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Wednesday, 14 May 1980
Page: 2193

Senator DURACK (Western AustraliaAttorneyGeneral) - Senator Button'sspeech on the topic he introduced today as a matter of public importance was long on rhetoric and rather short on facts and policy. Probably the reason for that came out at the end of his speech when he made it perfectly clear that the Opposition is preoccupied not so much with the creation of wealth- apparently it is happy for this Government, private enterprise and people with initiative in the community to create wealth- but with the distribution of it. He made that clear. What Senator Button has raised as a matter of public importance and what has been alleged by him and by the Opposition is as follows:

The failure of the Fraser Government to deal with high unemployment and the social consequences of technological change.

I want to deal with these matters separately because different questions arise although the matters are very closely associated. Senator Button spent most of his speech dealing with the allegation of the Government's failure to deal with high unemployment. He cited unemployment figures and at one stage I thought he mentioned that something like 500,000 people were unemployed. Perhaps that was just a figure given in general terms. The latest statistics- they are for April 1980- show that the number of unemployed persons looking for full time work was 339,300, or 6. I per cent of the full time labour force. The total number looking for work- that is, either full time or part time work- is 404,700. Strangely enough, that also represents 6.1 per cent of the labour force. These are the latest statistics provided by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. They show that the true situation is considerably better than that indicated by the figures that were bandied about by Senator Button in the course of his speech this afternoon. The Government has always acknowledged the seriousness of the rate of unemployment, the need for government, to adopt and pursue policies which try to contain and reduce unemployment, and- this is very important- the need to take steps to alleviate the positions of those who are, or who might become, unemployed.

This afternoon I propose to say a few words in relation to both those aspects of government policy. The Government agrees that there is a problem in dealing with unemployment. That matter has been debated in this chamber many times and I have said over and over again during numerous debates that the Government acknowledges the problems and the need to adopt policies in relation to them. The question is: What policies are to be adopted? The Government's policies deal with the economy generally. Its view has been that the problems of unemployment are not solved purely by artificial job creation schemes, which is apparently the only policy in that area that the Opposition now puts forward. Very high levels of unemployment occurred in Australia during the period that the Australian Labor Party was in government. After a long period of low unemployment- in fact, almost full employment for 20 or 30 years under Liberal-Country Party governmentsunemployment rates skyrocketed. At that time, that Government endeavoured to adopt the same job creation scheme policy that is now advocated. It was then known as the Regional Employment Development System. Yet, before it was defeated in 1975 the Labor Party abandoned the RED System. However, now it is back in opposition its only policy is the reintroduction of job creation schemes.

The Government's policy has been to get the economy straight by reducing the high levels of inflation, taxation and so on which had been imposed on the taxpayers. At the time this Government was elected the inflation rate was running at I 6 per cent or I 7 per cent. That rate has been reduced significantly. That factor is probably the major achievement in the Government's fight to deal with unemployment as well as the problems of the economy generally because until such time as we could get the inflation rate down to the level which it is now at- a level which compares more than favourably with a number of our major trading partners- there was no way in which the economy could be revived. Until the economy is revived there is no way in which new realistic jobs can be created.

Senator Buttonmade another fairly broad sweeping statement about the economy in which he mentioned that interest rates and the level of inflation were up. I think he probably meant there had been some very recent small movement upwards in inflation. But a very significant reduction in the level of inflation has occurred between 1975 and today. One very significant figure that Senator Button did not mention is the significant increase that has occurred in the total number of employed persons over the last 12 months. In the year to March 1980, the number has risen by 181,600 or 3 per cent. Similarly, as one would expect, there has been an increase in the total number of persons employed full time for that same period. Honourable senators can see from those clear, cold, hard statistics the effect of the Government's policies. The benefit in the creation of real jobs of the economic policies that we have been pursuing since we came into government in 1975 is now clearly visible. As I said, those figures clearly support that statement. That basically illustrates not the failure of the Government as has been alleged in this discussion but the success that the Government has had and is having in the creation of employment.

We agree that in the last I 2 months that has been the first sign of hope. It is a long haul to repair a virtually ruined economy as it was in 1975 but we are now seeing the fruits of those policies in that very long haul that we have been engaged in in repairing the economy. Honourable senators can see from those statistics I have given that there has been a creation of real jobs. This is only the beginning and that is what Mr Viner, my colleague the Minister for Employment and Youth Affairs, was trying to say. Apparently the argument was somewhat lost on the Opposition and Senator Button in particular. Mr Viner was trying to point out the future prospects for the creation of wealth. I am very pleased that Senator Button is acknowledging the importance of those policies which will encourage investment and development and thereby create wealth and jobs. It is not just a matter of creating wealth. It is a matter of distributing it. I think large numbers of people who are unemployed or potentially unemployable are looking not for a redistribution of that wealth or handouts which they may be getting as a result but for meaningful and satisfying jobs. The policy of the Government will create real and satisfying jobs. The jobs may not be created in the same place as historically has been the position.

