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Thursday, 24 June 1999
Page: 7468

Dr KEMP (Education, Training and Youth Affairs; Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service) (4:01 PM) —In this debate, the government threw down a challenge to the Labor Party.

Mr Beazley interjecting

Mr SPEAKER —I remind the Leader of the Opposition of the general warning.

Dr KEMP —They asked the Labor Party to tell the Australian people why they are supporting policies which are destroying youth jobs.

Mr Beazley interjecting

Mr SPEAKER —The Leader of the Opposition will excuse himself from the House.

Dr KEMP —I think we have just seen how panicked the Labor Party has been by this resolution of the government. We see that the Leader of the Opposition has now been suspended from the House.

Mr Lee —Mr Speaker, could I ask you to clarify your ruling. Have you suspended the Leader of the Opposition from the House for an hour? If you have, I ask you to reconsider that.

Mr SPEAKER —I believe the Leader of the Opposition would concur that his remarks were inappropriate and, if he is prepared to apologise to the House, I will withdraw that ruling.

Mr Beazley —I apologise.

Mr SPEAKER —I thank the Leader of the Opposition, and I call the minister. I remind all members of the existing standing orders.

Dr KEMP —We have seen how panicked the Labor Party has been by this resolution of the government and the suspension of standing orders because, if there is one thing the Labor Party does not want to be asked to do, it is to state its policy, because there is no policy on the other side of the House. In this area of youth employment, the Labor Party knows that it has a record of abysmal character, a disgraceful record and a record which has deprived tens of thousands of young Australians of employment opportunities.

The Australian people probably ask themselves: why is it that the Labor Party took to itself attitudes and policies when it was in government which were so damaging to youth employment? Why does the Labor Party shut its eyes to the employment plight of so many young Australians? There is a reason for that, and the reason is the nature of the Labor Party itself. Young people are off the radar screen in the Labor Party. The Labor Party's whole focus is on the policies put to it by the trade union movement and the ACTU. In government, it pursued in every area of policy—and particularly in the employment areas—policies which were deeply damaging to the employment prospects of young people.

In 13 years, the Labor Party completely failed to address the changing structure of the Australian economy, which led to many of those low skilled and semiskilled jobs that school leavers used to be able to get, even up to the early 1980s, evaporating. The Labor Party failed to make the adjustments to young people. They tuned in to the ACTU, which says, `Look, we've got an ideological position on employment, and this ideological position is that everybody should be paid according to a particular competency or qualification. That's got to apply to young people regardless of the consequences of that policy for the employment of young people.' And no-one worked more than the member for Hotham, on the other side of the House, when he was secretary of the ACTU to abolish junior wage rates, to get rid of the wage rates which created opportunities for young people.

When the former Prime Minister Paul Keating and the present Leader of the Opposition as employment minister presided over the recession we had to have, we saw a devastation in employment opportunities for young Australians. We saw youth employment soar to record levels of 34 per cent at the time when the Leader of the Opposition was actually employment minister. At the behest of the ACTU, we saw training policies adopted which devastated the apprenticeship system in this country when, in the last year of the Labor government—after 13 years—the number of young people in apprenticeships and traineeships as a proportion of the work force was the lowest for three decades. And why was that the case? Because the Labor Party said that the trade union movement was entitled to have the dominant say in the training system in this country, and the trade union movement and the ACTU were not interested in youth employment. They were interested in continuing to pursue their campaign against junior wage rates. When we came to office, we found that 30 per cent of young people in this country did not have adequate literacy and numeracy skills. After 13 years in government, 30 per cent of young people coming out of school could not read and write properly.

When this government had its first consultations with the business community and asked them why there was a problem in taking young people into employment, it is no wonder that at the top of the agenda was the problem of literacy which had grown up under young people. The Labor Party when in office gave Australian young people the message that if you were not going into university you were not going anywhere. They failed to face up to the fact that 70 per cent of young people leaving school were not going from school to university. There were virtually no opportunities for young people in school to do quality vocational courses that would lead them on to jobs. Because of the ACTU's industrial policies, schools found it almost impossible to work with businesses in their communities to provide proper pathway programs where young people could learn on the job the skills they needed to get jobs when they left school.

