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Wednesday, 30 May 1984
Page: 2179

Senator HARRADINE(6.15) —I wish to speak to Appropriation Bill (No. 3 ) 1983-84 insofar as it relates to the Additional Estimates concerning the Departments of Social Security, Trade, Industry and Commerce, Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, Administrative Services and the Treasury. In so doing I will be dealing with questions of unemployment and the unemployment benefit, family support and the Customs (Prohibited Imports) Regulations-not the matter we recently dealt with but prohibited imports insofar as they have been produced by slave labour-and I will raise questions concerning the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs.

I think we would all agree that one of the greatest issues confronting Australia today is unemployment. The figure in the Estimates and Additional Estimates for the unemployment benefit is too high-I am not saying that the unemployment benefit rate is too high; I am saying that the amount set aside for payment by way of unemployment benefit is too high-and the amount set aside for family support schemes, including the family allowance, is too low. They are somewhat interlinked. One of the problems that we have faced recently in respect of unemployment is that we have been side-tracked by certain things. I do not discount the fact that the unemployment debate last month was centred on the stint of a member of the other chamber on the dole for a week. Whilst no doubt that stint was well intentioned, in my view his experiment was detrimental to the unemployed and also to those parliamentarians, both State and Federal, with long-standing concern for the unemployment problem. In fact, the surrounding publicity diverted attention from the causes of unemployment and therefore from its solution.

The unemployment debate too often ignores the fact there are in Australia more people in or seeking paid work than there are jobs available at the same time as new job opportunities are being slashed by the haphazard introduction of automation and technological change. Literally hundreds of thousands of people now in the paid work force would, if given a true freedom of choice, leave it to pursue the important socially creative work which they desire to carry out. This bears very directly on the request that has been made in the Additional Estimates in respect of unemployment. Everyone concerned with the unemployment problem should be now pressing the Government to make sure that the August Budget provides the economic basis required for this freedom of choice. The major priorities are justice for the family, particularly the one income family, and sensible retirement measures enabling those who wish to opt for early retirement to do so without a dramatic loss in living standards.

For many years I have been warning that unless we realise that the unemployment problem has a social as well as an economic aspect we will not get near solving it. For too long the unemployment question has been treated like a political football. On the one side all the blame has been put on the unions and wage rates and so forth and on the other side it has been put on the Government or on the previous Government's policies. But we must realise that the problem has a social as well as an economic aspect. I was very pleased to see that the Prime Minister of Australia (Mr Hawke), in his John Curtin Memorial lecture in Perth in December 1983, as quoted by the Women's Action Alliance in its submission sent to all members of parliament, said in respect of unemployment:

The plain fact is that no Government in Australia will now, or in the foreseeable future, solve the problem of unemployment solely through the available methods of increasing the supply of jobs. At least equal attention must be paid to the question of reducing the demand for jobs by helping to provide socially constructive alternatives.

That statement does not wear well with the statement that was made by the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs (Senator Ryan) and reported yesterday in the Canberra Times. She indicated that it was possible to have 100 per cent employment. She is right, of course, but only if we accept that the problem has a social as well as an economic aspect. As the Prime Minister said:

The plain fact is that no Government in Australia will now, or in the foreseeable future, solve the problem of unemployment solely through the available methods of increasing the supply of jobs. At least equal attention must be paid to the question of reducing the demand for jobs by helping to provide socially constructive alternatives.

What more socially constructive alternative work is there in Australia than the nurturing, care and development of one's own children? The fact is that so many mothers with dependent children are forced by economic pressures to keep down another outside job. It is unfair to them, to the young unemployed and to the whole of the community for this situation to be allowed to continue.

Nothing that I say ought to be latched onto by anybody as questioning the right of any person to enter the paid work force, be they married, unmarried, male, female or whatever else. But the fact remains that we are faced with dramatic consequences if we do not understand the true structure of the unemployment with which we are faced today. We all know, some of us from the experiences of our families, of the unemployment facing young people. The unemployment rate for young people in Australia is 25.9 per cent for girls aged 15 to 19 years seeking full time paid work and 24.3 per cent for youths. In Canberra, as I understand it, in a report this morning the figure was put at 30 per cent. In my State-I stand to be corrected in relation to the April figures because I do not have them at my fingertips-according to the last figure that I saw the unemployment rate for girls 15 to 19 years seeking full time work was 32.3 per cent. Those figures are devastating and they cry out for correction.

All types of affirmative action will not create another job. I believe there is discrimination in certain areas and that has to be rectified, but let us face the fact that affirmative action and even the sex discrimination legislation will not help that situation. Let us clear that up very carefully. In fact, it might slightly exacerbate it because of the fact that an employer cannot discriminate against a person because of marital status. I do not want to argue that aspect, but a fact of life is that affirmative action and the sex discrimination legislation may exacerbate the problem for young girls 15 to 19 years of age. The point I am making is that there are so many people in the paid work force who, given a true freedom of choice, would opt out of the paid work force and leave jobs available for the young unemployed. I have indicated that such people include mothers with dependent children who are forced by economic pressures to keep down another job and the large number of persons who desire to retire early. Given the opportunity, without an attendant dramatic loss in the standard of living, these people may choose to retire. Of course, I understand those questions are being addressed by the Minister who is in the chamber at present, the Minister for Social Security (Senator Grimes). I only hope that something can be done about that aspect.

