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Thursday, 19 June 1997
Page: 5911

Mr MARTIN FERGUSON(10.38 a.m.) —I return to the issue of youth unemployment. I remind the chamber that Mr Howard said that youth unemployment was the biggest social problem facing Australia. He went into the election campaign committing himself to doing big things for the young unemployed of Australia.

I touch on the question of work for the dole, which will apply, for example, to 18- to 20-year-olds. I have a question for the government: if I am a 19-year-old and, on the basis of the announcement going to the issue of youth allowance, based on my parents' household income I am not entitled to unemployment benefits, is there a guarantee that, if I am required to work on a compulsory basis, as suggested by the government, will I receive a payment for that compulsory requirement to participate in the work for the dole program?

I also raise what I find a strange proposition. I refer in passing to the Green Corps. The Green Corps is very small when compared with the old LEAP program. The majority of participants in Green Corps to date have actually had jobs or been in full-time education. I find it strange that at the end of their program they are entitled to an additional allowance of $500 to go on to a further training opportunity.

Why isn't a similar allowance available, for example, to people who will be compulsorily required to work for the dole? Work for the dole is not going to go to some people who have been fortunate enough in the past to have had jobs or been engaged in full-time training or education opportunities. Surely those participants should be encouraged at the end of a compulsory requirement to undertake work for the dole to a grant of, say, $500—similar to Green Corps—to go on to a training opportunity.

I say that because, whilst I have serious problems with the question of work for the dole, the value of some of the labour market programs such as LEAP was that that actually gave the young person the opportunity to work themselves out from a personal point of view and to come to terms with their lack of discipline in work and some of the personal difficulties that they had. The time was used by them to actually work out what they wanted to do in the future, such as a traineeship or an apprenticeship. In that context, it is very valuable that they be given some additional assistance or encouragement to go on and take up an alternative training opportunity. We are putting aside the question of the value or otherwise of work for the dole and raising what we should be doing for those people who are going to have the stigma of saying to an employer, `Yes, I am a graduate of work for the dole; two days on, five days off. But would you please put that aside because I really want to do something with my life.' The explanation I am looking for from the government is of when we will get some additional encouragement for those people to actually get some financial assistance to go on to alternative training opportunities.

I say that because I think youth unemployment is a major problem. I am vitally concerned with the fact that, after 15 months of this government, not only have they not made a dent in youth unemployment, but youth unemployment has risen in Australia. More importantly, we are getting suburbs and regions of very high youth unemployment. In fact, the national capital, that the Prime Minister has turned his back on as not being good enough as the centre of government any more, is an area of high youth unemployment. Those people out there in the suburbs of Canberra are looking for more than work for the dole and a Green Corps program that largely benefits people in terms of full-time jobs or training opportunities.

I say in conclusion that we have got major concerns with the performance of this department but not in isolation. It goes to the whole budget strategy of this government. Unless we get a higher level of economic growth we are not going to make a huge impact on reducing unemployment in Australia. The truth of the matter is that the reduction in interest rates to date, and there have been four reductions, are not a vote of confidence with respect to the performance of this government. I suppose the Reserve Bank is doing what this government has failed to do. They are trying to stimulate some investment and encouragement out there. They have finally realised that they should not just be concerned about building on our achievements from the point of view of breaking the back of inflation. They have come to terms with the fact that the Treasurer is wrong to focus just on the question of the rate of inflation and they must be vitally concerned with the issue of unemployment. We have an all-time high. We have also a deterioration I might say in terms of long-term unemployment. We need a regional strategy to help those people. (Time expired)