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Wednesday, 14 May 1980
Page: 2190

Senator BUTTON (Victoria) -The matter of public importance which the Opposition seeks to bring before the Senate today is the failure of the Government to deal with high unemployment and the social consequences of technological change. In part we are raising this matter of concern today because on 29 April this year the Minister for Employment and Youth Affairs, Mr Viner, tabled in the House of Representatives a statement which purported to deal with the question of employment and the prospects of employment in the future. That document was titled 'Challenges and Prospects for Employment in the 1980s'. One would have thought that with nearly 500,000 people unemployed in Australia that important document would have been brought into the Senate, but it was not. It has not been debated in the Senate. One can draw only two conclusions from that fact. Either the statement is not regarded as important enough- that is to say, the Government attaches so little importance to the question of employment that it thinks the statement is not fit to be debated in the Senate, which after all is the chamber which can sack governments- or, alternatively, the statement in itself is not worthy of debate. Either alternative is open. Either it is not an important issue in the mind of the Government or the statement is not worth debating. In either case it is an indictment of the document and of the Government's attitude to these questions.

I do not want to deal with the very dubious figures about unemployment levels which the

Minister has put forward; suffice to say that they have been queried by a number of expert authorities and are the subject of very much doubt. When I deal later with the costings mentioned in the Minister's statement of the Opposition's proposals in relation to employment one will see how doubtful all the figures must be regarded because one has the extraordinary situation of the Minister assessing the cost of the Opposition's proposals at something like three times what the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) assesses them at. It is quite an extraordinary document from that point of view. Need I remind the Senate that a number of Government spokesmen have made statements about unemployment since the Fraser Government was elected in December 1975. There has been a lot of talk, not much action and not much by way of results. The classic statement was made by the Prime Minister when, in the context of the 1977 election, in December 1977 he said:

Unemployment will fall from February next year and continue to fall.

Of course if he had been right, the statement brought down by Mr Viner need never have been made; nor the statement by Mr Street two years ago when as Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations he laid down the Government's 1978 blueprint to deal with employment. Now in 1980 we have a new blueprint for tackling unemployment which one must suspect will be no better than any of the other three or four we have had in the five years of this Government. We are left with very high levels of unemployment and particularly a critically high level of youth unemployment- the third highest level among Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries, exceeded only by Finland and Spain. What this Government persistently and callously ignores are the very disastrous social consequences of disillusionment, uncertainty, loss of self-esteem and so on, and, more particularly I suppose, a lack of sense of purpose which affects those who are victims of the present employment situation. In his statement in 1978 Mr Street mentioned some of those consequences when he said:

There are reports of some disillusionment, loss of morale and anti-social behaviour among young people.

I want to look very closely at the analysis of the statement made by Mr Viner on 29 April because that is presumably the current position of the Fraser Government, not only about employment now but also about employment prospects for the future. The Minister admitted that the same challenge exists now as existed in I 978. The then

Minister, Mr Street, put the challenge in these terms: . it would appear unlikely that more than 10 percent new employment will be generated in the manufacturing industry or that rural or mining industries will produce large numbers of additional jobs. The bulk of the new jobs will have to come from the services sector.

Mr Vinerhas sought in his more recent statement to qualify that remark of Mr Street's in several important ways which go to the heart of the Government's policy. First of all, he has claimed that since 1978 when the blueprint for dealing with unemployment was laid down by Mr Street the economy has improved. He has said that the economy is now healthy and vital. I do not know what are his indices for deciding that that is the case. All I know is that in 1980 compared with 1978 interest rates are up, inflation is up, unemployment is up and bankruptcies are up. The human beings who are affected by those factors, the unemployed, the businessmen, the home buyers and so on will have difficulty in accepting Mr Viner 's conclusion that the Australian economy is more healthy. There is a lot of room for debate about that conclusion.

