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Monday, 10 September 1984
Page: 699


Senator JACK EVANS(3.16) —The subject of the matter of public importance 'The economic betrayal of Australian families and young people by the Australian Government' is a major criticism of this Government which promised so much to the aspiring young people of this nation. But it is also a criticism of previous governments which have had a policy of deliberate creation of unemployment as an economic tool. Over recent years we have seen the rise and fall of what was known as the dole bludger syndrome, where we blamed the unemployed for the plight that they had got into. We have recently partially escaped from that syndrome, but not right around Australia as there are still some who blame the unemployed for the position they are in. Today I wish mainly to look for solutions. I would like this to be a concrete, positive and forward looking debate. I would like to have the support of all parties in looking forward to 1985, in particular, as a turning point when we can help the unemployed youth.


Senator Cook —Take 'betrayal' out of the statement.


Senator JACK EVANS —I begin by talking about the effect of unemployment on the family. I think it is appropriate for us to see what happens at the micro level as well as at the macro level. I am sure Senator Cook would be as aware as anybody in the Senate at this moment that there is a feeling of betrayal by Australian governments. There is absolutely no doubt that people feel betrayed not just by this Government but by all governments-the people who make the decisions which determine the level of unemployment in this country. It is no good bleating on behalf of one government. We, as parliamentarians, are partly responsible and the governments of today and yesterday in the main share that responsibility.

Let us look at the effect of unemployment on the family and see for the moment what happens when a breadwinner parent of any age is retrenched. The effect on that individual who goes home and announces that he has been retrenched, is devastating. Unfortunately in my profession over the years, I have been witness to that impact on individuals right across the spectrum-young people, teenagers, and those through to 50, 55 and 60 years of age, who are suddenly thrown out as they have lost their jobs. But it does not stop there as that effect flows on to the spouse, which in turn creates disharmony within the family. At first there is compassion and understanding but after a while it goes beyond what any human being can bear and results in a very sad breaking up of the relationship. It also has a flow-on effect to the children of the unemployed breadwinner, who suffer dramatically. They are suddenly deprived of all sorts of things that they had come to take for granted. Suddenly they are at a disadvantage in their own group; they cannot do many of the things that they would like to do and that they are used to doing. So they bring that disenchantment back into the family, which adds to the impact of unemployment on that family. That applies to any breadwinner.

Now let us look at another group: Young people who cannot get a job, who have left school with high hopes, ready to take on the world and ready to start contributing to that world. They apply for a job and are knocked back. They apply for another job and are knocked back. It is a case of job after job, rejection after rejection. Quite frequently this results in a lack of compassion on the part of employers and, it is sad to say, sometimes, government officers. One can imagine the effect on these people. It results in a drop in morale, a lowering of self-esteem and a drop in confidence. They become less and less likely to get a job as each week and each month goes by. They become less and less likely to get any job because they join what has become known in this country as the ranks of the unemployable.

What a devastating reflection that is on this society-we now have a category of people known as the unemployables. They have become unemployable because of what we have done to them from the day that they left school. Some of them find alternatives to unemployment. Some of them take up prostitution. Some of them deliberately get pregnant. Some of them escape from the real world through drugs . To pay for those drugs, some of them as teenagers take up crime. Some of them make the ultimate escape and commit suicide. It is little wonder that families fall apart under this sort of pressure. It is little wonder that young people drop right out of our society. I believe, I know that the Australian Democrats believe and I am certain that all Australians with any compassion believe, that any person who wants to work must be allowed to work, for a whole host of reasons.

Let us look at the broader reasons. We cannot afford to ignore the productive input of all of our people in this country. We do not just need job creation schemes, although they are important. What we need to do is to change the whole pattern of employment in this country. We have to break down a whole series of barriers that we have created. This is the tragedy for these people; the barriers are artificial. They are put there by decision makers, by power people in this community, to make it very difficult for us to increase the number of jobs available.

I will illustrate one of the patterns of employment that could be changed to allow many more people into the employment field. We could at the stroke of a pen introduce job sharing on a very wide scale in this country; it would be possible. I do not think that the Government has any inherent antagonism to the concept of job sharing. Certainly the community at large has no antagonism or antipathy to it. But there is an artificial barrier: It is the artificial barrier of trade unionism, which sees its employed members at risk if job sharing comes in without all the protections in the world for those who currently have jobs.

