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Monday, 7 February 1994
Page: 458


Senator REID (4.11 p.m.) —One could today only feel extremely sorry for the unemployed of this country after the speech from the Minister for Science and Small Business (Senator Schacht) on behalf of the government. He said in part that the unemployed thought the government was best able to do something for them. How disillusioned they must be 12 months after the last election to find how very little has been done and how very dismal the prospects are of those who have been unemployed for a long time.

  Every now and again there is a piece of news which the government trumpets as being good news—and sometimes it is; we have not denied that. But the overriding thing that has occurred with the government's policy and attitude, at least in the last 12 months, is that this group of people, the long-term unemployed, are being left behind and not cared about. They are condemned to being poor, and that is the subject that we are talking about today. One could hardly believe that it could have happened in this country.

  The figure of two million unemployed overlooks the number of those who are underemployed, those who have been discouraged from looking for jobs, those in a household where a wife or a husband has lost a job—and that person is not counted as looking for work and needing work because the other party in fact is employed—and those who are unemployed but are not counted because they have done some work as a volunteer. In fact, the number is large indeed. The government seems to be prepared to go on doing the things it is and it just leaves these people behind. This figure of two million represents 13 per cent of Australian households.   There are 794,000 households living in after housing poverty as is set out in the Australia's Welfare 1993 review, which has been referred to. It says:

In 1990, there were an estimated 794,000 income units living in housing-related poverty, about 13 per cent of all income units.

These are the people we are talking about today. These are the people we believe the government should do something about. The report also states:

The high proportion of one-parent families considered to be in housing need in Australia is alarmingly high. Almost 50 per cent of one-parent families—families overwhelmingly headed by women—were in poverty after paying housing costs in 1990.

These are the people that we want the government to take notice of. There is no doubt that as a consequence of this the number of young people who are homeless has risen enormously. Almost half of those living in poverty are with single parents, as I have mentioned. Twenty five per cent of all young people under 25 years live in poverty.

  I refer to the report of the National Inquiry into Homeless Children by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, which stated a conservative estimate of 20,000 to 25,000 homeless youth. However, Fopp, in his report of 1989, estimated the number of children and young people who were homeless or at serious risk of becoming homeless at 50,000 to 70,000. These are large numbers of Australians that we are concerned about. Those opposite cannot have forgotten the comment of the previous Prime Minister on 23 June 1987 when he said:

The greatest resource in Australia is not something that we can grow or dig up from the soil. It is the capacity of its people, our great human resource: and above all, the resource of the future—the children of Australia.

He also said:

So we set ourselves this first goal: by 1990 no Australian child will be living in poverty.

That was not met, as everybody knows, and it has got worse since that time. It is time that the government recognised this fact and was prepared to do something about it.

  The Hawke and Keating governments ignored the warning of the 1970s commission of inquiry into poverty pointing to unemployment and family break-up as important factors increasing the risk of poverty. Notwithstanding that, they were prepared to bring on to this country the recession we had to have, with the increased levels of unemployment, which we still have; the growing long-term unemployed; and, as a consequence, the increased levels of poverty.

  Six hundred and thirty six thousand children are living in single parent families, the majority of which are on supporting parent benefits. Five hundred and forty four thousand children in Australia have neither parent or, in the case of sole parent families, their only parent in employment.   There are a lot of children being seriously disadvantaged and the impact of that will live with them for a very long time. Poverty is not just a matter of lack of food and lack of housing, which are the prime matters that people are most concerned about, but it is more than that. It is lack of sufficient resources to participate in the usual activities of the society to which they belong; lack of ability to participate and be an active member of the society; and a feeling of being left out.

  I do not think the government has the slightest comprehension of what it really means. It talks about numbers. The minister referred to an increased number of advertisements for jobs. That is one aspect but we are talking about the real people who are living in poverty as a consequence of this. Do not forget that women have borne the brunt of much of the increasing poverty and the social inequality which has risen over the last 10 years.

  We are talking about unemployment and poverty; we are not just talking about income. We are talking about the mental and physical health of the people involved, of family stability, of crime rates, of youth homelessness and the capacity of millions of Australians to behave like Australians—to be a part of this society. There is undoubtedly greater sickness amongst the poor. They are being left behind and the government knows this. In 1988 the government was told about this matter by its own economic planning advisory council. It said:

. . . many low income people, especially families with children, have to survive on insufficient nutrition, are unable to heat their homes in winter, are often unable to afford medication, and are denied most forms of recreation . . .

Labor has abandoned these people and does not care about them. They suffer from a loss of self-esteem, a loss of a sense of value and self-worth, a feeling of not being wanted and a loss of dignity. They are becoming the have-nots in our society. EPAC also told the government that if unemployment was 6.5 per cent there would be 800 fewer divorces. Think of the impact of that upon children. Unemployment still remains at over 10 per cent.

  It is certainly necessary to have mechanisms to support people who fall into this category and are living in the terms and conditions that I have referred to. But it is indeed important to change other things in our society so that changes can take place, so that there will be more wealth and so that those who now cannot participate will be able to do so.

  The government could be making genuine industrial relations reforms and work practice reforms. It could be encouraging businesses to invest instead of imposing greater costs on them so that it is impossible for them to survive. It could be making genuine tax reforms. There are a lot of things the government could be doing if it only acknowledged that the long-term unemployed and those living in poverty actually exist. Just because we cannot see them, it does not mean that they are not there.