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Thursday, 10 March 2005
Page: 63

Senator DENMAN (2:36 PM) —My question is to Senator Abetz, the Minister representing the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations. Before I ask the question, I declare I have a conflict of interest. I refer the minister to the Prime Minister’s Community Business Partnership committee’s report on increasing mature age employment in Australia, received by the Prime Minister in the middle of last year. Given the Prime Minister’s statement that this committee would advise the government on the important issue of mature age employment, why is it that its report has still not been released many months after finalisation? Isn’t it the case that the Howard government has failed as yet to act on any of the committee’s recommendations? Why does the Howard government regard mature age unemployment as such a low priority?

Senator ABETZ (Special Minister of State) —I have no idea why Senator Denman might suggest that she has a conflict of interest in this. If she had been asking about youth unemployment today, she might have been able to assert a conflict of interest. In relation to the Prime Minister’s report, I simply repeat that we as a government have had the most successful record of any government in the past three decades in relation to work force participation. As I said earlier, we are not resting on our laurels saying that everything is perfect, but in this real world the Australian people can juxtapose the record of the Australian Labor Party government of 13 years and our record for the past nine years. Any examination of those two records side by side will indicate without any shadow of doubt that we have managed the Australian economy so much better. As a result Australian businesses and others have been able to leverage off that and create the huge employment growth that we have enjoyed in this country.

If there were big growth in mature age jobs, chances are there might not be as big a growth in youth employment, and then we would be bashed around the head by those opposite about those figures. Of course, recovery is always going to be patchy. It is never going to be exactly the same across every demographic within our society. As a government we have put our shoulder to the wheel in a very successful way in ensuring that there has been a benefit to all sectors across the community. Indeed, there is more work to be done not only in the mature age sector, which I am glad to see somebody as youthful as Senator Denman willing to champion, but also in youth unemployment.

We as a government accept that the unemployment rate of 5.1 per cent, which is great in historic terms, is something that we still need to work on to drive down even further for the benefit of the Australian economy. Also might I add that, unlike Mr Keating, who seemed to be proud of driving down real wages, we as a government see that jobs are the best social welfare policy that any government is able to deliver to the Australian people. Delivering jobs, combined with real increases in wages, as has happened under the Howard government, I think is one of the best social welfare performances that any government has delivered to the Australian people in recent times. We will do more for all sectors of the community and of course that also includes the mature age sector.

Senator DENMAN —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Instead of increasing migration to deal with the skill shortages that have developed under the Howard government, why isn’t the Howard government prepared to invest in reskilling and retraining older Australians? Why, after nine years in government, does the Howard government still not have a strategy to tackle mature age unemployment or mature age retraining?

Senator ABETZ (Special Minister of State) —I can see that I have just been a complete failure as Chairman of the Ministerial Council on Government Communications, because one of our communication campaigns in recent times has been to encourage mature age people to take on apprenticeships and reskill. It is quite obvious that our campaign in this regard has not been wide enough to attract Senator Denman’s attention, and I will be drawing that to the attention of the committee and the relevant minister and suggesting that we enhance that campaign to ensure that all mature age people in Australia see the benefits of our New Apprenticeships scheme, which is specifically targeted these days at those of a more mature age. If Senator Denman is genuinely under that delusion then clearly we as a government need to communicate that more. However, I think Senator Denman may have just had the misfortune of having to read out a question that the question time committee gave her. (Time expired)