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APPROPRIATION BILL (NO. 3) 2001-2002 Cognate bills: APPROPRIATION BILL (NO. 4) 2001-2002 APPROPRIATION (PARLIAMENTARY DEPARTMENTS) BILL (NO. 2) 2001-2002: Second Reading

Mr CADMAN (Mitchell) (4.29 p.m.) - With respect to the Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2001-2002, the Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2001-2002 and the Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill (No. 2) 2001-2002, I want to look at what is happening to employment and employment services around Australia.

In particular, I would like to draw to the attention of the House the figures received by members today prepared by the information research services of the Parliamentary Library and based on the most recent, March 2002, figures. The figures are from a report on the monthly economic and social indicators for Australia. Using up-to-date facts and figures, I want to look at what is happening to the average Australian and at what has occurred over the last three or four years of this government - and not at the total period of the government, because that is even more spectacular than the period that I am going to use. [start page 1337]

First of all, I would like to draw the House's attention to the change in the number of employed persons from 1997 until 2002. In 1997-98 there were 8,527,000 people employed in Australia. That is taking the month of January, which is often a difficult month for employment, because that is when school leavers are on the market, when people are generally on holidays and when employment in the building industry is down. We will take the January figure, which is the most recent figure that we have available to us. The 1997-98 January figure was 8.5 million, as I have said, and the 2001-02 January figure was 9,280,000. There has been a massive increase of approximately 700,000 jobs in that time, people in full-time employment. What a terrific result for a period of just four years, a really big increase in employment opportunities. That is people in full-time employment in Australia.

The unemployment rate has continued to fall dramatically. Whether one looks at the seasonally adjusted figures or the original figures, one sees in January 2002 a significant fall in the unemployment rate. I do not want to skate over unemployment because, in particular, I want to look at the long-term unemployed and youth unemployed, because they are the ones who trigger our reaction and comments from the community, and they are the ones whom the press is most likely to select. If one looks at the long-term unemployment rates in 1997-98 and 2001-02 - that is, the January 1998 figure of 210,800 and the January 2002 figure of 151,000 - one sees a big drop. Those are people who are unemployed for 52 weeks or more. Job Network and Work for the Dole concentrate on those people, and that is where the maximum impact of Work for the Dole can be identified. In picking up 60,000 or 70,000 people, this government has targeted the long-term unemployed and adopted economic policies which assist them.

I know that the graph I am holding cannot go into Hansard, I know that I should not flash charts and so on - but it depicts the downward trend in the number of long-term unemployed. It is a terrific result; it is a marvellous feat of the government. Those are people who have been out of a job for 52 weeks or more. In percentage terms of the total unemployed in January 1997, 28 per cent were long-term unemployed; we are down to 21 per cent now. Looking at youth unemployment, in 1997-98 there were 88,500; now there are 71,500. There has been a big drop in youth unemployment. Those are 15- to 19-year-olds who are now in jobs. If you look at the expanded work force, it is no wonder that the number of unemployed youth has dropped from 28 per cent to 24 per cent. The result of this government's policies has been massive.

Let us put another bunch of statistics on the record because they are significant too - that is, the statistics for the industrial disputes, the stoppages. There is nothing worse than protracted stoppages for encouraging employers to lay off workers or to gradually run down their work force, because they have got a lot of dead money going out to pay for overheads, superannuation and other benefits for people who they have employed but who are not currently working during a dispute. Altogether, 58,700 working days were lost in 1997-98; 36,500 were lost up to November of this year - almost half. The figure is down to 60 per cent of what it was previously. We have made a big impact on the number of disputes, despite the dire predictions of the Australian Labor Party.

This is not a confrontationist government. We are getting results in the workplace that satisfy people, because they want to be able to bring home their salaries every week, to be able to pay their mortgages and to be able to pay for their kids' education. Industrial disputes, for most people, are an absolute pain in the neck and they hate them. They hate being stopped from working and they do not like union intervention when they know that all they have got to do is get out there and get a job. Basically, they are satisfied. Unless somebody does something extraordinarily bad to employees, in this day and age, most employees just want to keep working. And so the results of reducing industrial disputes means that more money is being taken home. That also affects the level of unemployment because more people keep their jobs.

Average weekly earnings is another measure. It was said that we were going to be a miserable, mean-spirited government - I think they will remember that term `mean-spirited' being used in the parliament, as members of the Australian Labor Party tried to get it up and running, day after day, week after week. But what did this `mean-spirited government' do? There was a fall in average weekly earnings during the period of the Labor government; they did a trade-off with wages and super, and the accords did nothing but squeeze workers. Under the current government, average full-time adult ordinary time earnings - the most recent figures we have are for the last quarter of 2001, just a few weeks ago really - were $848.60 per week, as compared with $711 four years ago. So that is an increase of $140 a week. That is how mean spirited this government has been! Wages have increased terrifically. The take-home proportion of wages, with the changes in tax scales, has had an even more dynamic impact on the means of each family. So the annual change in percentage terms of take-home pay has risen from 3.7 per cent in 1997 to 5.8 per cent last year. Total male earnings - that is, dollars per week -jumped from $709 to $811. That is a total increase of $102 for total take-home pay for males. [start page 1338]

The consumer price index is just flat. The year 2000-01 was one year when there was a jump in the consumer price index, but the consumer price index is running between zero and three per cent. Wages are increasing at something like four or five per cent and the consumer price index is rising at around 2.4 per cent - but there is one jump of six per cent. So wages are increasing faster than the cost of living. What a dynamic environment that is for employees. What a dynamic environment for families - their wages are actually rising faster than the rate of inflation, the capacity to work is improving, there are fewer disputes and more people on the job.