I am sure that the governments and the people of Western Australia and Queensland, for example, where a great number of these jobs are created, would be surprised to learn from the Opposition that people would not be interested in going to those places where so much new employment is to be created. The fact of the matter is that the development that has occurred in Western Australia and in Queensland clearly has attracted a great influx of people from other parts of Australia resulting in the creation of new towns and new, thriving, and vigorous communities. The prospects for development, as I said, in these new areas are very great indeed. Senator Button alleged that Mr Viner had used multiplier figures which were the subject of rejection by all economists. I think that is what he said. But this is what Mr Viner said:

Let the economists argue and the commentators cavil at whether the 'multiplier' effect of jobs is 2, 4, 6, 8 or 10 the number directly created. One thing they cannot do is to deny the reality of such development in Kalgoorlie, the Pilbara, Mt Isa, Gove, Weipa, Broken Hill. I suggest a few of them visit these places and light industrial areas like those in my own electorate-

That is in the electorate of Stirling: which feed off resource developments.

There is not only the creation of the jobs in the mining areas themselves but also the flow-on effects in those industrial areas which, as he said, feed off the resource development. Experience has proven that jobs are created in all parts of Australia as well as in those specific places where the developments are taking place.

Let me refer to some of the programs that the Government has embarked on and some of the initiatives that it has taken to deal with the problems of the unemployed people. We have been talking in general terms about the Government's economic policies and the creation of new jobs. That is fundamental to tackling the problem. But at the same time the Government has recognised the problem of those who are unemployed and the Government has tried to assist the individual himself to obtain better skills and better motivation.

I shall mention also some of those programs in the short time remaining to me this afternoon in this discussion. When we came into government the National Employment and Training Scheme was restructured. It now gives a good deal more attention to on-the-job training. The Special Youth Employment and Training Program was introduced to deal with particular problems of the young who lacked qualifications, training or work experience. The Government created the new apprenticeship scheme known as the Commonwealth Rebate for Apprentice Full-time Training Scheme which extended assistance to the whole apprenticeship training period. We also introduced the Community Youth Support Scheme. We developed and we are in the process of developing pilot community youth programs. We have given much greater assistance to Aboriginal employment and training and of course we reformed the Commonwealth Employment Service. Recently the Government has embarked on the development of a comprehensive school to work transition program. With the support of the States, we are extending and diversifying the education and training opportunities available to young people and we are particularly seeking to add great vocational dimension to the education of young people. As far as that scheme is concerned, we are committed to a policy of providing $ I 50m over a five-year period.

Over the four and a half years that we have been in office more than $400m has been expended on these programs. Over 400,000 people have been assisted with training and work experience by these programs and these initiatives to which I have referred. The Government has not only expended large sums of money on these programs of work but also been particularly conscious of the problems involved. The foundation of the various reforms we have made is the result of the various inquiries that we have set up such as the Norgard inquiry into the Commonwealth Employment Service, the Crawford investigation on structural adjustment and the Williams inquiry on education and training.

I now come to the final point with which I need to deal in this matter of public importance. It referred to the failure of the Government to deal with the social consequences of technological change. Of course, the Government has introduced programs which are designed to assist people in the acquisition of new skills. They are designed to deal with the technological revolution which is taking place and with the technological age in which we are living. This Government has increased spending on technical and further education. That is one of the areas on which this Government has concentrated. All these measures are designed to deal with technological change. The Government has established yet another special committee. It is presided over by Professor Myers and is inquiring into technological change. That committee is dealing specifically with that subject. The Government, of course, is awaiting the report of that committee with interest. In relation to the reports that the Government has commissioned in these areas and to which I have referred it has a solid record of giving serious concern to and taking action in relation to such reports.

I believe the facts I have given and the implementation of government policies to which I have referred show that the Government's policies are working. I come back to the point that there has been a significant increase in the creation of real jobs. In the past 12 months there has been an increase of 181,000 in the number of persons employed which indicates that the Government's policies are working. They show signs of being more successful in the future. They show that there is no basis for the Opposition's allegations that there is a failure on the part of the Government to deal with high unemployment or to have regard for the social consequences of those who have suffered. The Government is tackling the major problem of job creation, wealth creation. It is attempting to alleviate the social problems of those who are unfortunate enough to suffer unemployment.

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