Jobs not on Hawke's agenda

Wednesday, November 20, 1991

By Peter Boyle

Bob Hawke's November 14 "agenda for jobs" statement actually offered very little to the country's more than one million unemployed. Looking suspiciously like an attempt by Hawke to recreate happier days, it was a largely empty media event recalling some of the populism of the national summits of 1983-84.

The $313 million he promised to spend is about 0.3% of budget outlays, is a paltry amount. According to the Age's Kenneth Davidson, it is well within the normal allowance for error in budget estimates. At most, it will directly create between 5000-7000 new jobs, while around 125,000 new jobs are required each year just to stabilise unemployment at its current level.

The extra financial allocation amounts to less than the projected spending on naval frigates this year ($337 million), and less than half the budgeted amount for submarines.

Hawke's main projection was not to create jobs (we are promised again that recovery is around the corner) but to create an extra 40,000 places for students, mainly in TAFE colleges, and 56,000 more "job training" places in schemes like Skillshare and Jobtrain. The latter have been criticised as virtually useless by training experts, and according to Australian Council of Social Services president Merle Mitchell will not keep up with rising unemployment.

Bishop Michael Challen, executive director of the Brotherhood of St Laurence, said that while the statement at least acknowledged the great pain and destruction caused by unemployment, it offered little hope to the long-term unemployed.

There is also a small allocation of $15 million to alleviate problems due to the reduction of tariff barriers in the textile, clothing and footwear industries, and $10 million towards export subsidies. The Australian Industry Development Corporation will be allowed to retain $9.6 million profit for use in assisting industry.

Overall, the statement was disappointing on industry initiatives, said George Campbell of the ACTU's industry committee. However ACTU president Martin Ferguson rallied to the government's defence, branding critics of the statement "whingers".

But even more disastrous is a barely hidden agenda in Hawke's no-job statement — the promotion of the idea that jobs can be created only at the expense of the environment. Some $82 million of the increased expenditure on infrastructure products will be spent on roads, while only $20 million is allocated to rail. The day before the statement, federal government announced the go-ahead for the controversial third runway at Sydney airport, which may create less than a thousand jobs but will add seriously to noise pollution and the risk of disastrous accidents in surrounding high-density suburbs.

There are alternative courses which would have created jobs while moving in the direction of greater environmental responsibility. For instance, by spending $4 billion on straightening and upgrading the l link (the rational alternative to the Very Fast Train proposal), many more jobs could have been created while shifting interstate transport away from roads.

Public transport networks in all capital cities could also be upgraded. While $10 million extra was allocated to the CSIRO, much more could have been set aside for the development of alternative energy and other environment-saving research programs.

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