So when we came into government in 1996 we found that the Labor policies—the policies that the ACTU had foisted on them—had devastated youth employment. Many young people in this country were desperately disadvantaged by those policies. We found many young people homeless and at risk, dependent on getting good advice to get back into school, to get skills, to learn how to go and get a job—dependent on a program which the Labor Party was abolishing, the one program that worked. Instead, the Labor Party spent in its last year of office $500 million on a program which had a net employment success rate of three per cent and cost $143,000 a net job. It set up a merry-go-round of short-term labour market programs which did not give skills and which demoralised a generation of young Australians.

This government, for the first time, has put into place a comprehensive range of programs which are opening up for young people horizons and opportunities which they were denied for the 13 years that the Labor Party was in office. As a consequence of that, we are now seeing youth unemployment falling. It is still too high, but it is 10 per cent lower than it was when the Leader of the Opposition was employment minister. It is dropping because of the comprehensive range of policies that we have put in place.

Let me just mention some of the most important initiatives of this government. In the first place, we have recognised that the literacy and numeracy skills of young people have to be addressed in the early years of schooling. It is this government—against union opposition; against the opposition of the Labor Party—which has put in place the first national literacy standards against which every child in years 3 and 5 is now being assessed. It is this government that has a commitment from the states and territories that every child leaving primary school will have the basic skills in literacy and numeracy that they are going to need to get a job.

The Australian Education Union has fought this every inch of the way. As a consequence, the Labor Party has never committed itself to sustain and support these policies. In its election education policies it devoted four lines to literacy and numeracy. So it is totally neglecting the foundations on which successful job opportunities for young people are going to be built.

When we turned to the later years of schooling and we looked at the devastated apprenticeship system—the ruins of the apprenticeship system which the Labor Party had left—we realised that a massive rebuilding job had to be done. So, in industry after industry where there were no apprenticeship opportunities and in industries where there had been traditional apprenticeships that had been devastated, we had to have a training system not dominated by the ACTU but delivering the skills that businesses were looking for, that small business needed so they could innovate, so they could improve their productivity, so they could improve their bottom line and so they could create more jobs. That is what this government has put in place.

We now have a new national apprenticeship system, with record numbers of young people in apprenticeships. In December of last year the latest figures were 206,400 young Australians in apprenticeships and traineeships—some 70,000 more than when the Labor Party was in office—a fantastic expansion in opportunities for Australians to get the skills they need for employment. What about those young people coming through the senior years of schooling, that 70 per cent that the Labor Party totally neglected? It is not just our rhetoric that says that; a former member for Sydney, when in this parliament—a member of the Left faction, but an honest person—said that the Labor Party had neglected that aspect of education. He admitted that the Labor Party when in office had neglected that, and it is still neglecting it. In 1995, across Australia there were only some 26,000 young Australians in vocational courses in schools; this year there are some 130,000 young Australians in vocational courses in schools.

We have built a program—the Jobs Pathway program—which is now applied in half of the high schools of Australia, which is making schools proactive in looking out for job opportunities for their school leavers. For the first time, school leavers are moving down these pathways that this government has built, directly from school into jobs. Schools and small businesses across Australia are now working together to make sure that young people in these programs are learning industry recognised skills. Young people can now get certificates which are recognised by industry, which they can build into apprenticeships and which they can take on to diplomas and degrees, if that is what they are minded to do. What we have done is rebuild opportunities and hope for young Australians. In the TAFE system in Australia this government has created 70,000 additional places in the last two years.

Last week ministers from the states and the Commonwealth all met together in the Australian National Training Authority Ministerial Council. A joint resolution was passed by those ministers. Labor ministers in three states and coalition ministers in the other states and territories all agreed on this resolution:

. . . confirming the success of the common efforts of the Commonwealth, States and Territories to deliver a quality training system for Australian industry, Ministers agree to continue to work individually and together to deliver quality training.

That is a historic statement from the ministerial council, agreeing on `the success of the common efforts of the Commonwealth, states and territories' to build for the first time a quality national training system. That is the record of this government over three years. Compare that with the disastrous record of the Labor Party in relation to youth unemployment.

In this debate the government threw down the challenge to the Leader of the Opposition, `Tell us your policies'—and they were not forthcoming. The Labor Party, as it knows, has constantly supported a policy which, as the commission has now laid down authoritatively, will destroy youth jobs. It has no alternatives. It is no good for the Leader of the Opposition to get up in this House and say that the Labor Party will continue to pursue alternatives. There are no alternatives. The only alternatives are the policies that this government is putting forward—and we will create jobs for young Australians. (Time expired)