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Wednesday, 20 August 1980
Page: 510

Mr YOUNG (Port Adelaide) - Mr Deputy Speaker,some consideration went into the framing of the matter of public importance before the House, which states:

The failure of the Government to recognise the need for Government sponsored job creation programs.

Some 2,000 years ago a certain person washed his hands of any responsibility for an incident that was to occur a little later on. In the case of unemployment in Australia, the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) and this Government indicated to Australia as late as last night that they have now washed their hands of the problem of the unemployed in this country. I emphasise these words the need for Government sponsored job creation programs'. It is now almost five years since the honourable member for Wannon became Prime Minister of this country. In all those years we have been told that all we had to do was wait for this Government's economic management to work, wait for inflation to be reduced, wait for interest rates to be reduced, wait for our industry to become more internationally competitive, and everybody would have jobs. In fact, on no fewer than three occasions the Prime Minister has promised full employment. If I may quote him, he has said: 'Under the Liberals, there will be jobs for all those who want to go to work'. In November 1978 the Prime Minister said: 'In February of 1979, unemployment will start to drop and from then on will be less and less in Australia'.

I wish to emphasise that we on this side of the House see unemployment as a top priority and a top responsibility for any government in this country. We do not believe that one can govern for 90 per cent of the people and hope to forget about the problems of the other 10 per cent who are carrying the burden of not being furnished with employment in our society. The Labor Party is not prepared to have policies which totally ignore those people. Incidentally, the figure is a lot higher than 10 per cent. We talk about 6 per cent unemployment, but when the families of those concerned are considered then we are talking about a lot more than 10 per cent of the population. We are talking not just about the unemployed but about the mentality that is being imposed on many young people who are studying very hard, wondering whether they will be able to find employment when they leave school. Young people are being encouraged to leave school early because getting a job is more important than finishing their education. They are leaving school when they should be continuing their education. People are being put out of work because of technological changes.

In spite of everything the Government has said about the provision of employment in Australia, every day during the period in which the honourable member for Wannon has been Prime Minister an additional 1 1 1 people have been put out of work. Since he became Prime Minister an additional 162,000 people have become unemployed. We are now talking about a registered total of 400,000 people who are out of work. Today we do not have even the rhetoric we have had over the years from the Prime Minister and the various employment Ministers about what they will do, their solutions to unemployment, their care for the unemployed, and the way in which they are attacking the problems. As I said earlier, this Government has washed its hands of the problem. It has been made very clear to everybody who has to vote in a few weeks time just who they should vote for after considering the problem of unemployment. If they vote for the Liberal and National Country parties, they are assured by the statements made as late as last night by the Treasurer (Mr Howard) that nothing will be done to reduce to less than 400,000 the number of people in Australia who are registered as unemployed, Those people should look at the proposals that have been put forward by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Hayden) and myself, which state that the Government does have a responsibility to the young, the middle aged and the elderly to try to keep them in employment.

There is a very clear alternative as far as the voters of Australia are concerned, not only on this issue but also on many other issues, in the lead-up to the election. The argument is whether there is a need in Australia for a government to intervene in this area. Should a government with the vast resources of the Federal Government intervene to assist the unemployed? There is no doubt at all on our side of politics. Of course the Government should intervene. Of course it should have some responsibility to do something about unemployment. I remind the House that when this Government was coming to power at the end of 1975 it made certain promises about unemployment to the people of Australia. It said that it had a five point plan to fight for the jobless, and this was when the unemployment figure was only 240,000 and not 400,000, as it is today.

Let me tell honourable members what the then Opposition, the Liberal and National Country parties, promised the people of Australia in those days. It promised the retraining of workers whose skills were no longer needed; retention of the regional employment scheme; relocation of workers unable to find jobs to suit their skills and financial aid to them at such a time; local government-run employment schemes in areas of high unemployment where no mass employment opportunities existed; and better access to job information. It is a different story for those parties when they are in Opposition. They make all sorts of promises.