There is nothing to stop this Government from introducing job sharing tomorrow if it is willing to take on those militant unions which still oppose the concept . At the same time we could introduce plans for reduced hours for those who prefer to work fewer than 35, 38 or 40 hours a week. Such people could work for pro rata salaries on those reduced hours. We could introduce earlier retirements . We could introduce something that the Australian Democrats have proposed already to this Parliament in our private member's Bill-machinery for collective agreements which would allow for different kinds of employment agreements, which may take into account reduced rates but which would have compensating factors, which would allow both employers and employees to come to an agreement in harmony with their respective needs, not necessarily to meet the needs of the trade union leaders.

What is desperately needed in this country is a plan for the future, a plan with long term programs linking future work avenues. There is nothing to be gained by teaching people skills they will never use in their careers or in their private lives. What is needed is a linkage between future work avenues and , from that, future employee skills, and our current education programs. Link those into a plan for the future and we have a chance of coming out of this dreadful state we are in with our high unemployment rate.

I will run through the effects of youth unemployment right across the community . First is the effect on the young people themselves, the frustration of not being able to get a job, the demoralisation and the apathy that flows automatically from that kind of frustration. The loss of self-esteem that one inevitably suffers when one has been rejected many times leads to a loss of confidence in the community on the part of the individual concerned. Regrettably and sadly, the flow-on from this is the loss of that person's affinity with his family. That is why we have so many family breakdowns, why we are losing our family structures in which people could rely on relatives to help them out of a difficult situation.

What happens with long term unemployment is that young people particularly become disenchanted with their families, and that is reciprocated to the point where they leave their families. There is also an effect on the other family members, with strained relations, a feeling that the unemployed person is getting a handout and becoming a mendicant to the family. There is a gradual loss of the affection and love between the unemployed person and the other members of his family. The effect flows wider than that. It flows on to the community, where we have disaffected individuals and groups of individuals who are unemployed, and we have people who are literally drop-outs from our community. We find a very marked effect in certain areas. The unemployed are more likely to drop out of things such as sport and cultural and social activities with their peer group. They are the people most likely to drop out of the education system, even part time education.

There is a flow-on effect on the economy, with reduced productivity, which stands to reason if only 90 per cent of the people who want to work are actually in the work force. We have payouts instead of revenue coming in through taxes so that the whole economy suffers. Of course, looking to the future, our greatest resource potential is being reduced, being sacrificed, because of lower educational and skill levels. One further flow-on effect is on future generations. Nobody knows what that effect will be. Nobody can predict what the next decade will bring to this country if we do not solve this problem in the very near future. We could get an indicator from a couple of areas around the world. One is Ireland where we can see the tragedy of youth unemployment. The unemployed there become not just disenchanted unemployed, but literal destroyers of people and property who carry guns and other weapons. That is the future that could be ahead of our young people.

I do not want to paint a picture of total gloom and misery. The picture that I have portrayed is real, but there is a possible turning point. The year 1985 is the International Year of Youth. This country needs a commitment from all political parties. The Australian Democrats are willing to be part of a non- partisan program-not just a point-scoring exercise to take into this coming election campaign-which will have the support of all political parties and all people across Australia. I know very well that it will have the support of the churches, if we can accept a statement made this week by the four major Australian church groups, the Anglicans, the Roman Catholics, the Uniting Church and the Australian Council of Churches. In the 1984 Social Justice Statement, ' It's a Rocky Road-Young People in Australia', they declared that:

. . . if young people suffered from too much attention some years ago, now the current youth generation runs the risk of neglect.

That is the truth. We need the dedication to resolve the problem right now. I would like to offer one method of solving this problem. We can introduce a program in 1985 if we start planning here and now. There is a program in Queensland produced by the Australian Democrats called 'Work About', which tackles youth problems on a constructive basis. It looks at the problems of unemployment through eyes that youth will accept. It offers to those aged between 17 and 21 the opportunity to gain work experience, to escape from their existing world and to go out into rural areas and regional towns. It offers them the opportunity to get away from their failure environment, which may include drugs and crime, into a new environment with new people and exciting opportunities. It offers them the opportunity to work, to contribute to society, to develop self-esteem and life skills, and to gain a greater awareness of the country in which they live and the people who populate it.

The scheme would not be compulsory but it would be attractive enough to entice people to want to get into it. Those who engage in the scheme would undertake community projects in groups of 12 and would receive free board and lodging and $2 a day. At the end of the nine-month period they would receive $1,000. That would cost this country no more than the existing dole payments. The program would link with the technical and further education system so that participants could develop their skills and knowledge at the same time. They would not compete with normal projects where unions would fear interference with their members' employment prospects. These types of schemes have been introduced and are running successfully now in Canada and the United States of America. Mr President, I seek leave to table a 'Workabout' paper which describes in detail how the scheme works. I seek leave also to incorporate in Hansard pages 1, 2, 3, 16 and 17 of that paper.

