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Wednesday, 16 March 2005
Page: 84

Senator ABETZ (Special Minister of State) (3:10 PM) —We have just witnessed five minutes of negativity from the Australian Labor Party. Not a single solution was offered. In fact, during question time today, I asked the Australian Labor Party what their alternative policy might be. They sit on the sidelines and carp and criticise, but what is their alternative? There was not a single mention of an alternative in that five-minute speech from Senator Bishop. Indeed, if I can borrow a phrase from my friend and colleague the Treasurer, if we were to start listening to Labor on employment policy we might start listening to Elizabeth Taylor about marriage guidance counselling as well, because there would be no less qualified group of individuals to try to hector and lecture this government about employment policy than the Labor Party.

Let us just have a look at some of the good news that Labor refuse to acknowledge. Australia’s unemployment rate is now 5.1 per cent—the equal lowest level since November 1976. Today there are over 9,889,700 Australians in employment—the highest number on record. There are now over seven million people in full-time employment. The unemployment rate is less than six per cent in every state. Since we have come to government, over 1½ million jobs have been created and 814,300 of those have been full time. Unemployment has fallen by 207,200. The employment rate—that is, the proportion of Australians of working age in employment—has increased by 3.9 percentage points to 71.8 per cent.

Contrast that with Labor’s record when they were at the levers of the Australian economy for 13 years. The recession of the early 1990s resulted in the loss of 313,500 jobs between July 1990 and February 1993 and a 61.6 per cent increase in the number of unemployed people. The total number of unemployed people increased by 455,000 between October 1989 and July 1992.

We as a government have worked hard to reform the Australian economy, be it through tax reform, industrial reform or welfare reform. Whenever the Australian Labor Party were in government and sought to undertake important structural reforms, their job was made so much easier because we as an opposition always put the national interest first, unlike the group opposite today. When we tried tax reform they opposed it, saying it was going to mug the economy and drive up unemployment. When we wanted industrial reform, there was exactly the same condemnation from the Labor Party. They were the prophets of doom, the Jeremiahs of the Australian economy.

But what have we actually seen? Despite their opposition, we were able to undertake some of those reforms. Today, we see the lowest rate of unemployment in a generation, a real increase in wages and the lowest rate of industrial disputation since records were first kept in 1910. They are some of the wonderful employment statistics that we have. Having driven the economy, as we have been able to with the assistance of the private sector and especially small business, we are now in a situation where there is a skills shortage. We as a government have sought to overcome that skills shortage by some imaginative policies, such as federally funded technical and further education colleges right around Australia. I would like to pay tribute to the good work of people like Michael Ferguson, the member for Bass, and Mark Baker, the member for Braddon, in my home state of Tasmania, who have done a wonderful job in promoting that possibility in their part of Tasmania, which will really assist in getting rid of the skills shortage.

We are looking at other ways of achieving outcomes to reduce the skills shortage, but this skills shortage is a result of the Australian economy humming along. The only area where success cannot be used as an explanation for the skills shortage is, of course, in the Australian Labor Party, who suffer a lack of success because of their lack of skills. (Time expired)