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Wednesday, 29 May 1996
Page: 1293

Senator KNOWLES —My question is directed to the Minister for the Environment and Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator Hill. Are you aware of the outrageous comments made by the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Beazley, at the ACOSS dinner last Thursday that one of Labor's achievements over 13 years was that workers had forgone increases in the money wage in order to create the capacity to establish the social wage? Is this correct, and what lessons can the coalition government learn from Labor's woeful record?

Senator HILL —I did note those comments. It is a continuation of Labor's peddling the myth that although it may have failed on jobs and in other areas it instead delivered benefits in its so-called social wage, it achieved on social justice. It is important that this myth be answered, that we remember Labor's record and that we learn from its mistakes.

The Hawke-Keating government not only failed miserably in job creation but also played a considerable part in the growing fear about an underclass. When Labor came into office 694,000 people were out of work and 766,000 remained unemployed when they were booted out—not a proud legacy. Labor gave Australia the highest levels of unemployment since the Great Depression—947,000 people unemployed at the peak of the recession. The unemployment rate was stuck at 11 per cent or close, the highest unemployment rate since the great recession—and it stuck at that peak for almost a year.

Senator Cook —That's rubbish.

Senator HILL —The youth unemployment rate has not dropped below 25 per cent, Senator Cook, in the last five years—your record. I remind you that social researcher Ann Harding found that 1.9 million Australians, approximately 11 per cent of the population including 592,000 children aged 14 and under, were living in poverty in May 1995, as measured by the Henderson poverty line.

I remind you also that according to World Bank figures Australia dropped from 10th to 22nd position between 1983 and 1993 on the level of per capita income. Those opposite are quietening down, I notice. I remind you also of the Business Council's report Living standards in decline, released in February this year, which says that real private household incomes fell by nine per cent between 1981-82 and 1993-94.

Senator Carr —The social wage is $195 a week.

Senator HILL —Do you want more statistics to tell you about how the gap between rich and poor grew? Under you, more became rich and the rich got richer, but more became poor—and the gap grew. There were fewer people in the middle—fewer earning a wage, which has been the basic strength of this country for many decades. That is your failure. The ABS data from 1984 to 1993-94 is that the bottom 20 per cent of households suffered over a 23 per cent loss in household income. Is that social justice?

It is not surprising that this government is determined not to make the same mistakes as those made in the past. It is determined to deliver better for the Australian people; better in terms of jobs and wages, and greater hope for the future. That is why we are prepared to tackle the hard issues on public expenditure, rather than continually adopting Labor's recipe of borrowing and taxing more, notwithstanding that there have been many consecutive periods of growth. The objective is to balance the books to ensure that national savings grow and private savings grow and to take pressure off the current account and interest rates, in order that business might grow and employ more Australians, and give them hope for the future.