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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2005 Week 12 Hansard (Wednesday, 19 October 2005) . . Page.. 3882 ..


standard of living, like underemployment, a low level of skills, and limited ability to negotiate an adequate wage and benefits. That is what we were just talking about.

A key part of this discussion is the role of underemployment. There were huge changes in the labour market in the 1980s and 1990s and the substantial shift to part-time work and casualisation is not reflected in the main measures of labour market performance. So, while our unemployment rate may be at its lowest for the last 25 years, the number of men in particular employed on a full-time basis is steadily falling. In 1985, around 90 per cent of males held a full-time job. Today, this is only around 70 per cent. Many of those who have dropped out of the labour force have moved onto income support, including the rapidly growing disability support pension.

When you look at the figures for working men and women combined, only about 60 per cent have a full-time job. I am not trying to comment about either gender’s ability to work, but the falling figures for male full-time work indicate a real problem when you think of who is expected to bring home the bacon in many households. This problem becomes even worse when you look at low-skilled male workers. The statistics show that of ACT males with a university degree 80 per cent are employed full time; but of ACT males with a year 10 qualification only 50 per cent are employed full time. The pattern applies to women also, at a rate of 60 per cent compared to 30 per cent. Therefore, one could deduce that the biggest challenge for the ACT government in reducing poverty is to support or promote the employment of low-skilled workers. As a community, the ACT is capable of addressing this problem and, given that it is the richest jurisdiction in the country, I believe that we have an obligation to do so.

What effect does poverty have on children? Another important link between poverty and employment is the effect that parents’ work practices have on their children. Considerable research indicates that, overall, children do better in households where there is at least one parent in the labour force. Even apart from the extra income that comes from parental employment, the experience of growing up in an environment where parents prepare for work every day is thought to prepare children for the world of work themselves. Yet in the ACT today—and this is a significant statistic—one in six children lives in a household where no adult has a job of any type, and nearly one in four lives in a household where no adult has a full-time job. Intergenerational unemployment is a strong risk for kids in that situation.

So what are the expected future problems between poverty and employment? Now the federal government’s industrial relations reform, which it has labelled, quite humorously, WorkChoices, and its welfare to work program, perhaps to be labelled “LifeHelp”—God help me—will make it more difficult for those living in poverty to engage in the work force. The welfare to work program will push more low-skilled workers into the work force, while changes in industrial relations will make it more difficult for low-skilled workers to bargain for appropriate income and benefits. On top of that, people on a low income entering the work force confront high effective marginal tax rates of around 60 per cent, meaning that a person who earns an additional $1 often loses 60c of benefits and so is only 40c better off. Clearly, this is not an incentive to move from welfare status to low-paid work. No wonder the government is making it compulsory. The Greens prefer carrots to sticks, and that is where the ACT government may come in.


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