, but in the ultimate people need a more substantial involvement in their lifestyle than that offered by a kibbutz which, with the greatest of charity, must be seen as a putting aside from the mainstream of human activity. We have to face this problem. Sadly, not all those within the work force have a sensitivity to the unemployed.

I notice in the appropriation a fairly modest figure of $6.7m for trade union training. This is not a new initiative; it is an expansion of a program of long standing. I have little doubt that those who benefit from trade union training would have been acquainted with the history of the movement and been very much aware that the trade union movement took its rise from a period when the worker was shockingly oppressed and exploited, not necessarily with malevolence but in the fashion of the time. The trade union was quite essential to the reasonable well-being of the worker. But I wonder whether in the trade union training attention is also drawn to the fact that in many respects the pendulum has swung and now the formerly oppressed work force, through its trade union structure, dominates in some respects the democratically elected government of the day. If it does not dominate, it certainly intimidates to the extent that it does not leave that government free to govern according to its own judgment in the best interests of the nation. That is just as harmful to those unemployed as conditions of an earlier time. We have, if you like, bully-boy elements within the work force who assert themselves and derive benefits totally disproportionate to their arguable moral entitlement. They have not a scrap of concern for their less fortunate brethren who suffer the consequence of their field of employment.

Today we find, for example, janitors at high schools and those in similar occupations doing well to bring home $220 a week to support a family. That compares most unfavourably with an average wage in the vicinity of $400 a week. Therefore, even within the work force itself, where there has always been a strong claim of solidarity and common sense of purpose, there are great disparities in fortune and attainment. Unless we can get an acceptance within the work force and within the community at large that we have very substantial problems we will be confronted with Budget after Budget in the conventional fashion-much like a dog chasing its tail. We are really using an ointment to cure a cancer.

There is a great malaise in this country. It requires the best talents of the Parliament, as distinct from a political party, to come to grips with this and possibly to resolve it. If we exhaust our resources and talents with a war of attrition in this continuing battle for the Treasury benches we will continue to find, regardless of who wins the battle, that our nation will lose the war. Possibly in an individual sense the worker will suffer more than others in more fortunate circumstances. We can no longer approach these matters within the parameters of conventionality. We have a whole new ball game-to use the vernacular. I think we delude ourselves if we think we can remedy these serious complaints by continuing applications of ointment.