Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard   

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Tuesday, 10 September 1996
Page: 3143

Senator STOTT DESPOJA(4.33 p.m.) —I rise on behalf of the Democrats to express not only our concern about the budget measures that we believe do very little to increase employment opportunities for people—specifically young people—in this country, but also our outrage at the way that young people, young unemployed people and unemployed people generally, are being targeted and slugged by this government. They are being penalised and victimised.

In the measures that were announced in the budget a few weeks ago we found that those people who were seeking work, those people who were actively looking for work, have found that the criteria and the penalties applied to them will be tightened. Despite the rhetoric that we have heard in the chamber—including a lovely speech that Senator Vanstone gave in question time today about how it was hoped that young people would have an optimistic future in this country—we have seen very little vision or articulation of a strategy by this government to address unemployment and the various social and other economic problems that are associated with it.

Last week came an interesting, I thought, announcement or concession by the minister. She acknowledged that her government's policies would not necessarily improve the chances of employment in this country. She actually said that long-term employment levels could in fact rise and that it was theoretically possible that unemployment would be up to 8.5 per cent by the end of this decade. What a terrible truth for this government to have to admit. Does that not prove that even their own analyses and their own budget measures and proposals will continue to fail and will hit hardest at unemployed people in this country.

We have seen in this budget major cutbacks to areas that actually generate and support employment opportunities in this country. We have seen cuts to research and development. We have seen cuts to DIFF. We have seen a whole litany of election promises broken, whether it was the scrapping of DIFF or the export and research intensive industries scheme. The promises to retain the book bounty and the computer bounty have been broken.

Senator West —What's happened to that?

Senator STOTT DESPOJA —I think it has been completely scrapped, Senator West. In the case of the computer bounty, they promised to retain it until 2000 but that has been scrapped. We are actually looking at a budget that reduces employment opportunities that are already there—the very measures that were introduced to strengthen and support Australian industries—at a time when this government has decided it will veer away from interventionist strategies and leave our Australian industries at their most vulnerable as a result of absolutely huge tariff slashes. The very measures that were designed to prop up, support and generate competition within our own Australian business and industry sector have been cut and scrapped in this particular budget.

Senator Vanstone referred to labour market programs. This is one of the sorriest aspects of this budget. There will be $1.7 billion worth of cuts over four years. It does not matter how the minister tries to dress up those figures. That is an outrage. There will be a 35 per cent slash in places for labour market programs.

The government has now put its faith in some zeal to reform the industrial relations sector and to introduce—

Senator McGauran interjecting

Senator STOTT DESPOJA —Public support! Senator McGauran, there is no public support for cutting job opportunities in this country. The only justification we have had from the minister for these massive cuts to labour market programs is that Working Nation was not working well enough and that they have tried to salvage the best aspects from Working Nation, the good aspects from Working Nation.

It is a debate that should generate excitement because the fact that this government has completely abrogated its responsibility to unemployed people in this country is an absolute outrage and cuts to labour market programs are indicative of that fact. The massive slashes that have been made to labour market programs show that this government is not adhering to its pre-election promise that it will provide opportunities for people in this country who are unemployed, particularly the long-term unemployed.

Let us look at some of the programs. REEP and LEAP were programs that were going to provide jobs for 25,000 unemployed people and have been replaced by what? Like a puff of smoke, they have been replaced by the green corps.

Senator West —Disappeared, gone!

Senator STOTT DESPOJA —As an Australian Democrat, I have a commitment to the environment, environmental clean-up projects and sustainable industries, which is something this government waxes lyrical about but does not seem to understand. Three and a half thousand places do not replace 25,000 places over one year. What about the pre-election promises that they broke there? What was the funding commitment? I think they promised $68 million over three years and a scheme that would look after 17- to 25-year-olds. What have we got? Around $41 million and 17- to 20-year-olds only. Is it looking after unemployed people? No, it is not because you have to be selected for the green corps on the basis of merit.

What about people who are falling through the net? What about those short-term, long-term, unskilled, low-skilled people who are being forced into a cycle of poverty? This government fails to address that question. Once these people reach poverty and desperation levels, what does the government do? They introduce a `dob in a dole bludger' hotline. They introduce new measures for victimising and penalising the people who are out there solidly looking for work.

Senator Newman will go down in history as the woman who has given `Dear Diary' a bad name, thanks to her introduction of the job seeker diary. Again, this is a measure designed to recoup money from those people who are already hardest hit. What evidence has been provided that the employer contact unit—dubbed the `dob in a dole bludger' unit—or the job seeker diary will provide new employment opportunities? None. We put a question to the minister and she was unable to provide any statistics to show that the pilot hotline that was introduced in Tasmania had resulted in anyone having their benefits cancelled because they were allegedly defrauding the system. What it does do, apart from add to the administrative and bureaucratic elements of the department, is further penalise young and unemployed people.

I noticed earlier in this debate that Senator Vanstone said she was taking the best bits out of the Working Nation program. For a long time Democrats have expressed concerns about the unfunded nature of the former government's Working Nation program. We know how important targeted and appropriately funded labour market programs are. Unfortunately, the former government did not appropriately fund those labour market programs, just as the government is now seeking to slash them terribly.

One question I do have is about the new enterprise initiative scheme which, by the government's own justification or measures of what is a good scheme, is a highly successful one. Slashing the new enterprise initiative scheme by 17 per cent makes no sense. Why would you cut a program committed to creating real jobs which has consistently produced positive outcomes of close to 82 per cent? I think that means that 82 per cent of people have found unsubsidised employment after they have been through the new enterprise incentive scheme. Why is Senator Vanstone advocating that the worst parts of Working Nation should go when, in actual fact, they are taking both the best and the worst bits out? The abolition of the CES is extraordinary. Their replacement with one- stop shops and some kind of tendered labour market or placement program is an extraordinary social and economic experiment.

Senator McGauran —How would you balance the budget?

Senator STOTT DESPOJA —I will tell you about balancing budgets. Through you, Mr Acting Deputy President, I will talk about deficits. The Democrats have been committed to a deficit reduction program, but we are also committed to factoring in environmental and social deficits because we treat people not simply as statistics and figures. We recognise that behind the people who are searching for jobs and applying successfully and unsuccessfully for labour market programs are people's lives and livelihoods. Slashing 35 per cent of places means that fewer people are going to have access to skill development and career opportunities and will get locked into poverty cycles that we should all condemn.

The senators on the other side of the chamber who seem to find it amusing that they can throw rhetoric around like `budgets' and `deficits' should realise that there is a human capital cost here. We should be worrying about the impact on people's lives. Labour market programs assist people, not only economically and in a skill sense but also they add to people's self-esteem and opportunities, to their lot in life. I think this government is overlooking that particular fact. Unemployment is currently at 8.5 per cent. We had a concession last week by the minister that it will stay at that level. That is a shamefully high figure. (Time expired)