Mothers are forced into the paid work force not only because of the cost of housing and of keeping the second mortgage going. The cost of living is rising despite the negative increase in the consumer price index. In addition to those factors, the tax system at present disadvantages one income families. Those with children are being denied their rights to indexation of family allowances. The Institute of Family Studies on page 2 of its annual report supports what I have said. It states:

There is no doubt that many families are finding the task of providing for their members' needs more and more difficult . . . The tax treatment of families has favoured those without children and has particularly disadvantaged large families.

A number of other very interesting comments are made in the report which I will not go into. The report makes an important point about the family. It says:

. . . the family acts as an economic unit in influencing production, it affects the transfer of wealth or disadvantage from generation to generation, it is an agent of socialisation, it is the main unit of economic consumption, and it is the primary context for development of interpersonal relationships, a context that can be destructive as well as enabling and supportive.

A very good document has been submitted to the Government by the Women's Action Alliance. I think it would be recognised that that document was prepared after a great deal of thought and is based on factual evidence. It is not a ranting or raving document. Nobody can say that this group is an extreme group. It has put the case quite clearly. It has detailed the reasons for married female work force participation. It has attempted to pull together some of the references on measuring unpaid work. The group talked about the spouse rebate. While I am on that subject I must say that it worries me that there has been no real impact at the Economic Planning Advisory Council level in support of the family. The only document that was publicly available from EPAC relating to the family was a document which suggested the abolition of the spouse rebate. I know that the Government would not agree with that. Not only would it be unjust but also it would torpedo the accord. Everybody knows that that is a scatterbrained idea.

The document dealt with the family allowance. This matter, as I said before, has not received the attention that it should have. I have here a document which was prepared by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Library's statistics group setting out the family allowance for the first child to the fifth child and the amount of loss that has been incurred over the period that the family allowance has not been indexed, and the loss has been quite substantial. For example, in respect of fifth and subsequent children the loss is $20.35 a month. For the first child the loss is $10.20 a month. For the second child the loss is $14.60 a month. For the third child it is $17.50 a month. For the fourth child it is $ 17.50 a month and for fifth and subsequent children it is $20.35 a month. Cumulatively that is a very substantial loss. Therefore, a very substantial additional burden is being borne by those families with children, as the Institute of Family Studies mentioned. I seek leave to have that document incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The document read as follows-



($ per month)

Existing Estimated at Loss

May 1976 (a) May 1984 (b) (b)-(a)

First Child 15.20 22.80 33.00 10.20 Second Child 21.70 32.55 47.15 14.60 Third Child 26.00 39.00 56.50 17.50 Fourth Child 26.00 39.00 56.50 17.50 Fifth and Subsequent Children 30.35 45.55 65.90 20.35

(a) Actual rates as at May 1984.

(b) Rate from May 1984 if May 1976 rates had been indexed by movements in the Consumer Price Index.

Compiled at request by the Statistics Group of the Legislative Research Service .

Senator HARRADINE —Because of the time factor and because I would possibly be offending the Standing Orders if I ranged too far, I should like very briefly to summarise what I have said. Honourable senators will know now why I said that the estimates for the unemployment pay-out are too high and the estimates for family support schemes are too low. If one were increased the other inevitably would be decreased.

I wish to refer to the subject of immigration and ethnic affairs. Much has been said on this question. I am pleased that at least the heat of the debate is diminishing. However, I am concerned for the refugees who have suffered and are still suffering the loss of their loved ones. I hope that the Government will not diminish its expenditure in respect of the families of those refugees. I believe the Prime Minister has stated in a most humanitarian way that the Government intends to pursue that policy. I note that there has been a substantial drop in the number of Asian immigrants this year compared with last year. I am concerned about that. I will say it now and I will say it through the length and breadth of Australia. I do not care who calls me a friend. Other people can have their views. I am concerned on humanitarian grounds that the Government does not diminish the expenditure in this regard.

I want to flag two other matters. The first concerns a question that I asked relating to the activities of the Australian Federal Police. I asked whether members of the Federal Police were involved in the searches of Vietnamese migrants who expressed their protest in relation to the Vietnamese Foreign Affairs Minister when he was here. I was concerned about the possible involvement of the Federal Police in those searches. Certainly, I was concerned about the Victorian police being involved in those searches and the way in which they were undertaken.

Secondly, some time ago I raised my concern about the introduction into Australia of a Soviet-built runabout, a jeep-type vehicle. At that time I expressed concern that, by all accounts, certain component parts had been manufactured for that vehicle by slave labour in the Soviet Union. I said that if that were the case the vehicle was a prohibited import in accordance with the regulations made under the Customs Act. I just flag those two points and thank the Senate for the opportunity of doing so.