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Wednesday, 26 April 1972
Page: 1979

Mr CREAN (MELBOURNE PORTS, VICTORIA) - I address my question to the Minister for Labour and National Service. He will be aware that statistics are published concerning what is called the labour force and the relationship which the civilian population aged 15 years and over - the potential labour force - bears to the actual labour force. I ask: Is he aware that according to the latest issue of these statistics published early this year and giving the position at August 1971, the time of the disastrous Budget, what the Commonwealth Statistician calls the 'participation rate' in the labour force has declined in respect of both males and females and that on a seasonally adjusted basis these trends ought to have been evident from the beginning of 1971? Does the Minister agree that these trends are still continuing and are confirmed in the latest issue of 'Employed Wage and Salary Earners' which shows that from February 1971 to February 1972 total employment grew by only 27,000 despite a potential growth in the labour force of nearly 200,000? Does he believe that there is anything to indicate a lessening of the disposition of males and females to seek gainful and socially productive employment or has there been a lessening of the absorptive capacity of the economy for total employment? Finally, if the latter is the case, why does he not persuade his colleagues the Prime Minister and the Treasurer to call a high level conference of representatives of labour and industry to discuss what appear to be significant structural problems in the economy?

Mr SPEAKER - Order! Questions asked and some of the answers given today have been far too long. I ask honourable members to co-operate if they expect Ministers to give shorter answers. Some of the questions that have been asked today would have been much more suitably placed on the notice paper. In any event I ask for the co-operation of honourable members in shortening their questions and I ask the same of Ministers in relation to their answers.

Mr LYNCH - -It is certainly true, as the honourable gentleman suggested, that there has been a slowing down in the rate of increase in total civilian employment during the period of which he spoke, and particularly in recent months. But this is in part due to a fall off in the migrant component. To the extent to which at the same time it represents a reflection of the general economic situation, the honourable gentlemen is well aware that the Government understands the position entirely and that action has been taken. Recently, as the honourable gentleman will recall, and certainly in the announcements which were made at the time of the Premiers Conference, the Government has made it clear that it is confident of an improvement in the rate of growth in employment in the months ahead. I believe that that will be substantiated. Of course there are necessary time lags which must follow the introduction of the various diverse initiatives which the Government has taken.

The honourable gentleman has often stated that there is a deep seated structural problem in the Australian community. The Government rejects that statement. There are structural problems and there have been for some time, but they are far less serious than the honourable gentleman suggests and they are far less serious than those in most other countries. The Government has taken 2 approaches to the structural imbalance in the labour force. I will not refer in detail to other statements I have made. In the short term, in the first place a number of retraining programmes have been introduced. In the second place, the Commonwealth Employment Service has been geared to deal with the uneven geographical spread of employment opportunities. Thirdly, the various grants which are made by the Commonwealth take on board the question of structural imbalance. The Government has under examination a series of manpower policies which will seek to look at the problem in the long term. But the Government does not believe that at the present time there is any deep structural problem in the economy.

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