So I felt that today, in the appropriation bills in relation to employment services, we had to look at what is happening to employment and to the whole environment that relates to employment. I have used enough figures in this debate, but one final figure I need to use is the gross domestic product. How much are we actually producing and how much are we actually putting out there to sell - that is, from farms, non-farms, manufacturing and all sorts of industries? These are in millions of dollars on an annual basis. In 1997-98, it was $561 million. We are now up to $671 million dollars - that is a $100,000 million total increase by the look of these figures. They are really amazing results when one looks at the productivity and growth of the nation.

The turnover in retail sales, dwelling approval rates, motor vehicle sales and business investment are all very positive, but the ones that I come back to are the ones which say that the consumer price index, the cost of living is lower than wage increases. There has been a massive increase of three-quarters of a million jobs in the four-year period. There has been a big decline in the number of people that have been unemployed for 52 weeks or more and there has been a big drop in the number of youth who are unemployed. That is a massive result Australia-wide and I think that that is the sort of result Australia needs to see.

As I look at these appropriation bills, I want to encourage the government to provide a still better opportunity for Australians which includes giving Australians the chance to work. We have got some wonderful Work for the Dole programs running in our area; they are colossal. We cannot get enough people to fill the places. We are bussing them in from Parramatta and Blacktown to fill the Work for the Dole opportunities. To my friend from Tasmania, the member for Franklin, who sits across there I can say that it is really good because these kids are getting skills that they would not get otherwise. They are on the job with good trainers and they are getting a bit of a TAFE component. I am finding that employers are coming in and plucking them out of the Work for the Dole programs before they have even finished their six months because, what are the employers looking for - they are looking for attitude. They are looking for a willingness to go to work and a capacity to get out of bed and to start to do things.

One of the computer programs we are running is just excellent. We use computers that companies who change their computers on a regular basis have brought in. They have diagnostic work done on them by the Work for the Dole employees, repairs are made and then they are given away. It cannot be a for profit process, but they are given away to worthy organisations like the Red Cross or to the CARE program to send some to overseas refugees. All sorts of organisations take these computers. Some are some going to an Aboriginal group up in Northern Australia and some are going to disabled young people. It is a great result, but it is not an expensive result and it is getting a yield of people actually getting back into the workplace. I think that every unemployed person in Australia should be involved if it is physically possible for them to be offered a Work for the Dole opportunity, rather than them not have any opportunity to work at all but just receive benefits. And that is, in fact, what the people in Northern Australia are doing. The Aboriginal communities that I have been to, and the member for that strange seat which I cannot pronounce -

Mr Snowdon - Lingiari.

Mr CADMAN - As you know, there are community development programs with Aboriginal communities which is something that the older people insist on: no sit down money. They say, `We want you to contribute something to our community and we will then see that you get your benefits.' I think we can learn from that and my experience in my electorate is that it is very beneficial that we have people working for benefits, working for the dole, and wherever possible, in my view, that program ought to be expanded right across Australia. Suitable programs ought to designed for more mature people who may not be able to do hard, physical work. They should be given opportunities for training and a change in lifestyle, job or career path.

Against that, there is a negative attitude coming from the Australian Labor Party. I think that is a pity. They have now accepted Work for the Dole as a program that they can run and that they will accept, but all through the election campaign there was constant negativity. Meg Lees summed it up about two years ago when we were talking about the prospect of roll-back and what could be done. The goods and services tax is about getting tax cuts to Australians. Sure, the big spenders pay more when they buy things, but it is about getting tax cuts and benefits, and the results can be seen in the statistics I have read out today. Meg Lees said of Kim Beazley's roll-back that it would cost over $4 billion. This is what she said:

Well, the ballpark themes run out to a ticket of over $4 billion. Now, somewhere in there we reach a line that's simply unaffordable. Either we are going to have to have income tax increases or we're going to have to see the tax base eroded for the states and the Commonwealth, so there will be less money for the states to spend on hospitals and schools, less money for the Commonwealth to spend on universities, defence ... what the Commonwealth will be responsible for once the states get the GST money, or he is going to have to roll back the pensioner benefit increases, take out the rent assistance, take out some of the health initiatives like the Childhood Nutrition Program, a range of things that we negotiated in the package that we thought were higher priorities. [start page 1339]

I think that is a reasonable attitude from the former Leader of the Democrats which clearly explains the situation Australia has found itself in. I want to commend the government on the results for jobs and opportunities for Australians. Australians want to work; they are not lazy and, if given the opportunity, they will take it up. Young people, if given opportunities in Work for the Dole, will take up those opportunities with great results. Not everybody wants to work on a building site as Work for the Dole. Not everybody wants to cut grass, put up buildings or do landscaping, but there are so many other jobs and opportunities in Work for the Dole. The wide range of Work for the Dole opportunities, such as computer repair, assistance in schools and caring for handicapped kids - will, I believe, continue to improve employment opportunities and the exciting future that we have as a nation.

Source: Hansard - 19th March 2002
Release Date: 19 Mar 2002


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