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Wednesday, 15 October 2008
Page: 9258


Dr SOUTHCOTT (7:15 PM) —I want to speak on the package of reforms that has been announced in response to the global financial crisis. Particularly I want to speak to the extra 56,000 training places and the $187 million which are part of the package. Like all members of the opposition, I welcome the measures that have been announced for pensioners, for families and for first home buyers. Included in the extra training places are 10,000 places which are structural adjustment places. This is an issue which the opposition have been raising for some time. We have tracked over 15,000 redundancies from companies since the government was elected last November. I think that it is important to make the point that before Black Friday, before the collapse of Lehman Brothers and other banks, there were already obvious problems in the economy. DEEWR’s leading indicator for employment has just been released and employment has now decreased for nine months. That indicates a cyclical downturn in employment.

The Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations came out on Thursday responding to monthly figures which showed unemployment increasing by 21,700, the largest monthly increase in unemployment since January 2001. She said that unemployment was low and basically steady. So we have a minister for employment who was in denial on Thursday about the extent of the problem emerging in employment. We have a Treasurer who decided that fiscal tightening was the way to go in May and fiscal loosening in October. So we have lots of signs of a government that does not know what it is doing when it comes to managing the economy. Having said that, the opposition does welcome the training measures. These measures would have been necessary any way regardless of the global financial crisis. The problem is that the Productivity Places Program had provision for 20,000 places in the first three months and only 22,000 in the next six months. So this is a program which has been centrally planned but not well planned. The Minister for Education is widely recognised as not having much of a focus on training or vocational education. Quite simply, her workload is beyond her. Many training providers around the country have contacted my office with a range of concerns about the way the Productivity Places Program has been delivered, from IT systems failures to the department neglecting to advise providers when 80 per cent of the places had been filled.

In addition, we would be very concerned if this was another cynical Labor attempt to have a training treadmill. The last time a Labor government, through Working Nation, had a problem—in that there were no jobs—people were cynically put on a training treadmill. The opposition would like to know from the government what the employment outlook is. We have asked these questions and we believe that we should know and the Australian public should be levelled with as to what the employment outlook is for the next couple of years. We already know that well before Black Friday, well before the Lehman Brothers, employment was deteriorating. It was downgraded in this year’s budget. The Reserve Bank downgraded employment growth in August and, as I said, the DEEWR leading indicator has now declined for nine months, indicating a cyclical downturn in employment. So the training will be welcome but we are very concerned as an opposition, with only just last month seeing unemployment rise by the highest number since January 2001, at the signs of a government which is not really on top of managing the economy.