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Thursday, 18 October 1984
Page: 1988

Senator MACKLIN(4.04) —The matter of public importance we are debating today is:

The need for the Government to take further action to relieve the unfair and unnecessary burden of youth unemployment.

Senator Grimes, in responding for the Government, has acknowledged that the Government needs to take further action to relieve youth unemployment. The question of whether the burden is unfair or unnecessary raises two separate issues. First, undoubtedly-everyone has agreed-it is unfair. I believe that there is an obligation on senators who say that it is unnecessary to say why it is unnecessary and what can be done about it. I do not think it is good enough to suggest a few haphazard approaches. I do not think it is good enough to say that it is the Government's fault and that the Government should fix it up. It is partly, but it is certainly not solely the Government's fault. The previous Government has also to bear its share of the blame. It is the fault not only of government but also of the community as well. As Senator Peter Baume has already said, the community, by and large employed people, is seemingly not willing in 1984 to make the types of sacrifices and adjustments that may be necessary, to provide room for the coming generation. I do not think it is good enough simply to say that the burden of youth unemployment is unfair and unnecessary without going on to say where we believe the Government ought to be going.

The Australian Democrats believe, along with other senators who have spoken, that unemployment is a human predicament, not just an economic predicament. It deals with every family; it deals with the entire community, and operates as a cancer. One has only to look at other countries which have had endemic unemployment to see how that cancer spreads and to see the costs and the misery. That misery is not only visited on the young. It is visited on everyone who comes into contact with them and ultimately it is visited on those who are comfortable and who have jobs. So the battle for jobs must be waged with a fairly grim determination.

It is remarkable that when there is a war, money is always found to fight that war. But when we see, as we do today, a disaster which is equal to an invasion, a disaster for the future of this country, there is very little coming together of the country and very little by way of constructive solutions. The Australian Democrats believe that in 1985 the Government must throw out the piecemeal approaches that have occurred in the past. It must throw out the bits and pieces of programs that are directed at alleviating this or that little bit of the problem. Indeed, what we need is a single comprehensive program. We need, in short, an education-work guarantee for every young person between the ages of 15 and 21. That guarantee must be given by the Government on behalf of the community to each of those young Australians that in 1985 they will be either learning something which is socially useful or they will be involved in work which is socially useful.

In order to support such a guarantee, the community must accept a fairly wide range of ideas. It must, for example, be willing to accept that all young people have an equal opportunity for education, employment and experience. It must accept that they be given the opportunity for a sound, basic education which will enable them to develop during their lifetime. It must accept that that basic education must not be seen as the end, but as the beginning, of a continuous learning process for individuals, organisations, institutions, government and the community. It must accept that our young people must be multi -skilled, not single-skilled. It must accept that technology has the potential to enhance skills and not simply to deskill the community.

In a speech made on 24 September, the French Prime Minister, on behalf of his Government, stated:

By the end of 1985 every French person between 18 and 25 will either be at school, university or a school for engineers, or placed in some sort of community or utility work (which is funded by the local communities and they receive a small amount of money for their work) and they will also be granted vocational or professional training.

As part of a five-point program, the French Prime Minister pledged that by the end of 1985 his country would have a youth education-work guarantee. Can we do less? The French Government has recognised that the major problem that it is confronting is youth unemployment. The French Prime Minister has pledged on behalf of his Government to tackle that problem. The French Government has failed its people in many things, but in putting forward this program, it has at last come up with a radical solution, a radical proposal, which ought to capture the attention of the French people. I believe it is one which also ought to capture the attention of the Australian people. If one looks, for example, at the retention rate in France, one sees that about 35 per cent of French students in any particular age group complete their secondary school studies. In Australia, the figure is 40 per cent and in Japan it is 90 per cent. The problem does not lie in technology; it lies in the will of the people to undertake and use the resources which are available in the interests of the entire community.

Surely, 1985 being the International Year of Youth, this Government, on behalf of the community, could pledge to Australia to make sure that everybody under the age of 21 is undertaking either some form of education or some form of work. I define both of those areas in their broadest sense. Surely then, and only then , will we be giving all young Australians a stake in their community. But as soon as one mentions such a goal, there are cries of 'idealism' and of 'it will cost us money'. Yes, it is idealistic, but it is a realistic goal that can be achieved. Yes, it will cost us money. But the present situation is costing us dearly not only in dollars and cents but also in human lives. Are we going to say that we refuse to pay now and that we would much rather pay twice, three or 10 times as much in the future? That is what we are looking at. We are looking at ever-increasing amounts of the Federal Budget being spent, not on something which is socially useful, but on merely holding the line. It will be spent on police, crime prevention and on a whole range of other subsidiary items. But we could in 1985, in the International Year of Youth, spend it on youth, and on the future of this country.

The Australian Democrats would rather see a young person employed or involved in education than have this country pay for unemployment benefits, social security benefits, social disruption, bleak futures and nothingness for so many. Yes, it will cost us a lot, and it will be worth every cent. Let this Government pledge that 1 January 1985 will be a radical day for Australia. Let it pledge that on that day this country and this Government will grow up and take responsibility for our young people. Let it make such a pledge and the election which will be held on 1 December will be worth fighting for. It will be worth fighting for if the Government wins an election on such a pledge. I believe that when this Government came into office one could have expected that it would come up with something different from its conservative predecessors. We could have expected a radical approach to this ever-growing problem. Yet we have not had that. We have had the continuing tinkering, the continuing warmly titled programs, and the continuing band-aid approach, and they will not work; they cannot work.

I believe we have an enormously bright future ahead of us. We have the resources, skills, capacities and enthusiasm to take us into the twenty-first century. But are we all going to look forward to the future? Will all the citizens of this country have the chance to buy a home or have a family? Will their children have a bright future to look forward to? How many young people in Australia today can look forward to the future with the sanguine approach most members of this chamber had when they were young? As young people we understood how important the future was to us. It is now very important for members of this chamber, who have a unique responsibility, to tell the younger generation how they feel about their future. We must not let that great Australian attitude of 'We're all right, Jack' overwhelm our capacity to see the type of bleak future which is facing so many people. I believe that this country can afford a youth education-work guarantee. I believe this country can afford to have all its young people under 21 years of age undertaking some form of education or in some form of work. If that does not happen, this country will not be able to afford to pay the bill in human misery and blighted lives.