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Thursday, 17 December 1992
Page: 5340

Senator LEES —I direct my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Employment, Education and Training. I refer to the likelihood of continued levels of high unemployment and hardship amongst young people, as predicted in the report Wanted: Our Future of the Senate Standing Committee on Employment, Education and Training. Also I refer to this week's prediction by the National Institute of Economic and Industry Research that unemployment will remain unacceptably high until at least the year 2010. When will the Government acknowledge that there is an urgent need to redefine the concept of work to include such activities which are now known as voluntary work, and to redistribute work—for example, by reducing hours where possible for some individual workers? Does the Government also accept that to redefine work is meaningless, unless all Australians are entitled to a guaranteed minimum income?

Senator COOK —I am invited to comment on a report that has just come out. Clearly, the Government is not in a position immediately to respond, upon the tabling of a report, to the contents and recommendations of that report. I am advised that the Minister, Mr Beazley, is examining the report and will shortly make a considered response.

  As to the last part of the question, in which I am asked whether a fair minimum wage should apply in Australia—I will come to the other parts of Senator Lees's question in a minute—the Government's answer is yes, of course it should. The award system in Australia provides, particularly in the private sector, for determination by an independent arbitrator of fair minimum rates for industry sectors. It is the Government's announced intention to legislate, using the external affairs power of the Constitution, in respect of the ILO convention concerning minimum wages in order to see that the minimum rates are basically protected—so that people who may be in positions of non-award coverage can negotiate knowing that they have a fundamental protection on minimum wages.

  The other parts of the question were about the definition of work. I take that to be a definition for the purpose of determining the provision of government services or support for people who may be unemployed. They are questions I will take on notice, refer to the Minister and reply to as soon as possible.