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Tuesday, 3 May 1994
Page: 68

Senator CALVERT (6.01 p.m.) —I want to comment briefly on this report, Wanted: our future, as well. I am no longer a member of the Senate Standing Committee on Employment, Education and Training. I wondered what had happened to this particular report, because it was brought down in December 1992. I remember the amount of work that went into it, the hearings that we had and the travelling that we did around Australia.

  As I briefly flicked through the report this afternoon, I started to remember the plight of the young people that came before us and gave evidence, and the different places we visited. Senator Tierney has referred to some. I remember very well the tales of woe and some of the examples of the bandaid solutions that were being carried out in places like Newcastle.

  This report was produced in 1992, after a lot of work by our committee secretary and his helpers. I am sure that Brenton Holmes, the secretary, along with Mary Lindsay, Rosemary Brissenden, Doug Hynd and Kathleen Griffiths, would have wondered, as we did, why it has taken so long for the government to respond to this report. The introduction to the report said:

Youth unemployment is everybody's problem. As a society we have been slow to acknowledge that this is so. Some have still to be convinced. It is the Committee's hope that this Report will assist in this process.

I think it is a disgrace that it has taken the government 16 months to respond to this report dealing with one of the most serious problems facing our nation. It is a disgrace.

  I remember that last year—at the time the Prime Minister, Mr Keating, announced that the white paper was coming forward—all the government could come up with was an inquiry into unemployment, but at that time it had this well-researched document of some 250 pages with evidence from all over Australia, from different groups in different areas in different states, which would have gone a long way towards giving it some data on which to base changes to the way things are happening so as to help these 15- to 24-year-olds in particular.

  Sixteen months later we have a response. I do not believe the response is what anybody on that committee would have expected. When we were gathering evidence for this report we received overwhelming evidence of frustration, alienation and a growing lack of self-esteem amongst young people as a result of unemployment. It came to our attention that the inevitable consequence is that the young people involved experience withdrawal and depression. Many of the experts who appeared before our committee described an identifiable link between the feelings of alienation and the low self-esteem being experienced by the unemployed.

  One only has to look at the increasing levels of drug and alcohol abuse which are brought about by low self-esteem. We all know that drug and alcohol abuse amongst young Australians has led to an increasing number of social and health problems. I do not believe that has improved since 1992 in any shape or form. Our report showed that one in three deaths amongst people aged between 15 and 24 was drug related, with alcohol responsible for about three-quarters of these, largely through road accidents. Those were some of the things we were concerned about.

  As a result of the deliberations I have talked about which resulted in this 250-page report, we came up with 36 recommendations. One has to ask: how serious is the government about finding solutions to the many problems associated with youth unemployment? I do not believe it is serious at all, when we consider its appalling record in relation to this report. To its shame, in the 16 months which have transpired since the report was tabled, the government has indicated that only nine of the recommendations have been implemented—nine out of 36. It has also indicated that six of the recommendations are still to be examined and, therefore, have been ignored over the same period. One would not have thought that, after all that time, there would still be six recommendations that have not yet been looked at.

  Perhaps the most damning statistic to emerge from this government response on the effects of unemployment on young people is that nine of the recommendations agreed to by the bipartisan parliamentary committee have been rejected outright by the government. Not only does the government's response show that it has turned its back on the young unemployed of this country, but it also shows that the government has chosen to turn its back on Senators Sherry, Foreman and Zakharov, who endorsed in full the recommendations which appear in this report. Knowing him as I do, I can only draw the conclusion that former Senator Terry Aulich, the then chairman of the committee, must be terribly disappointed that so few of the recommendations which he worked so hard for have actually been implemented.

  It is important to take an opportunity like this to place on the public record the types of recommendations made by the committee which have been rejected by the government. I suppose, as Senator Tierney said, that the fact that some have been implemented is of some comfort, but I think it important to put on the record the ones that have been rejected. People need to understand that the committee's recommendations followed a considered effort, much deliberation and a lot of hard work put into dealing with this most difficult problem. If politicians acting in a bipartisan way cannot come up with some well-considered recommendations, I do not know who can.

  Most of us would expect the government to embrace recommendations that assist young people but, from looking at the responses, I do not think that is the case. The government rejected the committee's recommendation to increase income support for the young unemployed, and it also rejected the proposal to reduce the waiting period for benefits. It rejected the recommendation to reduce the age for Austudy independence, which would have allowed many thousands of young people to stay in school to complete their education. These are critical factors when dealing with the problem of youth unemployment, and they have all been ignored.

  But it does not stop there. The government has also chosen to ignore recommendations to concentrate income support payments under the management of the Department of Social Security. I did not see the Four Corners report last night which was mentioned just a moment ago by Senator Tierney—I had other things on my mind—but it appears that revelations by that report show massive problems within DEET. It also showed that the committee's recommendations made some 16 months ago were somewhat prophetic when we pointed out that income support payments should come under the Department of Social Security. We could see 16 months ago just how hopeless DEET was, and here we are 16 months down the track still finding the same problems.

  Measures to remove impediments to greater employment by small business, and a tax deduction scheme to encourage the hiring of the long-term unemployed were also ignored, as were greater assistance for the disadvantaged schools and attempts to provide an easier path to employment for graduates.

  The government response to this report on the implications of high levels of unemployment among young people will further add to the now widely recognised perception that Mr Keating and his colleagues have become desensitised to youth unemployment. The government is unable to copy, and it appears to lack any genuine conviction to do anything about addressing the problem. I think the saddest indictment is that it is no coincidence that deaths amongst young males recorded as suicide have increased by 100 per cent since the 1960s. Suicide is related to one in seven deaths amongst young males today compared with one in 20 in 1966.

  We were told at our hearings that young Australians are now committing suicide at the rate of one per day and that rural areas were experiencing a drastic increase in this problem. My own state of Tasmania probably has the worst incidence of youth unemployment. It also has the worst incidence of youth suicide. That is something that none of us can be very proud of. I think we should take note that many ordinary young Australians are crying out for assistance. All they really want is a job and some purpose.

  It is very disappointing that, as I said earlier, after spending so much time and putting in so much effort on trying to advise the government in a bipartisan way to combat some of these problems, after 16 months all the government has done is adopt nine recommendations and the other 27 are either still being looked at or totally ignored. As a former member of the Senate Standing Committee on Employment, Education and Training, I believe it is a tragedy that this government continues to ignore the cries for help from the young people of Australia.