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Tuesday, 18 October 1983
Page: 1837


Mr MACPHEE(4.50) —There is a further element in the equation that was just mentioned by the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Willis) prior to the completion of his speech and that is that mentioned by the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) in his John Curtin Memorial Lecture-a reduction in the number of jobs available. That seems to be one of the objectives of the Government and that is one of the reasons underlying this matter of public importance. I remind the House that the matter of public importance does concern the Government's endorsement of high and rising unemployment as inevitable.

There are three types of evidence of that endorsement: First of all, there is the constructive criticism of the prices and incomes accord from its inception, which has been ignored by the Government and which was forecast to lead to higher levels of unemployment than would have been necessary had other action been taken by the Government than it was committed to in the accord. Secondly, there were warnings of a similar kind at the National Economic Summit Conference and there was the content of the John Curtin Lecture, which I shall return to in detail in a moment. Thirdly, there were statements by the Minister and other Ministers following the unemployment figures of last Thursday in which it was acknowledged that many people now not registered for employment but in the so- called hidden unemployed would seek to take the jobs which do become available, thereby leaving the unemployment figures unacceptably high. That is a statistical fact. It is one which the Government seemed to be using to explain away its failure to bring down unemployment.

On the fourth of this month the Opposition raised its first matter of public importance regarding unemployment. It took the view that the Government ought to have had some months in office before it moved a motion of this nature. But it is significant that the Minister, on that occasion, did not respond to the many evidences which I produced to support the assertions I have now made. It is interesting that today he has produced the raw figures for the last month rather than the seasonally adjusted figures, which, realistically, more than halved the picture of the jobs being created in that month. He did recognise the volatility of those figures, and so he might because the previous month, August, had a marked reduction in the growth of employment.

There is evidence of the endorsement of unemployment as being inevitable, and rising unemployment at that. It rests on the accord and the consequences of that accord which include especially the wages outcome, which is undoubtedly going to worsen unemployment. I cited some evidence of that in my previous speech and I will cite a little more today. The Minister today talked of getting back to the levels of employment and low unemployment as we experienced in the 1950s and 1960s. I point out that that is different from the Prime Minister's view in the Curtin Lecture. Again the Minister has side-stepped this today, just as he has continually side-stepped the Prime Minister's references at Geneva to the kibbutzes that he plans and which we know are very capital intensive. Instead the Minister explains the problems of the job market in much the way that I and other Ministers of the previous Government explained them.

But Labor in opposition continued to ignore those explanations, castigated the then Government in a constant and emotional manner and thereby created expectations, especially amongst young people, that they could find employment were there a change of government. The Government is intent on dashing those expectations by its commitment to the wages element of the accord, by its breach of the spirit of the accord by raising government charges, and by the defeatism which is evident in the Curtin Memorial Lecture where there is an emphasis on reducing jobs. It is quite evident that, while the Minister has praised the Government for its community employment program, as the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Peacock) said, the President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions does not share that optimism. I remind the House that on 10 May in answer to a question the Prime Minister said:

We believe . . . there is room for only minimal wage increases before the end of 1983 . . . on that basis there would be room for a return to indexation in 1984.

But a week later, on 17 May, the ACTU Executive met, rejected that statement and demanded full indexation in effect from the March quarter, which means from the commencement of this year. So one may argue that, within a week, while the Prime Minister still had ringing in his ears the statement by the Premier of New South Wales to the National Economic Summit Conference, 'We want jobs, jobs, jobs', we had the ACTU Executive saying, 'No, what we want is wages, wages, wages'. In effect, full indexation became evident from 1 January this year, not the early part of next year. We noticed also that while a great deal was claimed for the Summit-the Prime Minister made a ministerial statement in this House from which I quoted on 4 October-there was no follow-up to the Summit. There was an opportunity at the June Premiers Conference-there were many opportunities for the Government and the ACTU, the Government's partner in the accord-but no effort was made, so it seems, to follow up the words of the Prime Minister of 10 May in order to aid the unemployed.

I have mentioned the problem of hidden unemployed. This is particularly evident in the 15 to 19-year old group. Ten per cent of males and 12.4 per cent of females in this group are seeking employment. Of course, this will be compounded when the school leavers come on the market at the end of the year. I ask: Why should any employer, unless there is a desperate need to employ someone, take on any one additional employee, job subsidies and all, before February 1984? A 4.3 per cent wage increase, workers compensation, payroll tax and the 17 1/2 per cent-plus annual leave loading have to be paid to such a person, as well as another approximately 4 per cent increase which has been promised as a result of the September and December quarters.

Again, with the Premiers, what should the Government have done? At the very least it should have tried to free-up trading hours. But we know that at least two of the Premiers were committed to the right wing unions who seem to have- certainly in the retail area-vested interests in restricting shopping hours. That would have created employment, especially if accompanied by an approach to permanent part-time work which would mean that people would not be paid penalty rates for working outside standard hours but, provided they worked less than standard hours or no more than standard hours, they would get an hourly rate of pay and pro-rata emoluments and conditions in accordance with the award. This would, therefore, enable more people to work. We have a situation now in which people are denied jobs because those who are in jobs say they do not want to work outside certain hours. Therefore, the consumer suffers and others who might have stood to gain jobs suffer as well.

Again, the Premiers could have been asked, in the spirit of the accord, not to increase their charges. They have increased their charges not only at the expense of industry, which will therefore employ fewer people than it might have done, but also with the worsening of the consumer price index and therefore wage demands to keep up with the automatic adjustments brought about by the accord. This Government has also indexed excise. While that might have a number of economic merits from the Government's revenue point of view, it certainly has the fault of increasing the CPI when that is the automatic measure for increasing wages.

As is well known, we dispute that that is a relevant criterion for wage increases, but that is what the Government is committed to. All of that worsens employment prospects. The Government did not try to get the Premiers to remove State preferences; it did not in fact try to look at the economies of scale of Australian industry, which are greatly limited by the existence of State preferences; it did not look at the productivity impact or the lack thereof and the lack of jobs as a result of those parochial preferences; it did not ask the Premiers to refer some of their industrial powers to make more realistic the current responsibilities and powers of the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission; and it did not, as far as we can see, ask the Premiers to implement more effectively the job creation programs following the wages pause, or indeed the community employment program.

I remind the House of the question I asked on 4 October regarding the Prime Minister's address in the John Curtin Memorial Lecture. I quoted extensively from it then. I asked the Minister specific questions then and he did not answer those questions. We are very concerned that this Government is taking a defeatist role. It has in fact now resiled from its undertakings to return to full employment. The Sydney Morning Herald construes the Prime Minister's remarks as being that the Government has settled for 5 per cent unemployment being the equivalent of full employment. This is not good enough for us and not good enough for the people of Australia, especially our young people.