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Wednesday, 10 February 1999
Page: 2298


Mr LINDSAY (10:47 AM) —The Australian Labor Party is saying they do not want kids to have jobs—that is the bottom line; no other interpretation can be put onto it. The member for Batman talks about the government's constant failure. Mr Deputy Speaker, I remind you, the House and the people of Australia that this country probably now, after three short years, has the best performing economy in the world. We have been able to make a lot of tough decisions, a lot of very difficult decisions, that have led this country out of the mire that we were in. We have been able to make landmark industrial relations changes, and we are going to continue. This is the reason for putting the Workplace Relations Legislation Amendment (Youth Employment) Bill 1998 up before the House again today.

The thrust of the Labor Party's argument seems to be that the government in some way wants to exploit young people. I argue against that, and I argue against it on the basis of 25 years of being an employer and knowing what the real world, and not the technical world, is about. I see so many arguments about these theoretical issues. I hear the economists coming out talking about supply and demand mechanisms and I hear Keynesian economics being quoted. But I know, from 25 years, what it is like to have to make a decision about whom you are going to employ, how much you are going to pay them, whether you can afford in business to keep people on, the value of young people, the value of seniors—the ethic that has been built up in this country over so many years.

So I am not a theoretical person; I am a practical person who can stand and tell the House exactly what it is like when you are making an employment decision. That is why I am telling you, Mr Deputy Speaker, the House and the people of Australia we have to retain age based rates for juniors. Why is that? We all know, and the Labor Party agree, that youth unemployment is far too high in this country. But the ALP cannot show in their contribution to this debate that their position will not damage youth employment. I put it to you that it will, and I put it to you from the long experience that I have had as an employer that, if I had to pay full rates of pay for a junior, I would not employ them. I would employ a more senior person if I had to pay the same amount of money. It is just the practical reality. It is how the world works, and it is how employers think. You do not think in terms of discriminating or otherwise about a young person; you think about your business and the fact that you need to survive.

Paying young people full adult wages will damage youth employment. Why is that? Firstly, there is the high cost of employing youngsters or employment in general, particularly if you have to pay full rates of pay. Secondly, youngsters invariably have fewer skills and less experience. So, if you were an employer, why would you employ a person at a full rate of pay who does not have the skills, experience and maturity when in fact you could employ an older person who does have those skills, experience and maturity?

In my time I have employed many young people. Whether it was as juniors or as trainees or apprentices was irrelevant to me. I have spent a lot of time training them and bringing them through the ethics of customer service. It does not matter which business you are talking about, everybody has a customer. I have put a lot of time into training young people and they have appreciated that fact and been prepared to accept that, because of my putting that time in, they cannot be paid a full adult wage. But, after they had gone through that process, I kept them employed as senior people, because they then had the skills, the experience and the maturity. Certainly, from an employer's point of view, you do not want to be changing staff regularly. It is a very costly process to continue to retrain and employ new people. If you have got a good person who has been through the system, who has come up from a junior to a senior, you keep them on, because it is the logical and sensible and rational thing to do.

The other problem is that if you have got to pay full rates for every person that you employ the cost of your product—whatever it might be—must be increased to cover that. It results in higher prices to the consumers of your product, goods or services.

What are the benefits of age based rates for juniors? Firstly, there is a propensity for employers to employ more juniors. I certainly found that in the business that I used to run. Secondly, those young people get an opportunity to get training and experience. How many of those who are listening to this broadcast in Australia today would relate to the fact that you can give very good training to young people? How many would relate to the young people that you hear saying that they just need an opportunity to get into a job? Once they get into a job, then they can build up the experience and progress their career. You hear it all the time. So this bill being presented to the House this morning is an opportunity to make sure we get as many youngsters as we can into employment to get that very vital experience—real experience and real training—that they need to further their careers.

The next benefit is that that reduces youth unemployment in the country. I think there is no argument at this stage from either side of the House that we have got to make sure that we get as many of our young people employed as we can. The other argument is that prices are kept down and, by keeping business costs down, you can keep prices down.

Finally, by being employed our youngsters are able to play a very valued part in our society. They are not at home watching the television or getting up to mischief in the back streets. They are doing valued and meaningful work which enriches their lives and their families.

Basically, the industry sectors we are talking about here are the retail sector, the fast food sector and the service sector. Make no mistake about it, these sectors are the fastest growing sectors in the economy. We can have maximum impact on youth employment by making sure that employers have the opportunity to employ as many youngsters as possible.

But what about the other recipients of junior rates of pay, that is, trainees and apprentices? I have employed a number of apprentices in my time who have gone through to be tradesmen and who have stayed employed. That has been in an industry where there has not been a lot of apprentices. In these technical vocations, you do have to put a lot of effort into making sure that their training is correct.

You also have to face the situation in Queensland where the apprenticeship system works on a block release system. Apprentices have to go off for seven weeks a year to do their technical training at college. You find that, when you employ an apprentice, not only do you not have them for the statutory public holiday periods but you do not have them for the block release periods. So that is up to 12 weeks a year you do not have that young person in your employ. It is very difficult for an employer to manage his business when you do not have the person for 12 weeks. Surely that is a situation where you can expect a youngster to receive a lower rate of pay than the full adult wage while they are receiving that very valuable training and experience.

This legislation directs the Australian Industrial Relations Commission's attention to the importance of protecting the competitive position of young persons. I think that is a very significant part of this bill. We have got to be mindful, as a community and as a country, about that competitive position of younger people. Who is going to employ an untrained junior when you can get a fully trained, mature adult? The practicality is that you are going to employ an adult before you would employ an untrained junior. I do not understand why the Australian Labor Party cannot see that point. It is as plain as the nose on your face that you would always employ a trained, mature and experienced person before an untrained person if you had to pay either of those people the same rates of pay. I would also put to the House and to Australia that this bill before us this morning is another signpost that the government has up very clearly in relation to employment and the country.

We have seen as well some reference in the debate this morning to the government's unfair dismissal legislation. Similarly, that is a signpost as to how the government thinks in relation to trying to get fuller employment in this country. I am pleased to be able to support the government in that goal to reduce unemployment in the country because it is a social tragedy that our kids do not have jobs. For the mums and dads of this country, when their kids come out of high school and if they are not going on to further education, it is the thing that is uppermost in their minds. Is my child going to get a job? How can I help them get a job?

They are not going to be helped with getting a job if the Australian Labor Party have their way. The Australian Labor Party say that a junior has to get the same rate of pay as a senior. The member for Batman argues that if a person is doing the same job as an adult then they should get the same rate of pay. Simplistically you could accept that, but in practice a young person in all sorts of ways—in terms of maturity, in terms of experience and in terms of the way they react to a particular unexpected situation—would not do the same job as a senior would.

My message to the Australian Labor Party this morning is: get out of the way of opposing this legislation. Think practically. Try to understand how employers think when they employ people. Try to understand that we have to make sure we get as many youngsters into jobs as we can. My second message to the Australian Labor Party is that, if you knock this off in the Senate, we will keep putting it up. We will keep telling the people of Australia that we believe that youngsters should have the opportunity to be considered by employers for employment when they first come out of school. I certainly will strongly support that.

My view on the current debate, from what I have heard, is that the Australian Labor Party do not want kids to have the maximum opportunity to get jobs in this country. I find that quite sad. I think that they are out of touch. They are back in the 1970s and 1980s; they are not with the real and modern world. I call on the Labor Party to change their view and to support the government and allow the passage of this bill in the Senate.