One of the features of this Government which has not gone unnoticed by Australia's newspapers, and in fact many of them have printed supplements about it, is the Government's broken promises. In order to achieve power it said that it would do all these things, but there has been absolutely no attempt in the nearly five years it has been in government to treat unemployment as a serious problem. As I said earlier, this Government has washed its hands of the problem. It does not intend to do anything about unemployment, and it is left to the Australian Labor Party to raise the issue and ask everybody in Australia to think seriously about it. If we continue on any longer with the policies of this Government we will be talking not about 400,000 unemployed but about 500,000 or 600,000 unemployed. At the moment, the only figures we have are those that are caught up in the net of the Australian Bureau of Statistics or compiled from the numbers of people who, despite not receiving unemployment benefits, are prepared to register with the Commonwealth Employment Service. We know that approximately 400,000 people are unemployed. In addition, many old people have dropped out of the work force because they find it impossible to get employment. The Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research estimates that there are 300,000 hidden unemployed. That Institute does not say that 400,000 people are out of work, it says that 700,000 people are out of work.

Let us consider the way in which the ratio of people out of work to vacancies has grown. In 1980 there were 24 registered unemployed for every vacancy; four years ago there were 14 such people. It is much tougher today to find a job than it was four years ago. There are 38 young Australians out of work throughout this country for every job vacancy. The enormity of the job crisis for the unskilled is staggering, with 79 adult unskilled manual workers competing for every vacancy- 79 unskilled people in this country for every job available for them. Unless the Government does something, those people are doomed to permanent unemployment. Nothing other than

Government sponsored job creation will get them into work.

The other issue which must be considered is the duration for which these people are unemployed, because that also has changed drastically. The average duration for which people in Australia are unemployed at the moment is 29 weeks. Four years ago it was 17 weeks. The average duration for 15-year-olds to 19-year-olds has gone from 18 weeks to 24 weeks. It has gone from 27 weeks to 38 weeks for those 55 years old and over. Honourable members can rest asssured that many of the people in the group where the average duration of unemployment is now 38 weeks will never work again. This Government does not care about that. This Government has told Australia that it does not care what happens to the people who are unemployed. We have been told by government authorities that 1,100,000 people- 300,000 more than in 1976 - suffered the degradation of unemployment during 1979. More people are being affected by unemployment. More people are unemployed for a longer period. This affects every area of Australia- the major cities, the provincial towns and the smaller country towns. No matter where one goes, one finds people who are unemployed.

We have been told by the Government that, by reducing inflation, the private sector will take over and employ all the people who require jobs in Australia. An examination of that theory shows that, in spite of the fact that the Goverment pumped $2.5 billion of the taxpayers money into private industry in the last four years, fewer people are employed in private industry in Australia today than were employed four years ago. It is of no use believing what one is told by this Government. If the situation were not so serious it would be laughable to continue to believe what this Government says about putting people back to work.

The climax of this Government's performance on unemployment was reached last night. One can look through all the statements which are attached to the Budget but one will not find one word of rhetoric which tells us that the Government intends to do anything about unemployment. We saw and heard the Treasurer (Mr Howard) on television and radio. We heard the Prime Minister on radio this morning. The fact is that this Government is trying to condition the people of Australia into believing that nothing at all can be done. The Opposition is asking the people of Australia to think very seriously about this issue before they vote. The Opposition will spend money to create jobs right throughout Australia. At least 100,000 Australians will be employed under programs which the Opposition, if elected, would put into operation instantly.

The Government is spending more than $1 billion of the taxpayers money on unemployment benefit. Everybody who goes to work has to pay $180 in tax so that this Government can pay out unemployment benefit. The Government spends $1 billion on that but it will not spend one cent on finding a job for any person of any age, sex or colour in this country.

The Labor Party is committed to governmentsponsored job creation programs because it understands the need of the families and the social need of the community. The purchasing power that would go back to these people would assist lots of other people to find employment. The Opposition would prefer someone to have the dignity of a job than to suffer the loss of dignity by having to pick up an employment benefit cheque in the post every couple of weeks.

A sea of difference exists between the humane attitude that the Opposition is taking and the attitude that this Government is taking. I understand clearly the attitude this Government is taking. It is doing so because it is led by a man of great privilege and of great wealth who does not understand how families have to live in this country and who does not understand what it is like to be unemployed and to try to live on $150 or $200 per week. He has never experienced any of those things. He does not have any relationship at all with the average family in this country, so how can one expect him to take some sort of charitable attitude to the tens of thousands of fellow Australians upon whom a great burden has been placed and who have been told that they cannot be supplied with work? Unemployment will be an issue for debate between now and the election. I hope that the tens of thousands of Australians whom I know are concerned about the issue- just as concerned as the Opposition - will join the Opposition and vote for a policy of job creation sponsored by the government.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Millar)Order!The honourable member's time has expired.

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