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Tuesday, 10 September 1996
Page: 3146

Senator McGAURAN(4.48 p.m.) —Of all the issues that the opposition can bring forward for debate in this chamber, it is the unemployment issue on which its record was most spoiled when they were in government. They have got more to hide in this debate than they have to say. I think Senator West's contribution proved that. Senator Bolkus, who led the debate on this matter of public importance, left the chamber bereft of a case. Whatever case he did state, he did so with a lack of enthusiasm. He seemed to have a touch of the virus that is going around, which the member for Holt (Mr Gareth Evans) has—a lack of interest in his shadow portfolio. He was followed by Senator West—that is when the debate by the opposition really fell away—the senator who could have been the Deputy President. Senator West quoted the Prime Minister (Mr Howard) at the Press Club. She quoted him quite—

Senator West interjecting

Senator McGAURAN —I know they are very sensitive points for you, Senator West. She quite correctly quoted the Prime Minister at the Press Club, that he would be disappointed if we could not make inroads into the unemployment rate in this country. We will be judged, like you were, on our achievements on unemployment. We have a strategy before the parliament in our budget, in our industrial relations program and in our privatisation program. If you would only let that strategy through, as has been approved by the people of Australia right until this very date, as the polls show, we will be able to get on our way and produce a policy that does make inroads into the unemployment rate in this country.

You had the privilege of being in government for 13 years. You allowed the unemployment rate at every turn to ratchet up—almost in collusion with the debt that you ratcheted up over those 13 years—until it reached that peak point in about 1991 when one million Australians were unemployed. You left office with what you considered an improvement, an unemployment rate of 8.5 per cent, or around about the 800,000 mark, and youth unemployment was at a record rate of 28 per cent.

We all know that those official figures can be doubled because of the underemployment rate and those who have given up looking for employment. So you can probably double those figures at the time you left office. If that is our record after 13 years in government, I will gladly pack my bags and give the job to another. Your response, as it was once put so succinctly, was to repackage, re-badge, refund, rework and re-market all the programs, to absolutely no effect at all. You even reworked the statistics and the definition of long-term unemployment just to get an ever so slight marginal improvement. That is a cruel hoax on the real unemployed in this country.

To show that you have not learnt your lesson after 13 years in government, you will be nominating Mr George Campbell for the position of New South Wales senator to replace that very compassionate senator, Senator Childs, in 1997. George Campbell is a former unionist who will be taking his seat in this parliament next year. He is the man Paul Keating, the former Prime Minister, accused of having over 100,000 Australian unemployed around his neck. He is the man you have just preselected for the position of New South Wales senator. The only advice I can give you is that, if George Campbell, when he becomes a senator, ever has the chance to speak on unemployment in this chamber, you should make it a non-broadcast time. We are on broadcast time today—just keep that in mind.

Senator Stott Despoja, in her ever fluent manner, mentioned that this government has overlooked the human cost of unemployment. Quite frankly, it was not until Senator Tierney, who is to follow me in this particular debate and who was the chairman of the Senator Employment, Education and Training References Committee, handed down an excellent report into long-term unemployment in October 1995 that the human face was driven home to the previous government—the sort of social and economic cost that was being borne by the unemployed.

I recommend the opposition go back and read Senator Tierney's fine report, handed down in October 1995. That is when the social costs were really put together for the previous government. That is when he put down on paper in a report the high social cost of unemployment—the lack and loss of individual esteem, the cost to family unity, the cost to family welfare and the cost even to neighbourhoods and their services. Absolute poverty is usually driven by unemployment and that is the legacy the former government left us where the gap between the rich and poor was widened.

The single most important desire for Australians—and this is known by all—is to have the ability and the chance to get a job. It is for obvious economic and social reasons that the effects of employment have a cascading effect, especially on self-esteem. With all the ex-unionists across the chamber there, in particular Senator Murphy, you would have thought that he and the others would have had something to say when the most important jobs were falling over when they were in government, jobs such as in the timber and mining industries.

I recognise my Senate leader, Senator Boswell, in the chamber. He knows better than anyone that most absurd, humiliating and ridiculous program that was implemented in Ravenshoe. They just about shut down the whole town in Ravenshoe on the altar of the Green movement. They shut down good working class jobs. They basically shut down the whole town of Ravenshoe. What was their alternative? It was to introduce an absurd training program to turn these timber workers into waiters and porters of the tourist industry. That was an absurd attempt where politics overplayed the human face of unemployment. You hung those old Labor workers and unionists out to dry.

Our government's approach is program driven for results. If only you allow our budget through, if only you allow the industrial relations bill and our privatisation program through, we will be able to make inroads into unemployment. We will be judged by it.