According to the Government, the second reason why things changed is the development of what one might call the mining El Dorado thesis. In the interests of simplicity I will summarise the Government's statements on that thesis. It has said that enormous developments will take place in the Australian mining industry in the Northern Territory, Queensland and so on, and that those projects will develop wealth for Australia. That is perfectly true. The developments are desirable. The Opposition shares the view that they should take place. But it does not follow that more jobs will become available for Australians in any significant way. Senator Carrick in the Senate chooses the classic example of the Rundle development. In answers to questions he suggests that it will generate more jobs. When will it generate more jobs and how many will it generate? We were told 10 years ago that the development of the North West Shelf would generate a vast number of jobs. I do not see much evidence of that.

Before the 1977 election the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Anthony) told us that the uranium mining industry would generate 500,000 jobs in Australia. We do not see much evidence of that in 1980. The Minister for Industry and Commerce, Mr Lynch, always rubbery with figures, suggested in 1977 a vast list of mining enterprises which would solve the unemployment problems of Australia. We have heard all that stuff before. Yet in 1980 the Fraser Government talks about the development of the mining industry in Australia and suggests that it will provide jobs for Australians, particularly young Australians in Footscray in Melbourne and in the provincial towns of Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia and so on where youth unemployment is high. It suggests that developments in the mining industry will generate jobs for people in those places. When we ask for examples of what is happening we are told all the time about the Rundle development and a mythical new figure is lumbered into the employment debate as the cure-all for the unemployment problems. The Mining El Dorado thesis is quite contrary to what Mr Street, a very honest Minister who was probably sacked for his honesty, was able to say two years ago. Of course, the mining industry will not be a large generator of employment in the immediate future. The employment will not be in the right places and it will not occur for at least five or 10 years, particularly at places such as Rundle.

Let us look at the defects in the Government's position in the whole employment argument as revealed by Mr Viner. Firstly, when will all this employment occur? We heard many promises before in 1975 and 1977. The Prime Minister said in 1977 that the problem would go away. When will the problem go away? Where will the jobs be generated? Will they be generated in relevant areas? More importantly, what will happen in the meantime? What will happen to the thousands of young people who, even if the El Dorado in the mining industry comes about, will by that time be mature adults? What will happen to the social problems which face them in the meantime? The Minister in his statement argued that the education system was partly responsible for unemployment as well as junior wage rates and things of that kind. Members of the Minister's Department who are better informed in these matters know quite well that those arguments are not very well sustained. More importantly, the Government's own committee of inquiry, the Williams Committee on Education and Training, made the very clear and simply put comment, which this Government studiously ignores, that youth unemployment is the result of there being no jobs. It is silly to blame junior wage rates and the other things which are chosen as scapegoats by the present Government.

Another defect in the Minister's statement was his extraordinary figures on job multipliers as a result of developments in the mining industry. I do not have to go into them in detail. Many commentators were absolutely stunned by the Minister's vast imagination in suggesting the multiplier factors that would create jobs as a result of investment in the mining industry. The Minister for Employment and Youth Affairs stands alone if for nothing else as a man who, like Hotspur, can generate figures out of his head on job multipliers as a result of mineral investments. Those figures have been a matter of public discussion. Another important omission in this Government's policy has been in grappling with the question of technological change in a statement on employment. The Myers Committee was appointed to examine the effects of technological change in Australia. Like every other Committee that this Government has appointed to sweep problems under the carpet, the Myers Committee is, in a sense, doing the same thing. We have had numerous committees of that kind.

Examples of the effect of technology on employment are now clearly available. A major bank four years ago engaged 2,500 junior employees, mostly girls, each year. In 1979 it engaged 600. The Australian Bureau of Statistics employment figures for the clerical industry division show a reduction in employment in the clerical industry between 1976 and 1979 of 25 per cent. Those figures are very much consistent with overseas figures on the same industry. In the House of Representatives on numerous occasions my colleague the honourable member for Lalor (Mr Barry Jones) has raised important questions of the impact of technology on society and, more particularly, on young people. He has referred on many occasions to the French Nora report, which drew similar conclusions. Mr Street in his statement in 1978 adverted to this question in a much more frank way than Mr Viner is prepared to advert to it in I 980 for the simple reason that the Government has very little grasp of this issue.

