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Thursday, 18 October 1984
Page: 1990

Senator GILES(4.17) —I wish to speak on the matter of public importance before the Senate this afternoon, to wit, the need for the Government to take further action to relieve the unfair and unnecessary burden of youth unemployment. Senator Macklin has correctly emphasised the enormous social costs of failing to take further action. I do not believe that there is any disagreement whatsoever with that aspect of the matter of public importance. There can hardly be a household in Australia now which has not at some time within the last 10 years felt the pain and frustration of having at least one of its members apparently chronically unemployed. A debate on this subject which might have taken place five years ago would have been operating from a very different base.

The knowledge and the awareness in the community of the effects of unemployment must surely be obvious to all. I do not believe that anything is to be gained by scapegoating either those workers who are in employment and whose entitlements, wages and conditions generally are the subject of various cases before industrial tribunals, and very rightly so, or those women in employment who also have responsibilities within the family for young children. It is very clear, when efficient studies of the structure of the labour market are carried out, that there simply is not the transferability between particular groups of employees that some superficial economic theories might make us think. In fact, we should have family policies which take into account the needs of all members of households, whether they are mothers, fathers or children. The support services required for those households are currently under considerable examination as a result of the activities of committees of inquiry of one sort or another.

However, I believe it is quite wrong for Senator Harradine to try to recycle the tired old myth that employment of mature women is excluding the young unemployed from jobs which he says would otherwise be available to them. If the group to which he refers were retrenched tomorrow or willingly left the work force, for whatever reason, they would be replaced not by school leavers but by other mature women who are currently at home and anxious to return to the work force. The reason that they would be replaced by mature women is that the work they are doing in the work force is traditional women's work that needs the attributes of mature women-women who have developed the characteristics that employers want for particular types of work. I refer to the ability to deal with individuals, a good nature, loyalty and a capacity to put their requirements second to those of their employers. This is not to denigrate the skills or the abilities or the aptitude of the young. It is simply a fact that these characteristics come with maturity and provide for the employers of this nation a particular type of worker for a particular type of work.

Although, as Senator Baume says, expectations amongst the young have been raised, perhaps they have not been so unrealistically raised when one has another look at the Special Australian Nationwide Opinion Study of Young Australians from which he quoted. One finds that, amongst the young, 74 per cent believe that life generally in the next two or three years will improve for them and 19 per cent believe that it will get no worse. So perhaps there is, in addition to the expectation, a knowledge of the fact that things are on the move , that the economy is improving and that their life expectations generally are enhanced.

The September 1984 Australian Bureau of Statistics figures on the labour force show a rise in participation rates overall, a rise in the number of employed persons overall, and at the same time a fall in the rate of unemployment and a fall in the number of unemployed persons. The figures show that fewer unemployed young males in the 15 to 19-years age group are looking for work. There is a slight drop in the participation rate which could be read as the possibility of higher school retention amongst that particular age group. We know that technical and further education enrolments are increasing. We also know that the increase in secondary assistance has given families a far greater incentive to keep their children at school.

Increased employment prospects are quite clearly shown in those figures. As far as 15 to 19-year-old females are concerned, there was certainly a reduction in the number looking for work for the first time in the 12 months from September 1983 to September 1984. There was a reduction in that category of the better part of 5,000, a reduction in the number looking for part time work, and an increase, once again, in the participation rate from 44.9 per cent in September 1983 to 45.6 per cent in September 1984. I believe that this indicates a number of quite significant factors. It indicates that more young women are staying at school, and this is borne out once again by the retention rate, and that more young women are employed either full time or part time.

The relative labour market advantages of young men over young women seem to be narrowing. The unemployment rate for 15 to 19-year-old males dropped from 10 per cent in September 1983 to 8.6 per cent in September 1984, a decrease of 1.4 per cent. The corresponding figures for 15 to 19-year-old females were 11 per cent to 9.1 per cent, or a decrease of 1.9 per cent, that is, 0.5 per cent more than for males. This trend, if it continues, may be an early indication of a changing approach by employers to the desirability of employing workers on the basis of their potential and capacity rather than on the basis of their gender or stereotyped expectations. It is perhaps a little early to start rejoicing at such spring-like precursors. There may be other structural changes occurring.

