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Wednesday, 17 February 1999
Page: 3043

Ms O'BYRNE (5:37 PM) —My comments are in continuation, so anybody listening should excuse the fact that I am starting halfway through the discussion. My office has been inundated with complaints about the Youth Allowance. The social implications of this government policy on young people in my electorate almost outweighs any other issue of importance to young people today. Young people who are currently receiving no youth allowance by virtue of their parents' income are not able to access Jobsearch assistance. Their ability to meaningfully and effectively search for employment is thereby thwarted.

The fruitless efforts of many young northern Tasmanians caught up in this situation who receive no support, no encouragement and no practical assistance from the government is resulting in anxiety, distress and, in some cases, is moving young people further and further away from ever gaining employment. These young people are being alienated from the job market based on their inability to access professional job seeking assistance. It costs money to apply for jobs, it costs money to attend interviews, and it takes skills to prepare applications in today's competitive market.

In an increasingly ageing society, the Howard government is, through the Youth Allowance program, attacking the capacity of parents to accrue personal savings to cater for their own retirement needs. The government has an obligation to investigate how incurring additional financial responsibility for their children will impact on and affect parental saving patterns. The intrusive and calculating nature of questions that parents and guardians are required to complete as part of the Youth Allowance application process is disgraceful. The additional form `Family actual means test' needs to be completed when potential applicants have claimed a tax deduction for a business loss. This means that many farming families are therefore required to estimate for the government how much they spend on videos, pet food, birthday gifts and those sorts of things. This is an absolute affront to the privacy rights of Australians.

This mean-spirited move by the Howard government is merely obscuring the real youth unemployment issues in Tasmania—with rates which are already unacceptably high at 39.6 per cent for young people between the ages of 15 and 19. The interesting thing is that complaints are not just coming from young people—they are coming from parents and from families. This government which claims to represent the needs of families has placed unrealistic burdens upon them.

A letter in yesterday's Examiner, my local paper, pretty well sums up the feelings of people in the Tasmanian community. It says:

The 1998 Literacy Survey results reported by the Australian Bureau of Statistics revealed that literacy levels are highest of all among those under 25. Illiteracy is more prevalent among the overs 25s . . .

This means that over the past two decades our schools and their "do-gooder" educators have done a superlative job in producing the most literate generation ever.

Why, therefore, have the young been singled out for compulsory literacy classes?

. . . . . . . . .

It is one more example of the vendetta that the Howard Government is pursuing against young adults by imposing discriminatory measures upon them that are not also applied to older Australians.

Exploding tertiary education costs, the forced labour work for the dole scheme and the cruel youth allowance all impact more upon the lives of young adults than older ones, for no justifiable reason.

. . . Our young people did not create this society. A fairer and independent definition might reveal that they are defaulting far less than the . . . government.

This sentiment has been repeated again and again to me in the community.

Young people in Tasmania are doubly disadvantaged, because not only do we have a government that is not interested in young people but we have a government that is not interested in regional development and rural and regional Australia. For all the rhetoric, very little has actually been done, unless you count the removal of about $150 million in regional development funds. The Commonwealth has a vital role to play in regional development. However, that has not been the view of this government. On 17 July 1996, John Sharp said that there was no clear rationale or constitutional basis for Commonwealth involvement in regional development. That is an appalling position for a government to adhere to. We need targeted programs for regional Australia—particularly in Tasmania.

Let me focus on a couple of issues for Tasmania at the moment—the Tasmanian Freight Equalisation Scheme and the Wheat Freight Subsidy Scheme. As Tasmanians know—and we hope other people realise—the most valuable thing we need is for these schemes to be enshrined in legislation so that they do not have to run the gauntlet of the budget process every year. Any changes would then be subject to open debate and not the whim of faceless, nameless Treasury officials.

The Tasmanian Freight Equalisation Scheme goes part of the way to compensate Tasmanian industries for the disadvantages the Bass Strait imposes. By its very nature, the scheme supports thousands of jobs. The situation with the TFES at the moment is one where the minister and senior department officials equivocate about its future funding. We are led to believe that there is a commitment for an additional $15 million in the budget, but we have as yet been unable to secure any guarantees about what is going to come out the other side. This is simply not good enough for Tasmanian businesses.

The situation regarding the Wheat Freight Subsidy Scheme is appalling. This scheme has been in place since 1989 but, as of 30 June this year, it will cease to exist. That will be it. All we have is a yet unconfirmed possibility that there may be some good news in the next budget—a budget that will be produced only weeks prior to the current scheme concluding. Almost 1,600 jobs in Tasmania are directly and indirectly impacted upon by this subsidy—from bread makers to the pork industry, to the stock food industry, to chicken growers, to large companies such as Inghams. Inghams employs 240 people directly and about another 100 indirectly. If this scheme is not continued, we face a very real possibility that we are going to lose those jobs.

The choice will be very simple for business people. They will either choose to ship wheat to Tasmania and process it at the additional cost or produce the final product on the mainland and ship it to Tasmania in containers. Failure to support this scheme will transfer jobs out of Tasmania. The most ludicrous thing about this lack of a decision is that all it will cost is $1.2 million—that is, $1.2 million to protect and guarantee employment for up to 1,600 Tasmanians. Tasmania's economic future depends on these subsidies.

Regional Australia has been ill served by this government. Unfortunately, this litany of betrayal of people by the government does not end here. To the despair of the community, it goes on and on. Budget after budget, we get more cuts and more broken promises.