Not only is there a need for Government direction and guidelines on technological change but also there is a need for data. When I asked a question in the Senate a year ago about what information the Government kept about the introduction of computers in Australia the answer was none. The Government said that we do not keep any information about that. Computers are assessed like socks, bits of machinery of other kinds and anything else that comes in from abroad. We keep trade statistics but we have no real information about the impact of computers in Australia. That is a real indictment of the Government's planning and lack of foresight in considering the important matter of technological change.

We need to distinguish between what is useful technology in the social sense and what is dictated to us by the technological imperative that the thing is there and therefore we have to use it without thought of the social consequences. The computer industry is already pressing banks for cash dispensers on every street corner in Australia. Is that a socially necessary device? Do we need it as a society or do we have the capacity to assess its social implications in terms of employment and so on? I think we have all got by pretty well for quite a few years without that facility; I think we can do so again when we think of the consequences in terms of jobs.

In relation to employment the Fraser Government has embarked on a philosophy of despair and hopelessness. It is content to leave the issue, to hope that it will go away, and to create these myths about the consequences of development in the mining industry at some time in the future. That is of no comfort to young Australians who are unemployed now. It is of no comfort to Australians who are unemployed to be told that something good might happen five or 10 years hence- if the people are idiotic enough to re-elect Malcolm Fraser at the election this year. To be told that sort of thing is an insult to many Australian citizens. That is what the Government is saying in this statement. Of course, the Opposition supports the development of the mining industry. But let us be honest about the jobs consequences of that development. The Opposition supports it because it creates wealth, and the important debate is how that wealth is distributed, not only in social terms but also in terms of the creation of new and viable industries in this country- many of which will be based on technology- which will be permanent employers of people. That is the important argument which the Government fails to deal with in the statement made by Mr Viner.

In the meantime, what is to be done? Cannot we, as a society, do something for the 480,000-odd unemployed, particularly the young people? When the Opposition puts up a program to create 200,000 jobs as a short term measure, the Government says: 'Yes, but they are not real jobs; they are artificial jobs'. They are not artificial to those who are unemployed now and who would be given something to do. They are not artificial in social terms. Of course, when the Opposition puts up a program for the creation of jobs in community service and public works projects for adults and a program offering incentives to business to create new jobs, the Government says: 'Well, this will cost an enormous amount of money and really we haven't got that sort of money to spend in a society like Australia'. Mr Viner said that the Australian Labor Party's proposals would cost about $800m. The Prime Minister said they would cost half as much as that. Who will believe the Government's costings of programs when its members disagree amongst themselves to the extent of such an enormous amount?

One sees the absurdity of a ministerial statement which goes out of its way to say that any effort by way of short term endeavour to create jobs, particularly for young Australians, is too expensive for our society. Tell that to, for example, President Carter. The Prime Minister says that job creation programs have never worked anywhere. President Carter has spent $6 billion on them in the last four years. Every country in Europe is spending significant amounts of money on youth employment programs. Sweden, Germany, the other Scandinavian countries and Holland and so on are prepared to spend money because they recognise the social importance of so doing. It is only in Australia that that is not done because the Fraser Government's priorities are not concerned with the people of this country- particularly the young people- who are unemployed. It is only the Fraser Government, in Australia, which is capable of adopting this unique posture, of saying that those things do not matter, and it condemns any political party that says they do because, it is not really concerned with real jobs. There should be more debate in the Senate about this sort of phoney analysis which the Fraser Government again is putting forward in relation to jobs. I hope Senator Ryan will deal with that matter in her contribution to the debate.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Young)- Order! The honourable senator's time has expired.

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