Most of the political interviews and debates before the election will be useless in the news sense. Skilled politicians are proficient at running lines and it is rare that an interviewer can get them to say something they do not want to say.
This is the case with the Friday Forum format on Lateline. Labor MPs mostly use it to download on what’s bothering them about unemployment.
This month, the parliamentary secretary for employment and MP for Blaxland, Jason Clare, downloaded on the presenter Leigh Sales. He said that at a jobs expo in Bankstown, for which about 5000 people turned up, he asked employers: “Why is unemployment as high as it is?” Their reply was “literary and numeracy”. From this, Clare concluded that “what we do at an early age at school” will “make all the difference”. Sales moved to the next question.
There was a similar occurrence last December. The Minister for Employment Participation, Mark Arbib, volunteered that unemployment in Cairns was more than 11 per cent. “We had a job expo up there – 400 jobs on offer; 5000 came through the door.” Arbib went on: “In south-west Sydney at the moment, 47 per cent of teenagers are unemployed.”
Why? At the end of the Howard government in 2007, unemployment was about 4 per cent – virtually full on present standards. The Bureau of Statistics labour force figures for June indicate unemployment is 5.2 per cent. This is remarkably good in view of the global financial crisis.
As Julia Gillard has acknowledged, Australians have good reason to be grateful for the economic reforms initiated by Labor’s Bob Hawke and Paul Keating and continued by the Coalition’s John Howard and Peter Costello.
Under Kevin Rudd and Gillard, Labor can claim some credit for the fact that unemployment has stayed relatively low for two years. But if praise is to be received, responsibility should be accepted.
There has been a disturbing rise in youth, long-term and regional unemployment during the Rudd-Gillard government. Clare suggested poor education was responsible in western Sydney. This is no help for teenage and mature workers who are out of work. Arbib says the solution to youth employment is “to keep stimulating the economy”. But Australia has had a big economic stimulus package already.
The well educated and well off will invariably obtain jobs. Which explains why, in parts of inner Sydney and inner Melbourne, there is what used to be called over-employment. But it is different in some outer-suburban and regional areas, where increasingly the rich and tertiary educated get jobs while the poor and less educated line up for Centrelink payments.
This is an inevitable result of Labor’s re-regulation of industrial relations which has returned to the taxpayer-funded Industrial Relations Club, in the form of Fair Work Australia, bringing down decisions that are a disincentive to small businesses contemplating employing younger and older Australians who have little education.
Last month, it raised minimum award rates by $26 a week. This will affect all awards. Justice Geoff Guidice made only passing reference to the high level of youth unemployment and all but ignored the long-term unemployed. The decision covers all employers – those who are doing well in the two-speed economy and those who are struggling.
Fair Work Australia has acknowledged its decisions on award modernisation will lead to cost increases for some employers. This rise will hit hardest in the retail and hospitality area, which is doing it tough in the economic downturn. These decisions will provide another disincentive for small businesses to take on less educated and older workers – as has the government’s decision to re-instate unfair dismissal laws for small business.
This month, Fair Work Australia decreed that employers must pay schoolchildren for three hours’ work even if they wanted them to work for half the time. The vice-president, Graeme Watson, recognised that this would restrict the employment opportunities of some young Australians but expressed scant interest in the needs of small businesses.
Under political pressure, Tony Abbott has said the Coalition, if elected, would not amend Labor’s Fair Work Act. This means Labor and the Coalition are destined to be unfair to the less educated and less well off who are seeking full-time employment.