“Full” Employment: Shorten’s Jobs Pledge Recycled Hot Air

ANOTHER DAY, another empty ALP “policy” statement; the announcement by opposition “leader” Bill Shorten that a Labor government would aim to achieve full employment is not a policy, is completely devoid of substance, and merely regurgitates an identical slogan uttered by every state and federal ALP leader over the past 25 years. No government has presided over full employment since the 1960s. One “led” by Shorten would be no different.

For an idiot savant like Bill Shorten — who has spent two and a half years ranting about “honesty” and the need to keep election promises — to start talking about full employment as a Labor election platform is such an oxymoron it is difficult to know where to begin; Shorten’s political specialty is connecting misleading statements about his opponents with attractive-sounding but vacuous populist propositions to make himself look better than he is, but for this particular Labor “leader” to start belting the jobs can in the hope it will win him votes is (to quote one of his predecessors) a bridge too far.

Yet having spent more than a decade presiding over an organisation at the AWU that purports to look after workers’ rights — and there are and were an awful, awful lot of part-time and causal workers who are AWU members — Shorten now aims to do precisely that: suddenly, he has discovered “the under-employment of more than a million people,” just in time for a federal election, and wheeled out a vague and tired “policy” objective of achieving full employment in Australia if Labor wins office later this year.

I have been following elections in this country since I was a teenager in the 1980s, and I can’t think of a single state or federal election over a 30-year period at which the Labor figurehead (whoever it was) did not campaign on some nondescript but awe-inspiring number of jobs he or she would seek to create — including, more often than not, some formulation to suggest the achievement of full employment — but naturally, it’s one agenda item the ALP has never delivered on.

Funny that.

Whilst small business — a constituency detested by the ALP, irrespective of whatever it says to the contrary — is overwhelmingly the driver of employment growth in Australia, the sector can only do so much; the only ways any government can “create employment” is by stacking out the public service (generally with politically pliant personnel) or by the politically fraught measure of instituting a program of compulsory National Service.

Of course, Labor is no slouch when it comes to the former: public services across Australia, state and federal, are swollen by ambit appointments that are often unnecessary and, largely, excessively remunerated, but that’s the point: the ALP has used its periods in office all over the country to ensure that at any given time, reliable and well-remunerated sets of eyes and ears remain stockpiled and embedded within the mechanisms of government even if Labor does not at any given time hold government itself.

These people, of course, perform valuable service in many cases, but it’s scarcely the point. Were there no political purpose for hiring them, their jobs wouldn’t even exist: and whilst “everyone does it” might be a justified retort, the fact is that the ALP does it more, and better, than anyone.

Where National Service is concerned, I don’t actually mind the idea of a conversation around it; a gap year — or even two — after young people finish school during which they are well paid, receive some practical training and experience, and actually return something to the country could (if properly calibrated) be a mutually beneficial arrangement that helps add to their employability in the longer term. Yes, it’s controversial, and no, I don’t want to divert right down that tangential track now. But the point is that aside from public service recruitment, it is the only other guaranteed way of creating jobs, and I’m certain Shorten and his cohorts won’t have a bar of the idea.

They hate the armed services, too.

For someone whose own union made an art form of stripping pay, overtime and other conditions away from low-paid workers — often causal or part-time — it’s a bit rich, to say nothing of offensive, to listen to Shorten rail against “under-employment” now.

And the announcement today comes with no details, or solid, tangible plan, or a series of markers against which to measure progress, or any itinerary to be followed after the ALP takes office: a cynic would point to the fact there are no promises of actual jobs, and that Shorten has merely said he “aims” to achieve full employment.

Yet so has every other Labor leader since the debacle of the Whitlam government — every one of them more substantial individuals than Shorten could ever dream of being — and none of them were able to achieve it. Yes, some of them never won elections, for those who want to split hairs. But with the exception of the paedophile Keith Wright in Queensland and the crooks prosecuted in the WA Inc debacle in Western Australia, all of Labor’s defeated leaders were more formidable figures than Shorten too.

It is well and good to aim for things; when you are aspiring to be the Prime Minister of Australia and starting without a scrap of credibility, aiming at things is probably all you’ve got going for you.

But Shorten’s announcement that he suddenly gives a rat’s rectum about armies of under-employed people — when there is ample evidence that the existence of these people never troubled him in the past — ought to fool no-one.

It is not a policy; it is entirely devoid of any meaningful substance; there probably isn’t a single job in it, the truth be told; and it ranks alongside attacking anything the ALP opposes for partisan purposes as “unfair,” or GST scare campaigns based on wet lettuce leaves and excruciating slogans like “lettuce be free of GST.”

In any case, “under-employed” people are the only group that gets the casual penalty rates so beloved of Labor these days, and which provide such a useful political sledgehammer with which to attempt to bludgeon opponents with WorkChoices scares. Moving those folk onto full-time salaries removes a powerful political weapon. Shorten can’t have it both ways and, to be sure, I don’t think he wants to do so at all.

In the end, those who thought Kevin Rudd and his slogans were bad find themselves faced with a more insidious encounter again to contend with when it comes to Shorten: and for all the stereotypes about politicians saying anything they think will yield votes, Bill Shorten actually does it.

Just think about it: he is opposed to anything that might fix the federal budget his own party booby-trapped with recurrent spending; he is opposed to anything that might rein in the culture of welfare dependency that is becoming a national disgrace, but on which millions of Labor votes depend; he is opposed to anything that might modernise Australia’s outdated and archaic industrial framework, whilst hundreds of thousands of jobs are being lost in industries “protected” by unions and their high-wage, anti-business agenda; and he is opposed to reforms in areas like Health, Education, and other sacred Labor cows, which might cut overall expenditure but reap better outcomes for less money, for the specious reason that someone might lose a job that isn’t actually required.

No government in 50 years — Labor or Liberal — has presided over a full employment situation, and neither would one ever formed (God forbid) by Bill Shorten.

And anyone who seriously believes the election of a Labor government will automatically lead to a full-time job for everyone who wants one is kidding themselves.




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