Leave granted.

The pages read as follows-

WORKABOUT

Introduction

Unemployment amongst young people is a critical issue in Australia today. This is not to underestimate the problems of the older unemployed; however the younger unemployed suffer additional disadvantages which in the long-term will create serious disruption in our society.

Firstly the younger unemployed are caught in the classic catch-22 of requiring work experience to obtain a job but firstly requiring a job to gain that experience.

Secondly the continual round of job interviews with up to 30 failures for every acceptance generates a pre-programming of failure. Even after obtaining a job many young people feel they will fail in it.

Thirdly there is a lack of conditioning to cope with working regular hours. A long period of unemployment conditions the young to irregular activities with little long-term planning.

Fourthly the young want to feel that they are contributing something of value to their community and that they will eventually be able to share in the wealth of our nation. Continual unemployment very quickly kills off both self respect and loyalty to our community.

The workabout program-whilst recognising that the solution to unemployment requires a greater long-term effort than that being applied-seeks to relieve the symptoms of unemployment for the young and allow them the opportunity to participate directly in our community activities.

About Workabout

The workabout program will offer young Australians between 17 and 21 the opportunity to:

gain work experience and diverse and interesting work environments;

release themselves for a clear nine months from the soul-destroying rounds of failed job applications and interviews;

develop the capacity to work regular hours;

contribute directly to society through valuable and appreciated community projects;

develop self-esteem and life's skills; and

gain a greater awareness of their country.

How the aims will be achieved

1. Through Travel: Participants will travel to different communities in three different regions of the country over a nine month period.

2. Through Work: Participants will undertake community projects in conjunction with local community groups. In addition experience will be gained through day visits and on-site work in a variety of local industries.

3. Through Group Living: Participants will work and live in groups of 12 and share their experiences and responsibilities with other group members. Each group of 12 will be drawn from the diverse socio-economic, religious and racial groups represented in the Australian community.

4. Through Learning Programs: Participants will be expected to take part in a core of learning subjects covering time planning, money control, budgeting, interview skills and personal development.

5. Through Community Integration: Participants will work and meet dozens of different people and learn to appreciate the value of new places, different ways and diverse ideas as they serve and live in their host communities.

* * *

After the Workabout Program

Although Workabout does not aim to directly create long term employment opportunities, it will provide both a development and fulfillment opportunity and connections with local business communities. Businesses will be encouraged to take an active interest in Workabout as well as providing jobs for people who have completed the program.

This will ensure that those who take part in Workabout not only benefit from the program but also have an increased chance of securing employment upon completion.

In particular, those who complete the program but still cannot obtain employment will have reached a higher level of maturity and self-esteem which will allow them to continue developing personal skills and being involved in community works.

In addition the voluntary community committees will be encouraged to continue as co-operatives after projects are completed.

The co-operatives task would be to seek on a 'one-to-one' basis to find jobs for unemployed young people. The key would be to link one employed person with one unemployed person until a job is found.

Conclusion

Workabout is a fresh approach to the serious problem of youth unemployment that faces our community. The following figures bear out the seriousness of the problem:

Unemployed people in the 15-19 age category as at May 1984.

unemployed up to three months 94,437

unemployed from 3-9 months 91,433

unemployed over 9 months 31,500

Total 218,370

This program is all about learning to work and learning to live.

Although Workabout will not provide the cure to unemployment, it will relieve the symptoms until the cure is found.

The Workabout program has been drawn up by community workers with experience in service clubs, the churches and businesses.

It is based on the Katimavik Program in Canada, the Civilian Conservation Corps in the U.S.A., service club projects and youth training schemes.

Workabout is a realistic alternative to the alienation of our young people. It will provide self esteem, self development, respect for others, assets in successful completion of community projects, an understanding of our country and hope for young people.

Within young people it will replace the pre-programming of failure and despair with an awareness of achievement and self fulfillment.


Senator JACK EVANS —I thank the Senate. This Australia of ours needs to provide for its young people a work or education guarantee until they turn 21. I believe that we have that obligation to all our young. A commitment by all Australians, particularly parliamentarians, to a launching pad to employ all young people is essential at this time.


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Elstob) —Order! The honourable senator's time has expired.