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Thursday, 16 December 1993
Page: 4822

Senator HILL —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Prime Minister. I refer to Mr Keating's description of the government's green paper on employment in which he said, `. . . is not a job creation thing. It is a labour market efficiency flexibility thing, it is principally a social thing . . . it is a jobs ready thing'. Particularly in the light of the recently passed Industrial Relations Reform Bill which actually decreases the flexibility thing and the market efficiency thing for businesses, can the minister inform the Senate what effect he envisages the white paper will have in the end on the real goal of this exercise to permanently decrease the number of long-term unemployed?

Senator GARETH EVANS —Whatever effect a white paper has will depend on what particular policy strategies are implemented after the options canvassed in that paper have been given full and due consideration by the government after a full consultative process with the whole community. It is not a matter of making any assumptions at all at this stage as to what the particular strategy will be emerging from that white paper. Obviously, the key to job growth in this country, as the white paper makes clear, is continued economic growth overall associated with a continued program of structural adjustment and micro-economic change, including labour market flexibility. We fully acknowledge that. That has always been part of the approach and the strategy.

  To suggest that the industrial relations legislation we have just passed in any way inhibits that is to profoundly misunderstand the nature of the industrial relations system in this country and the contribution that that legislation will be making to giving further institutional confidence in that system and, at the same time, generating a greater degree of flexibility so far as productivity bargaining and all the rest in the workplace are concerned.

  The difficulty we have with members of this opposition, as I said the other day, is that they have only about one idea a decade. They take forever to formulate strategies to go with that idea and they find it very difficult to move beyond that to cope with emerging, evolving, changing circumstances. What the government has done over the course of the last decade is to introduce many ideas simultaneously into our economic reform and our approach to the economic system. We have done an enormous amount to generate structural change, greater flexibility, growth and movement forward in the workplace.

  The opposition is mired in an approach to industrial relations which was born and which failed in the 1960s and the 1970s. It is mired in an approach to micro-economic reform and taxation reform which has demonstrably failed and which is demonstrably irrelevant to the needs of this country. The government does not need any lectures from the opposition. It failed in government; it has failed in opposition; and it has failed to produce any kind of coherent alternative that could possibly be attractive or useful to this Australian society.

Senator HILL —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. It is amazing that the minister can come in here and boast about a record that has resulted in one million Australians being out of work. On the question of the labour market, when will the government recognise that, in the words of the Australian Financial Review, the proposals in yesterday's green paper are `second best substitutes for more thorough reform of the labour market'?

Senator GARETH EVANS —The government's approach to labour market reform has been one of fully acknowledging and appreciating the virtues of institutional safety nets underlying a basic environment of freer industrial relations bargaining, freer productivity bargaining and generally much more flexibility than we have been used to in previous decades. The difficulty that those opposite confront here, as elsewhere, is that they simply do not understand what is going on out there in the marketplace; they do not understand the institutional pressures that are at work; and they do not understand the needs of the great mass of Australians, including those who have benefited in the past from the operation of that industrial relations system safety net and will continue to do so in the future.