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Wednesday, 10 May 2000
Page: 16183


Mrs MAY (3:02 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business. Would the minister inform the House of Australia's labour market and job prospects over the next 12 months? Is the minister aware of any alternative policies which place these prospects under threat?


Mr REITH (Minister for Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business) —I thank the member for McPherson for her question. The figures in the budget are very positive in terms of employment prospects over the next 12 months. In fairness, one should also say that this reflects a dividend from a lot of sensible policy reform over the last three or four years, whether it be in education, with a couple of hundred thousand apprenticeships and equipping young people to take jobs or in the Job Network and the work that has been done there to get people into work. Right across government there have been a lot of reforms. Our pro small business reforms have been encouraging small businesses to go out and give somebody a job.

Based on today's numbers, with 650,000-odd jobs created since this government has been in office and an unemployment rate now the best in 10 years, as we look to the next 12 months, the figures are pretty encouraging. In fact, employment is expected to grow at a robust 2¼ per cent in the year ahead and the unemployment rate is expected to fall to 6¼ per cent by the June quarter 2001. And that is whilst the participation rate is moving up. So that is a very good number and is testament, I must say, to the very good economic management of Australia and I think a great tribute to the Treasurer on the work that he has done. This is very good, practical, sensible economic management, delivering real benefits, getting people into jobs and giving us the wherewithal to help people in need, particularly in rural Australia in the health area. The IMF has said that one of the positives of economic management in recent years has been the structural reforms—and I refer to page 2.25 of the budget. It says:

... structural reforms have raised Australia's sustainable productivity growth, thereby enhancing the growth potential of the economy.

I suppose that is stating the obvious. It is much easier to state the obvious than it is to implement the obvious reforms necessary when, of course, we have been opposed every inch of the way by the opposition as we have tried to correct the mistakes that we inherited as a government.

In the area of fiscal policy we have been able to get interest rates down. Why? Because we have been better at managing the nation's finances. What a tremendous record it is for us to have paid back $50 billion of the $80 billion that Labor racked up over their last five years. Now what do we find? As we look to the future, while the benefits of the policies we have been putting in place are flowing through to the Australian people, we find on the Labor Party side that they are cooking up all the same old policies that gave us the splurge and all the pro trade union policies that got Australia into trouble when Labor were last in office. We have my opposite number, the shadow minister, this week—not just this week, but this week was bad enough—implying that she wants to spend a billion dollars more on universities. She also wants to spend $240 million on TAFE, because she reckons we cut it, which we did not. But leaving that point aside, there is $1.24 billion. That ought to be on the list on Thursday night. Back in February she was going to expand employment services in Job Network. That was $1.8 billion. So if we add that on, now we are up to $3 billion. Then of course there are wage subsidies. The sky is the limit. So there is a lot of spending to be announced on Thursday night. I tell you what, Treasurer, you are going to need all your patience and your biggest ever computer to be able to work out the spending increases, the tax increases and the burgeoning surplus which they are going to provide as well.

Just to cap it off, not only has good fiscal policy been great for small business, and therefore good for jobs, but on the other side they are going to go down to their conference in July—and what is the Leader of the Opposition going to do? He has done it already basically: he is going to give us a public rollover to the trade union leadership and take us back to the 1970s and 1980s, the very thing that the IMF says has in fact—


Mr SPEAKER —The Leader of the House will resume his seat. The Manager of Opposition Business on a point of order.



Mr SPEAKER —The member for Dobell, the Manager of Opposition Business has the call.


Mr McMullan —We have had more than enough of the minister.


Mr SPEAKER —Does the Manager of Opposition Business have a point of order?


Mr Beazley —He's finished. He's gone. He's pretty boring.