We have seen over the last 10 or 15 years the development of a third labour market. We talk about labour markets segregated on gender lines, but I believe there is now a third labour market which consists of the jobs available for school leavers-in the main, dead-end jobs for the very young. This could account for some of the convergence of the opportunities for those two groups to which I have referred. However, at a time when both male and female employment rates are dropping, it is surely of more than passing interest that gender differences are lessening. These are all indications of the improving economy and the indirect effect on employment opportunities which follow closely on the measures taken by the Hawke Labor Government since its election in 1983. A healthier economy means enhanced expectation for many people and young people inevitably benefit from a much more secure economic environment. Our early initiatives have quickly reversed the catastrophic slide of the Fraser years, those years in which the misery index, as it was called-the inflation rate plus the unemployment rate- rose alarmingly, severely injuring families and individuals and in some cases whole communities.

Young people, whether they wish to stay at school or whether they seek independence, have been directly or indirectly the targets of many of our programs. As workers or potential workers they are better off because the rate of inflation has halved, because wages will be regularly indexed, because interest rates have fallen and because Medicare has removed those anxieties that they may have had about medical and hospital costs. Crisis and longer term accommodation for young people was long neglected by the previous Government and our new supported accommodation assistance program, we hope, will provide accommodation for young people who are currently living in sub-standard conditions or who are technically homeless. All householders and individuals have reaped the advantage of the industrial serenity which has followed the prices and incomes accord, regardless of what was said earlier this afternoon about the ways in which that has affected the labour market in Australia. Surely if we are to believe what has been said in this and another place about the dire effects of industrial disputes, there should be some remarkable counter-effects at a time of relative industrial peace.

It is evident from the figures that our job creation schemes are having a most beneficial direct effect on employment prospects and the employability of young people. Reference has been made this afternoon to the disappointment of young people when particular employment schemes come to an end. My experience, which is certainly anecdotal but which is based on a wide range of projects of one sort or another, is that young people are coming out of them at the end of the six, nine or 12 weeks of employment a great deal more employable and with a great deal more hope in their hearts.

Another serious problem has been that the lack of experience of young people has greatly diminished their chances in the job market. Employers have responded to the various incentive schemes but serious questions still need to be addressed about the practices of employers who willingly employ and/or exploit the very young, make windfall gains but dispense with young workers as they reach industrial adulthood. Point 27 in the report of the Committee of Inquiry into Labour Market Programs cites a conference paper of the Bureau of Labour Market Research which assessed that net employment gains from the special youth employment training program, a very expensive program which has been operating for some years with only now some sort of proper assessment of its value, range from one-fifth to one-third of total placements. This means that the effective rate of subsidy in terms of creating new jobs may be three to five times the per capita rate, hardly an efficient way of introducing young people into the work force.

The practice I referred to before of very many employers taking on very young people and sacking them as soon as they reach industrial adulthood still seems to be done with impunity and is surely a matter long overdue for resolution. Discrimination on the ground of age hurts as much at the age of 18 as it does at the age of 48. Internationally Australia's youth unemployment compares very unfavourably, but so does our rate of retention of young people in the education system. I heartily endorse Senator Macklin's suggestion that we should be looking seriously at something similar to the French or Nordic youth guarantee schemes. I feel quite confident that these will be put forward as alternatives when we receive the report of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development expert committee which was asked by this Government to analyse thoroughly the position in Australia with a view to putting forward in time for our next Budget a comprehensive, multifaceted, well thought out, well planned and properly financed scheme which will alleviate and, in the words of Senator Harradine, take action to relieve, the unfair and unnecessary burden of youth unemployment. After the inertia of the Fraser years it was crucial that the problem be clearly identified and a worthwhile and comprehensive set of objectives adopted. I have every confidence that this will be the case.