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Tuesday, 10 September 1996
Page: 3149


Senator TIERNEY(5.01 p.m.) —I rise to speak on the matter of public importance moved by the opposition. I listened to Senator Chris Evans with some amazement, because I know the reality of what the Labor government did when it was in office. Certainly, it did set targets. It set a target of five per cent unemployment by the year 2000. Well, everyone knows that is not achievable. It is fine to set targets, but you are just never going to achieve them. You will never achieve them, so what is the point of setting them. You are just fooling people.

Senator Evans mentioned the programs the Labor Party set up when in government. You had programs all right—boy, did you have programs. Just ask the unemployed about the programs. They would do a program, and they would not get a job. They would then do another program, and they would not get a job. They would then do another program, and they would still not get a job.

Working Nation was a failure. It was supposed to make people job ready. It gave the unemployed some training but, because the fundamentals of your economy were wrong, you could never actually provide them with jobs. What this Howard government is doing is getting the fundamentals of the economy right so that jobs can be created, and that surely is the object of the exercise—not to churn people through dole queues but to create real jobs at the end of the day.

I am amazed at the wording in the matter of public importance motion, namely:

The Government's abrogation of its responsibilities to the unemployed.

I reckon that is a pretty good description of 13 years of Labor government—not the Liberal government. Look at the unemployment rate you left this country with. After each recession, it ratcheted up to another level. Since 1983 the record of the previous Labor government was rising levels of overall unemployment, rising levels of youth unemployment and rising levels of long-term unemployment. That is the bottom line. That is the thing you have to judge the previous Labor government on.

What did the Labor government actually achieve at the end of the day? With all that money, with all those programs and with all those targets, what did they do at the end of the day? What they did was leave a larger pool of unemployment. The greatest tragedy of all is that in that pool was youth unemployment.

In 1986, we had 25 per cent youth unemployment. What was it when the Labor government went out of power? Youth unemployment finished at 29 per cent—an absolute national disgrace. Long-term unemployment increased to a third of all people unemployed and, in regional Australia, the unemployment rate for some youth was rising as high as 50 per cent. That is the legacy of the last Labor government.

In 1994, the government came up with this brilliant new system for fixing this, and it was called Working Nation. What a joke! What an insult to the unemployed people in Australia to call that program Working Nation. It should have been called `Not Working Nation'. The program that was set up to make people job ready created a lot of red tape and it did not link training to real jobs. So, like many other Labor programs, it failed. All it did was churn the job queue. It left a very large pool of hidden unemployed by redefining people out of the employment system.

If you take into account the hidden unemployed in this country—the people who are getting only a few hours work but would like to work full time—the unemployment figure of 8½ per cent could more or less be doubled. There are figures around that show that, when this Labor government left power, the unemployment rate was closer to 18 per cent. Then, of course, we had the people who had given up totally on getting a job and were not seeking work at all. If you want to look at the real unemployment rate as a legacy of the previous government, 20 per cent is much closer to the mark.

The previous government had a lot to show in terms of what they were doing in this area. They had a marvellous program in Working Nation! It sounded good. In 1995-96 they were going to spend $850 million on it. That sounded terrific, too. But, of course, they spent most of that money on three of the worst performing programs of the lot, and one of them was new work opportunities. For every job that was created and actually lasted some time, the government spent $100,000. What a terrible waste of public money. What a terrible thing to do to these people. They were churned through what were largely useless programs that were not producing jobs at the end of the day.

The approach of this government is to get the economic settings right so that we do get real jobs created in our economy. This is done by balancing the budget. We have made huge strides in this budget to bring that about. The confidence that is coming back into the economy because of that is already obvious. The most obvious sign is the lowering of interest rates. That puts real money back into people's pockets and actually creates spending, which actually goes on to create jobs. Lower interest rates also release business investment, which then goes on to create further real jobs.

The private sector is the engine room of growth. You could solve unemployment in this economy very easily if every small business in the country puts on one more person. There are 900,000 small businesses in Australia, and that is about our level of unemployment. If they would each put on one more we would solve the problem. How do you get them to put on one more? You give them greater incentives through the economy. We are doing that through such things as balancing the budget, getting interest rates down and getting rid of rules that the Labor government brought in, like the so-called unfair dismissal laws that stop small businesses employing people.

Finally, we have to get that great engine room of growth—small business—working by proper micro-economic reform, through reforming telecommunications, through reforming the ports and actually lowering costs to business. This Liberal government is doing that. We are putting those programs in place. That will actually create the real jobs that this economy needs and get away from this facade that was put up by the last Labor government where they were really just pretending to solve the problem, not really creating real jobs.