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Monday, 10 September 1984
Page: 692

Senator FOREMAN —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations. Has the Minister seen the article by Peter Ritchie in the Australian of 4 September in which it is claimed that the high level of youth unemployment is due to youth wages being high relative to adult wages? I also believe the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Peacock , has made similar allegations. Does the Minister believe that the factors contributing to youth unemployment are far more complex than this? Can he outline what steps are being taken by the Government towards creating better employment opportunities for young people, particularly in the area of apprenticeship training?

Senator BUTTON —I agree that the issues involved in youth unemployment and the levels of youth unemployment are far more complex than is sometimes suggested in public debate. I remind the Senate that the sharp increase in youth unemployment occurred under the previous Government in its last two years of office when the unemployment rate among 15 to 19-year-olds rose from 15 per cent to 24 per cent, an increase of nine percentage points in those two years. If one compares that with the record of the present Government, the number of unemployed young people has fallen by over 74,000 and unemployment among 15 to 19-year-olds has fallen by almost four percentage points. Of course, one can put forward a whole lot of statistics in a debate such as this and use them, to quote from Belloc, like a drunk uses a lamp post-for support rather than illumination. It is a debate which requires a lot of illumination because many complex issues are involved.

The fact of the matter is that the improvement in youth unemployment under the present Government is due to the improvement in the general state of the economy and the economic growth rates, which the Government has presided over. Senator Walsh has already dealt with this question in an earlier answer. I might just refer to the part of Senator Foreman's question relating to the complexities involved. In Australia often a single issue or a single reason is ascribed as the reason for youth unemployment. I draw the honourable senator's attention to the fact that a recent study done by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, for example, indicates that aggregate demand-that is the general state of the economy-is consistently the single most important influence on youth unemployment.

I also draw the Senate's attention to a recent study of the Bureau of Labour Market Research which was done here and which draws attention to the complexities of this issue. It says that if we try through specific policies to deal with youth unemployment we are perhaps just imposing additional strains on other sectors of the labour market. The study shows that the problems are very complex, just as Senator Foreman suggested in his question. A whole range of factors is contributing to youth employment and there is a whole range of prescribed solutions, none of which in isolation necessarily will work. That does not in any sense detract from the seriousness of the problem. No government can do that. Every senator in this room who thinks about it knows that the opportunities available to young people in terms of employment now are infinitely less than they were 10 to 20 years ago. I believe that that will be a continuing situation, probably for the remaining years of this century. That is something that has to be faced in terms of provision of opportunities by governments.

Senator Foreman concluded his question by asking what this Government had done in terms of schemes, if you like, to try to alleviate youth unemployment. I do not have the precise figures with me in relation to the amount of money that the Government has put into apprenticeship training schemes and things of that kind. I recall answering a question, I think from Senator Foreman, on this matter a month or two ago. I will obtain those figures. There have been significant increases in the amounts of money attributed to those schemes. If Senator Foreman wants a more detailed answer I will obtain the figures and provide them to him.

I conclude by saying that the issue of unemployment amongst young people is not , in my view or the Government's view, susceptible to glib and easy solutions. I for my own part do not reject the suggestion that of course the level of youth wages in Australia would be a contributing factor amongst many.

Senator Harradine —Of course it is not. I can prove it is not.

Senator BUTTON —Senator Harradine can prove it is not. In the face of that fierce opposition from the Independent senator, I blanch. Let me say, as I have said earlier, that a number of factors go to this question, and I believe they are all worthy of examination by honorary senators, not just any glib cynical solution.